In distant days of stories and superstition, people lived simpler lives that were bound to the changing seasons and the uncertainties of nature. Most believed that their fortunes were shaped by unseen spirits who shared their world. Tradition and superstition guided the routines of everyday life. Spirits had their own personalities and purpose. There were spirits of running water, spirits of the wildwood, spirits of harvest and fertility, but the most awesome and mysterious of all were the spirits of fire. The dancing flames of the hearth brought warmth, comfort and wonder, but if disrespected, fire had the power to wreak the most terrible destruction.
As the modern age dawned, the old beliefs faded into mere fairy tales. Spirit creatures became embodied as the fairies, pixies, elves and goblins who inhabited a magical world safely contained within the pages of children’s story-books and bed-time tales.
The tiny magical creatures who embodied the spirit of the fire, might also have remained as romantic legends, had it not been for a rather curious episode that occurred in the early years of the 20th century.
At one time coal fires were the only practical way to heat your home, but these were messy and required a great deal of effort. The paraffin heater, introduced during the 1920’s, offered a modern, convenient way to keep your house warm and cosy, and provided a source of heat that could be carried from room to room. They were particularly popular as they could be carried to the nursery when children went to bed. It seemed that these heaters had a strangely soothing effect. Children who were once noisy and mischievous at bed-time quickly calmed down when close to the warm comforting glow of the paraffin heater. It was reported that some children might spent hours simply gazing at the tiny flames which danced within the heater; an expression of wonder and contentment on their faces.
This strange effect quickly became part of popular culture. Music-hall comic Harry Champion performed a ditty entitled “Turn up the paraffin heater and keep my pixies cosy”, while a cartoon entitled “Comfy Wullie and the Paraffin Pixies” briefly appeared in some provincial newspapers. Paraffin heater manufacturers were not slow to exploit this public interest, and the British Valor company issued a series of advertisements expounding the benefits of their heaters as a safe home for paraffin pixies. Some of these commercial messages were endorsed by the previously unknown “British Union of Pixies”
Most took this as a joke, but others were puzzled by the earnestness with which these advertising messages were delivered.
Times change, and with the emergence of electric or gas fires, and then the widespread adoption of central heating, most paraffin heaters were consigned to history by the 1970’s. The paraffin pixie craze of the inter-war years has now largely been forgotten, and surprisingly little evidence of it now remains.
Pixies live on in memories of some of our senior citizens
It is now almost twenty years since leading cryptozoologist Dr. Sally T. Mayer published her groundbreaking work “The taxonomy of fire sprites and associated folkloric creatures” In this she assigns the binomial Pixius Paraffinicus to the race of fire sprites prevalent in homes during the 1920’s. She put forward the hypothesis that these living creatures had not previously been recognised by science as they are invisible to anyone over five years old. She concluded sadly that, as no sightings had been reported for almost fifty years, the race may now be extinct
Almond Valley is home to Scotland’s largest collection of paraffin heaters. The museum display of old heaters in many shapes and sizes draws nostalgic glances from a few older visitors, but goes largely unnoticed by the children of today. Sitting dead and empty on museum shelves, the heaters provide no hint of the comfort and joy they once supplied when fuelled up, warm and glowing. They appear cold and lifeless.
It is perhaps surprising therefore that, when working in the museum late in the evening, some staff have reported feeling slightly uneasy when close to the heater display. Fuses in the vicinity have blown without reason, and odd flashes and strange flickers have affected CCTV footage. Intrigued by this unexplained activity, the museum team set up trail cameras, (of the type more commonly used to capture images of hedgehogs and snow leopards), in order to investigate the matter. Many hours were spent reviewing images of the seemingly lifeless display of old heaters before a few frames were found in which a faint moving glow was seen floating slowly from heater to heater. After months of further study, sufficient evidence was assemble to allow the museum to confidently announce the astounding news that paraffin pixies really exist, and perhaps the last few members of this ancient race still find a home within the cold carcasses of the old heaters in the museum display.
The paraffin pixie was recently recognised as a critically endangered species, and Almond Valley is now leading efforts to ensure their conservation and protection. The museum led a campaign to re-establish the pixie’s natural habitat by encouraging people to use paraffin heaters in their homes, but this met with limited success. The museum has returned with a far bolder plan that will help build pixie numbers by creating a new habitats that reflect the old ways of their fire sprite ancestors.
Almond Valley is now building the world’s largest paraffin heater to provide a home for the growing population of paraffin pixies. From this base, pixies are able to roam freely through the wild woods and quiet dark spaces, seeking children in need of a little warmth, comfort, and reassurance
During the chilly festive period, Almond Valley will be welcoming visitors to the Winter Realm of the Paraffin Pixie; a magical after-dark experience showcasing our conservation work, sharing the joy of the Christmas period, and warming the heart of every member of the family.
PLEASE NOTE – a little imagination was employed in some parts of this report; other parts of nearly-true.
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