The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


Broad bean fungal diseaseJohn Coe arrived this morning looking chirpy and presented me with a bag of his own beetroot. He clearly had got over his potato blight depression. We sat drinking coffee and chatting and all was well until we tramped down the garden and I stupidly mentioned tomato blight. He stopped walking and turned to me immediately.
“I had 15 plants standing out in the ground. They got the blight. Dead in three days. Disaster.”
His face was grim.

Last night I discovered that our broad beans had been infected with Chocolate Spot and Rust and had been planning to burn the broad bean plants myself. Suddenly I had an instant remedy for his blues.
“John we need to make a bonfire.”
Suddenly John was pulling on his bonfire building gloves, rushing for the petrol can, asking for newspapers and matches. Pyromania was the heady focus. He was in his element. For the past five months, he has been banned from making bonfires in our garden.

John’s bonfires were never small affairs.

Eventually, a combination of complaints from neighbours, burning down part of a mature yew hedge and an old apple tree had me enraged. I waited a week to calm down before I tackled him. I managed not to shriek when I explained that from now on all fires had to be enclosed in the furnace dustbin (a nifty little galvanised dustbin with a chimney in the lid).

Disappointed, John nodded and stared into the middle distance. I knew from the set of his shoulders that he would never use the dustbin.

This morning I suggested using the dustbin. His response was positive. We walked up the garden together and J retrieved it from the shrubby north border. He was so delighted that the bonfire embargo had been lifted that he would have made a bonfire in a recycled egg box.
“Of course I’ll use it. It needs emptying out. Let me tip out the debris in the bonfire area.”

I opened the backdoor while I was cooking breakfast. The smell of wood smoke was drifting up the garden. Then I heard the unmistakable crack of large things burning rapidly. When I reached the old bonfire area, John turned away from the raging flames.
“I am burning all the stuff that I have stored for the past five months!” He chortled. “I’m using the dustbin. Look.”

The dustbin was positioned between the flames and the remnants of yew hedging as a sort of barrier.

You can’t teach an old pyromaniac new tricks.

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  1. John retired last year. His knees eventually gave out. This story is so typically “John”, bright as a button but the most stubborn (and lovable bloke and friend) that we are ever likely to meet.
    He also could do a normal man’s day in four hours. A bundle of energy and muscle.
    We do miss him so, along with his wife, Maureen, who was always chirpy, laughing and upbeat.
    Those occasions when they came to help us out were always enjoyable occasions, filled with chat and much laughter.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi PyJamas

    This is a wonderful, albeit scary story. Thank goodness your sister in law was alright.

    Thanks for sharing, it kept us entertained all evening!

  3. PyJamas

    Hells bells and flaming Nora’s…..

    Having read all that has been put about bonfires I could not but relish the chance to tell you about an incident at my mother in laws one bonfire night many years ago.

    Because her garden is only small I came about with the idea that, that year™s fireworks bonfire would be burnt inside a 45 gallon oil drum with the top cut off and many holes punched in the side.

    Having raised it on bricks and filled the drum up with wood and rubbish of all sorts, we waited until it got dark that evening before beginning the lighting procedure.

    I had placed a bundle of oil soaked rags at the bottom of the drum when filling it with wood and rubbish and near one of the holes through which I intended to light the drum.

    With all the family present and with a lighted taper I approached the drum and attempted to light the rags. Unfortunately the evening™s damp air had got to the rags and had made them slightly damp. So I squirted some petrol through the hole onto the rags and mindful of there being petrol present, this time, I intended to light the rag at arms length with a lit rag on the end of a bean pole.

    So once again I approached the drum with a flaming rag on the end of the bean pole only to be stopped in my tracks by my brother in laws phone starting to ring. All stop once more, while he sorted his call out. Unfortunately it took so long that people and children started to drift back in doors much to the annoyance of my sister in law who decided that she would take matters in her hands.

    I had gone inside to see how long the call would take and un be known to me the sister in law had struck a match and was in the process of pushing it through one of the bin holes¦¦!

    What happened next will go down in our family history as one of those moments we all talk about with gut wrenching laughter; the type that has tears flowing at the very mention of the incident. To say that the whole house shook and the windows rattled would be an understatement to say the least.

    Rushing outside I was just in time to see the whole contents of the drum returning to earth from where they had been ejected into the sky like a cannon ball from a mortar gun. All around us came the sound of lumber returning to ground with the mix of smashing glass as several green houses took the full force of 6×4™s posts etc.

    Looking towards my sister in law and seeing she was ok, I fell about laughing as I realised her front fringe and eyebrows had been burnt off. I will not tell you what was said later between her and her husband but suffice to say the air was blue.

    Basically what had happened was that we had created a cannon with the drum and with petrol fumes just waiting to explode and project the contents skyward. Needless to say no more drum fires got to be lit…… 🙂

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Tammy,

    Bonfires fulfil a basic need in John. When he was banned he wasn’t the same man at all.

    Hi Chris,

    Absolutely right. That is probably the reason why John’s bonfires are so destructive.

    I’ll point him in the direction of the paraffin next time. Thanks for the tip.

  5. Sorry Fiona, I’m a bit behind, only just read this.

    At the risk of sounding like a real old bore may I point out that you should never, ever, use petrol to light a bonfire? It’s incredibly dangerous. Paraffin is the right fuel for the job.

  6. This made me laugh. Men and their fires.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat,

    Give John a box of matches and an old newspaper and he is like a man possessed. The bonfire was still smouldering two days later, despite being dowsed with water by me.

    Hi Amanda,

    The poutine sounds so tempting. Real comfort food.

    Thinking about it, I have leapt 2 dress sizes since meeting D.

    Hi Celia,

    Dusk sounds the perfect time for a bonfire. I love the smell of them. John’s are a massive affair, started with a petrol soaked rag and need to be tended. Say no more…

  8. I’m the one who cuts down stuff and piles it up in ‘Bonfire Corner’, luckily Cliff loves good bonfire – so now and again the pile gets reduced! Dusk is a good bonfire-therapy time, woody smoky pullover time! – sparks in the smoke above the garden wall. And I love finding the still hot ash in the mornings.

    I bet that cheered John up hugely!

  9. A fellow pyromaniac – give him my warmest wishes!
    Loved the look of the souflette yesterday and I saw poutine on another blog recently. I’d never heard of it before but thought I must give it a try. They suggested a melting cheese such as mozzarella if unable to get hold of curds. Don’t know about going up a dress size – try 3 or 4… (Note to self: Self restraint wouldn’t do any harm!)

  10. Thanks for the morning Giggle Fiona!! I bet he was in his element!

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