Ah autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Crisp afternoons crunching through falling leaves and the homely smell of gently smouldering bonfires. Or, in our case, the acrid stench of burning plastic and plumes of black smoke filling the air like downtown Mogadishu. Yes we’ve finally got around to clearing out the first of many barns and having a good ‘burn up’, the term we have fondly adopted round here to refer to ‘the act of getting rid of any old shit through the medium of fire’. It probably then comes as no surprise to learn that my husband’s business used to be called ‘Twisted Firestarter Bushcraft’. Trouble is he’s much more Disco Inferno these days than Prodigy if I’m truly honest, hence we’ve recently rebranded to the hopefully less alarmingly titled ‘Wild Bushcraft Company’, (depending of course on your interpretation of ‘wild’).
Ok, dictionary masterclass and shameless plug over (sorry), let’s get back to that fire. The conversation one morning last week went something like this:
Him: I’m going to have a big burn up today.
Me: Are we allowed to do that?
Him: What do you mean?
Me: I mean don’t you like need a licence or permission or something before you burn the entire contents of a barn to kingdom come? Are we even remotely qualified to do this?
Him: It may have escaped your notice that I pretty much do this for a living. Plus it’s our land and we can do whatever the hell we like.
Me: Whatevs. I’m staying well out of your way. And I’m putting the local fire brigade on standby just in case.
Him: Shut up *or words to that effect*
And off he trots down the drive, firelighters and matches in hand (sorry to shatter the illusion for anyone that knows him as a bushcraft instructor and imagines him painfully labouring away over his fire-by-friction bow drill set each day). To start with it was all looking rather tame – burning up the piles of scrub and dead wood left around the place. Then he got his tractor and trailer out and parked up outside the barns and started heaping old bits of furniture, rabbit hutches, plastic feed bags, tyres, old buckets, you name it, on it went and straight onto the fire. Now there is something incredibly therapeutic not to mention trance-like (original sense not the techno-house meaning – Paul Simon’s Gracelands was blaring out of the back of the Landrover while all this was going on… rather than Paul van Dyk) about watching something go up in smoke. We were drawn, mesmerised by the dancing flames on the piles of random stuff that vanished before our very eyes in no time at all. Another step towards making the place a bit tidier and feeling more like our own. And to give him his dues, it was all very controlled and passed without incident.
Except, that is, for the point in proceedings where he very nearly razed the entire place, outbuildings, farmhouse, the whole kit and caboodle completely to the ground. Rooting around in a small antechamber of the elderly Dutch barn, he flicks on the light switch in the hope of finding any final old clobber lurking away in the corners. Satisfied that he’s found everything he wanders off thinking, “that fire smells pretty close now, wind must have changed direction, huh.” It was only when he realised that he had forgotten his chainsaw gloves that he went back to the barn to find a swallow’s nest happily smoking away on the lightbulb, literally but seconds away from igniting and sending the whole place up like a tinder box. It doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened had he not been such a forgetful klutz on this occasion. Mind you, in some ways it might have solved a few demolition and redesign problems for us, albeit in a very dramatic and extreme manner!
Panic over, we retired to the house to light our log burner which has recently creaked back into action (burning the arses off any poor unsuspecting birds nesting in the chimney over the summer) now that the nights are drawing in and we are getting frosts at night (already!). Word on the lane has it that Siberian swans have been sighted in the area which is apparently a sure fire sign that we are in for the mother of all cold winters. Bring it on. We are already moving into full-on ‘prepper’ mode, planning trips to the Cash ‘n’ Carry for apocalyptic type quantities of tins (sod being self sufficient when it's -10c and you're up to your arm pits in snow quite frankly) and dead-of-night forays to the council salt mountain down the road to stock up on grit for the drive. There have even been semi-serious conversations about investing in a snow plough attachment for the tractor. You watch, it will turn out to be the mildest winter on record. Probably no bad thing given that we have now burnt up every last flammable object around the place in the event of things getting desperate. And on that note, I'm off to chuck another log on the fire.