Living Between the Lines

Long live the bonfire!

If there is one thing guaranteed to light my fuse in a British summer – it is the emergence of garden bonfires. As soon as the first rays of sun bathe the land, so too, will the first wisps of smoke be seen above hedgerow and fence.
That the bonfire lighters are mainly men, is immaterial but I don’t know many women who regularly take pleasure from piling garden rubbish at the bottom of the garden and setting it alight. My own husband has been known to create a charred, blackened mound in the middle of the lawn or on the patio in the middle of winter, before now.
What is so wonderful about a bonfire? Does it go back to the Stone Age? It surely hasn’t changed much since then. Rubbing two sticks together has evolved into striking a match and that is the sum total of progress unless you count the absence of sabre toothed tigers to chase away. Next door’s cat is no substitute.

Bonfires are fine of course, if the smoke is contained but the merest change in wind direction can see one’s house filled with thick, choking, smoke, unless the windows and doors are shut tightly. It clings to washing hung out to dry and the garden is rendered a no go area as thick palls of smoke roll across borders and lawn.
Being super sensitive to smoke in any form, I do have a problem with finding the stuff in my home. However, health reasons apart, there is also the smell to contend with. It clings to clothes and skin and finding bits of bonfire in one’s hair is not good.
That said, bonfires have their good points and I am sure there are men a-plenty out there to argue their case. Even I remember a time when I thought they were magical and the very essence of summer evenings. Looking back at my childhood, I loved watching my father light a bonfire. I’d convince myself that there were fire fairies in those crackling, glowing embers, dancing and casting their spells. I don’t recall the smoke bothering me, though I probably carried the smell with me into the house. I’d gladly help my father fuel the fire with dry twigs and leaves and stand back to watch the leaping flames and the curls of grey smoke, in a mixture of awe and fear.
I was only partially put off when I spotted an old tennis ball half burnt in the embers only to realise, despite my Dad’s hurried denial, that it bore a striking resemblance to Sandy, our long lost tortoise.

after the bonfire
No tortoises here…

My grandfather was partial to a good bonfire too, I recall. In fact, just about any man I have ever known has liked a bonfire. Is it the idea of having power through the flame? Is it the satisfaction of watching a pile of sticks become consumed by fire? I think it all comes back to the sabre toothed tiger myself.
So, as the days grow warmer and the evenings longer, we can expect a plethora of bonfires to be lit across the land. Like birdsong, they signal the start of the long, hot summer months. With the demise of hand pushed lawn mowers, the gentle trundle of which, marked an entire childhood of Sunday mornings, for me, the bonfire remains the epitome of British summer in my mind.
Long live the Bonfire!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • hilarymb

    Hi Debbie – we’ve always had bonfires .. but I’d say it’s mostly the women – my mother and now my sister in law … and me too when I had a garden .. which I miss – but sometimes we just end up where we are for a while ..

    Love bonfires – but can understand the smoke story … cheers Hilary

    • Debbie

      A tongue in cheek post really Hilary. There is something about the smell I love despite it attacking my sinuses and the sound of those twigs crackling…potatoes roasting on the embers…ah…the tortoise’s demise was a very sad part of course. Glad to hear it isn’t just men then! I am sure there are plenty of ladies who light bonfires out there…:-)

  • Teresa

    My grandad used to have bonfires-a-plenty. I love the smell of them in autumn. I’m just glad they no longer burn the stubble in the fields – it always used to be a rush to get the washing in and shut all the windows before everything was covered in smuts. So sad about the tortoise xx

  • Andrea Carlisle

    I love bonfires, too. They make me feel safe and ready for storytelling. I’m sure those tigers absolutely hated them. The smell! The assembled riff-raff talking and joking and laughing. The leaps of flame and sudden loud spits. I bet I’d like English bonfires even more than those I’ve known. Thanks for this, Deborah. (And somehow I fell off your mailing list again. Why does this happen? I’ve lost subscribers through some kink in WordPress, too; anyhow, I’m back!)

    • Debbie

      Glad you are back Andrea – WordPress has been behaving very strangely of late – not sure whether the automatic updates are to blame but hope we don’t lose too many subscribers between us! 🙂

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