There’s a cheer with a real fire that the civilising influence of several millennia can do nothing to dampen. It’s a primeval comforter, our response to it being hard-wired into us at some point on the evolutionary journey. The alluring blue light of smartphone or tablet might flirt with our attention and distract us from more constructive pursuits, but it can’t hold a candle to an open flame, lacking not only the warmth, but also somehow the substance.
I’ll often sit down of an evening and watch the play of the flames in the stove; it’s a decidedly superior way in which to while away the time, especially when compared to watching the telly, and the stories that unfold in the heart of the fire are more compelling by far. But this winter having been such a disappointment so far – so mild, and dreary – we’ve hardly had cause to light a fire at all, which is beyond miserable. Our one consolation for the awful darkness at the death of the year is the bright fire in our hearths; it’s a pitiful season that not only robs us of the daylight, but contrives to be too warm to make the lighting of a fire a daily event.
How glad is the gardener of a good blaze, though! Tediously mild or bitingly cold, there’s always plenty of material unfit for compost heap or shredder, and too unwieldy for the council’s green waste collection, that will amply acquit itself as fuel for a heartening burn to drive the dull drab grey away. I’m no cub scout and, much as I’m sure it would offend Messers Grylls and Mears, resort to firelighters and matches to get a bonfire going. But never, in the manner of one venerable assistant head gardener of my acquaintance, to diesel, poured liberally from an old red can. He was a fabulous character, a lovely man and an absolute walking encyclopaedia of gardening knowledge and experience, so it always came as a surprise to me when he reached for the accelerant, rather than beginning the process by the rubbing together of a couple of sticks. At least it wasn’t petrol. People who habitually start fires with petrol tend not to last very long.
There are those who might look askance at my advocacy of the garden bonfire, pointing to the aggregate effects upon global warming of a nation of gardeners burning their winter waste. And they might have a point, if all of us did it every week. But I fail to see how the occasional, well tended and considerately managed fire could cause a problem. Besides which, I’ll only take lectures on the topic from those who have forsworn both meat and air travel*. I’m not sure how many bonfires I’ll get to a year’s worth of cattle farts and return flights to Lanzarote, but I’m willing to bet it’s a fair few.
Today has been damp, but tomorrow looks fine and I’ve high hopes of finding sufficient dry tinder and kindling to get a fire going. There’s always plenty of birch brash in my Wednesday garden, and that needs little encouragement to burn. All that remains is to pack matches, firelighters and hayfork, and pray the rain holds off overnight.
Can’t help seeing faces in things. A warm smile on the incinerator here.
*You’ll probably still get short shrift. But maybe a toasted marshmallow if you’re lucky.