Monday 12th September
I have always loved the smell of a bonfire, that rich and irresistible aroma of leaves and wood burning in the open air. My present garden is really too small, and I do not have bonfires, but we often had them in the house in Tuscany, and of course in the garden at Putney the gardener used to burn all the garden refuse in an incinerator, which was like a galvanised dustbin with a little funnel in the lid. What is it about the smell of burning twigs that excites me so? Maybe the memory of bonfire-nights as a girl when there was a huge bonfire over the allotments, not so far from our house, every year. It wasn’t one of these officially sanctioned affairs one hears of nowadays, run by the council; this was a much more organic affair, with all the local children and their parents attending. I suppose the adults had helped to build the bonfire; it was huge, and must have been built up over several days. I can remember the anticipation and my worrying that we would get there too late, and the fire would have already burned the guy, and me nagging Grandma into allowing us just one small box of fireworks, which would be lit by the gardener in our own garden long before it got really dark. And making great big loops in the air with sparklers, always held in a glove – Grandma was most insistent. And then over we trekked to the allotment, and the crowd already gathered and the huge fire roaring away – and all the faces lit up by the flames. I never knew the other children’s names, they went to a different school than me, but I had nodded to them sometimes on Saturdays when shopping. I realise now that I never played with other children, out of school that is. I was always expected home prompt at four, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of dallying or even talking to children I didn’t know. Sad? No, not at all really; I was quite happy in my own little world, and I had my few friends at St. Mary’s, so I never lacked for company. But I always looked forward to bonfire-night – it was one of the highlights of my year.
And so now, as the evenings start to draw in, I look forward to Autumn again, when you suddenly catch that unmistakable smell of a bonfire in someone’s back garden. It always brings a smile to my face.