Dear Professor Bromfield and Doctor Clattercut
It gets to being quite warm here in the valleys at this time of year, and for several months in the summer I do without my old boiler altogether. Only this year, see, the boiler’s still going and the cottage is as hot as a greenhouse, and if you find this note rather smudged and hard to read, that will be the literal sweat of my brow, dripping onto the page even with all the windows open.
The way of it is, some little being has taken up residence in the boiler. He says he’s the spirit of the hearth and refuses to go out. If I don’t bring him coal, he gathers up other bits to burn when I am asleep. I have already lost an occasional table, my dad’s old writing desk and the breadboard.
I don’t like to mention it to Pastor Richards as he’d make an awful fuss of anything like this with a bit of a pagan whiff to it. And perhaps after all it is a sort of household god. You can’t be too careful, can you? But if only it wasn’t so blasted hot, you see.Yours, Talfryn Jeavons, Kidwelly
Dr Clattercut replies: This type of creature - the genius loci, or spirit of a place - has been known since Roman times. They usually dwell in the chimney or fireplace and on the whole constitute a good bargain, as they protect the household and may even keep it spick and span, often for no more remuneration than a saucer of milk or a bit of cake.
Prof Bromfield: On balance, though, I think it’s safer to have no deity at all in your house. You never know when the damned thing will feel slighted. It may protect the house, after all, by deciding that you’re no longer a suitable resident.
Dr Clattercut: True, but I suspect that what Mr Jeavons has there is probably just a hob or brownie that has got into the boiler and decided to stay. They can be like squirrels and stray cats in that regard. A real household god usually starts its career as a ghost. At one time, builders used to sacrifice a lamb and put its body under the cornerstone in order to get the process started.
Prof Bromfield: Similar thing used to go on with new churchyards. Traditionally a stallion would be buried before any human graves went in. Then you get a hell horse, as they call it in Scandinavia - sort of a spectral guardian of the cemetery, if you like. It provides psychic protection in the same way that leaving a rabid dog running about in your garden will protect the house from burglars.
Dr Clattercut: At any rate, returning to the problem at hand: Mr Jeavons, if it is a brownie, all you need do is leave it a pot of ale. When it has become merry, fish it out of the boiler with iron tongs, demand that it tells you its true name, and then you will have complete command of it. Think of that; you will be able to set the precise temperature of your home merely by asking. I’d like to see modern technology achieve such a marvel.
Prof Bromfield: Hmm. If it is a true household deity, however, then the plan could backfire quite severely. And not in a metaphorical sense.
More questionable advice and curious correspondence from Clattercut and Bromfield here.