Yeah, ask me – I’m an expert

16Sep14

You don’t know until you try, do you? I proved it beyond doubt last weekend when I went to stay with a lovely chum in the depths of Kent. For example, I didn’t know you could scorch half a very tall tree with a bonfire until we put match to a handsome pyre and it went up like a frigging rocket. Sheets of flame, there were, loud crackles and bangs – not loud enough to cover my ‘Holy shit, Sian’ – but still, substantial enough to make me not want to turn my back on it.

Photographed from some distance, that thing is about 10 feet tall. Wait until it goes up - in about 45 seconds

Photographed from some distance, that thing is about 10 feet tall – we had to throw the branches onto the top 

Once the flames had died down to a kind of volcanic-crater glow, we transferred our attention to the log pile. I had missed the visit of a duo of toothsome tree surgeons the previous day, who had chopped a couple of felled trunks into logs, which then had to be turned into a sturdy, weatherproof pile. Since I struggle to stack a dishwasher, I elected to be the muscle, pushing barrow after barrow of logs to where my hostess – an art director by trade – was turning my tumbled dumps into herringbone masterpieces. Slowly we got down to the dregs: the enormous logs that were unbudgeable by lady arms, but having once seen my father, 25 years ago, split logs with a borrowed maul and sledgehammer, I chirpily lied and said I was a dab hand.

Maul and sledgie were fetched from the shed and an air of expectation intensified around my hostess as she handed them over. I smothered a gulp. Needn’t have bothered – it’s brilliant! You just assume an air of confidence, pray to God you’re not going to break the bastarding hammer or your/anyone-else’s toes then take a swing. Yes, there’ll be several heartstopping moments when you think you’ve got the maul stuck in the log so deeply that only a mythical uncrowned king of England will be able to free it, but there will be others when you feel like Boadicea.

Once you get past the checkerboard jacket, note the smirk-to-split correlation

Once you get past the checkerboard jacket, note the smirk-to-split correlation

That log is intact, isn't it? Note grimace, composed of half-fear, half-rage

That log is intact, isn’t it? Note grimace, composed of half-fear, half-rage

Only four of the most intransigent survived our onslaught (‘Let’s leave them for Bob, shall we?’), so we hid them under the hedge, set up a table and chairs beside the embers of the bonfire that was still glowing strongly seven hours later and settled down with a gin and tonic that was about the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. My hands and arms were trembling with such muscle fatigue by then that I could hardly pick up the glass at first, but hard liquor set me right, and truth be told, if it hadn’t, I’d just have licked it off the table.

As the evening drew in and the bats and owls declared their presence, we turned in for dinner, which we had in front of the sitting-room fire, an altogether more sedate conflagration. I knew it was too early to burn my work of the afternoon, but still, were we toasting our toes in the glow of stout Kentish oak, ash or sycamore? Were we hell. We were toasting our toes in the glow of stout Brixton lavatory seat, which had been sacrificed during a refurb and had made its way to Kent.

So yes, things I didn’t know until I tried: a 50ft tree could be scorched; I can carry 1700 tons of logs (or thereabouts-ish) in an afternoon; sledgehammers are fun and toilet seats make good fuel.

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