Enter the Dragon

Something very odd happened this weekend, the sales executive (Shop assistant) in my local climbing store persuaded me not to buy something.  In fact he convinced me that I had something at home better than he could sell me.

Hill walking

My Old stove

Every now and again I get the urge to go and look at shinny equipment.  I can’t help it.  I have to go into a climbing shop and touch things.  I pick up ice axes I’ve no intention of buying and swing them into imaginary ice.  I go round the store touching jackets I don’t need, feeling their thickness, living in a fantasy where I am shielded from the savage elements by all these clean colourful clothes.  Life is, as ever, a disappointing reflection of this fantasy, like a faded picture the colours are never as bright, smiles as wide or girls as pretty.

I was reminded of all this when I visited my local outdoor shop recently.  On this rare occasion I actually intended to buy something.  I decided I needed a new gas stove, my old one having been relegated to the dustbin.  So you’d think I’d head for the camping section.  I really was heading there but somehow I found myself fondling jackets and looking at the price tags on sleeping bags.  I’d been lured away by the shiny and the new.

Eventually I headed for the place where they stock camping stoves, found the one I wanted and then discovered I couldn’t find the medium sized gas cartridge I wanted for it. The only had way to small and ridiculously big.  I, like Baby Bear in the fairy story, wanted one that was just right.  Several shop assistants came to help, they searched in vain.  Then they even got on a two way radio to call for advanced help from the computer.  All this was in vain.

“No we don’t have them,” said the sales executive.

“When might they be in stock?”

Conversation over the radio, the computer is consulted, “Sorry we’ve no idea, and the manufacturers are terribly erratic at sending us supplies.”

“You’re not selling this to me are you?”

“Err, No.” then the shop assistant reverted to plan A used by all shop assistants who don’t have what you want.

They have two stock answers

  1. “That product doesn’t exist sir.”
  2. “You don’t really want that, you want this, which, amazingly, we do have in stock.”

Then the sales person made an elementary error and explained. “The medium sized gas canister, which we don’t have is stock, is in fact useless.  Why a couple of meals and it’s empty.  I never use them and I’m an expert, I’ve camped several nights at RockNess and understand all there is to know about the outdoors.  Even if we had the medium sized container I wouldn’t sell them to you, they are so bad.”

hill walking

Flame on! The picture is shaky because I was to scared to get any closer.

At this point a thought entered my head; at home I have old paraffin stove, I haven’t used it for years but, if these new things are so bad, maybe I can coax it into life.  I bought a gallon of paraffin and some methylated spirits and left the shop.  After rummaging around under old chocks, slings and other paraphernalia I eventually found the stove.  I don’t think I’d used it for over fifteen years.  I filled it with paraffin, pumped away at the handle and lit the meths.  Moments later the stove was spouting flame from every aperture, apart from the one it was supposed to.  I decided the main washer wasn’t forming a seal.  I went on the net and a guy told me to soak the washer in olive oil, this done the stove roared into life and I’d saved myself the cost of buying a new shiny one.

The major disadvantage of the paraffin stove is its obvious weight.  However, it does have some distinct advantages.  On a long trip you have to carry relatively little paraffin so the weight is less of a problem.  Also in terms of running costs the paraffin stove wins hands down.  It cost me £16 for a gallon of paraffin which is easily enough to last a year.  Gas canisters come in at around £5 a pop and if they only last a weekend a paraffin stove is perhaps only 10% of the cost of gas.

For me, however, you can forget about the weight and the cost and the fact that paraffin stoves are no good in wind because they are just great fun.  For a start there’s all that brass, they just look like something from the age of steam.  Then there’s the smell, the smell of paraffin is warm and cosy and makes me feel better even just to get a whiff.  But that’s not the best thing, the best thing of all is the sound, once you get it going it roars away and sounds like it’s about to take off.

They are great for terrifying other bothy users.  I pump furiously at the pressure plunger, let the sound and fury of the stove fill the room and then, turning to the other occupants, smile to them over my shoulder.  “They are great these stoves,” I shout over the din, “Can’t understand why more people don’t use them and they hardly ever explode.”

Paraffin stoves and tents, however, are a bad combination.  Paraffin stoves have a mind of their own and, every now and again, just because they can, they send a three foot column of flame skywards.  I was one in the Lakes one winter when a biker left his stove burning to go to the toilet blocks, by the time he returned all that remained of his tent was a rectangle of charred ground.  Paraffin stoves are good but you can’t turn your back on them.

I think I’ll use my rediscovered stove on more bothy trips from now on.  Step aside shiny modern gas stoves – enter the dragon.