Keep the home fires burning – November blog by Victoria Vyvyan
At Trelowarren we keep the home fires burning
All that needs to be said about bonfires in the Pleasure Gardens at Trelowarren was said by C.C. Vyvyan in The Old Place. So in homage to Great Aunt Clara …
Think Armada, think Napoleon; think Jubilee, Coronation, and Armistice; think Shadrach Misach and Abednego and the great Library at Alexandria. Our bonfires have a far flung ancestry.
Here at Trelowarren we differentiate between the bonfire of the leisured man who has time to pause and lean on his pitchfork to admire the curling plumes of smoke, and our roaring, hissing, squeaking, popping conflagrations. Our bonfires are a serious and strenuous performance, a symbol of our losing war with laurel, myrtle, bramble and even hydrangea. We have elevated the bonfire to an art form. On almost any afternoon in autumn and winter there is no excuse to slink indoors, there is work to be done, a bonfire must be lit.
‘The secret of a big steady bonfire, as with all undertakings, is in the laying of foundations.’
Well said Clara.
Beginnings are small, but we would all be secretly ashamed if it took more than one match to start it. A decent weekend activity with the children was always to see who could light a good big bonfire with just one match. After it has begun, properly begun with no danger of dwindling, the aim is to make sure that the core is hot, hot, hot. We take a basket of logs from the shed just to make sure. Then we add dry logs from the piles of laurel logs from previous years. Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) contains hydrogen cyanide which means that it gives off an eerie blue flame in the gloaming, and the leaves burn with a strange squeaking pop. It doesn’t really matter that it is poisonous – what with all the air.
Now the moment for adding the branches and tree crowns and brambles … the garden clearings – but only a real rookie would start just piling it on. What’s needed is a pair of good loppers and a hand saw to make sure that one side of each branch can lie flat on the fire, or failing that, the branches must go in stem first. Untidy to look at but ensuring a total burn.
The best bonfires are not a one person job. The fire roars. It burns everything and must be energetically fed. It is too hot to get close to, coats come off and eyebrows are in danger. As the light fades, sparks (invisible at first) soar up and then drift down, leaving holes in your jumper and hair full of woodsmoke.
Back to Clara:
‘Sometimes the fire has been so glorious that we cannot go to bed without a farewell visit after supper. It is very quiet in the darkness as we climb the grass bank to the terrace … Our bonfire glows like a cyclops’ eye but there is neither flame not noise. We stir it up and pull it together and soon there are flames lighting our faces and all the surrounding trees and shrubs, crackling loudly, springing from stick to stick. leaping towards heaven in a great column. The sparks fly up and out in all directions; no fireworks were ever half so beautiful.