Through the tunnel of doom

Margaret Stonehouse, current President of the Allendale Lions Club, asked me to light the fire this year, to my great delight and slight queasiness. What if the thing took off with a whoosh and a roar, and I was still scrambling about backwards through the tunnel? What if the tunnel ceiling suddenly shifted, and everything came down upon me? Doug Ness, who has lit a fire or two during his tenure as President, suggested I not look up while inside the tunnel, as the roof was definitely sagging. So I took his advice.

Handed a diesel-soaked torch made up by Dan, one of the Lions’ helpers this year, I opened the door and crawled inside. He’d loaned me a lighter too, so I could get things going once I was suitably ensconced. The smell of diesel was all pervasive — I could imagine I was deep in the cylinders of a huge engine. So I lit the torch, twirling it around to be sure it was burning well, and then touched some of the newspaper and cardboard that had also been liberally soaked with diesel throughout the wet afternoon and just beforehand. I didn’t think it would make too much of a whoosh (petrol does that, diesel just burns steadily), but after I’d got it going in a few places around the big bale, I laid down the torch and skedaddled outside. I was rather glad to see Nigel standing guard on the door, ready to crawl in after me if my foot should happen to get trapped in one of the pallets that formed the floor. And then I turned around to snap this photograph of the hay bale aflame.

The smoke poured out, for sure, but we could hear crackling from the heart of the pile. Everyone was anticipating a big eruption, but the smoke rose like a pillar of white in the still air. Flames burned within the smoke envelope for a minute or two, and then seemed to subside. Finally they leapt up again, a rocket exhaust glowing brightly, almost an incandescent lamp in effect, and we could breathe with some relief: the pile was really alight.

And it was time to watch the fireworks!

Perhaps there was a slightly lower turnout this year, as the rain all day might have put folks off, but the evening was bright and clear in the end, and sometimes the moon shone out through the gaps in the clouds. The food tent was busy, the donut lady was busy, and the crowd gathered all around the fire. Before lighting the fire, I was enjoying a stint at the gate, helping Shelley, another new worker, and I was struck by how many babies and young children there were pouring down the lane into the bus yard.

It’s all a lovely community exercise, of course, and as we packed up the food tent (Nigel was already marshalling helpers to take the marquee down against any chance of a windy onslaught later), everyone quietly dispersed. Another bonfire come and gone in Allendale. And only 55 more days to go until the next one!


  1. Hi Larry
    Did you wonder about the basis on which you were selected to undertake this task; the smallest/skinniest; fastest crawling backwards; foolhardiest; least claustrophobic; most expendable or the one who wasn’t in the room when they took the vote? The risks you take in serving our community. Well done doesn’t cover it.

    1. Actually it was an honour 🙂 but your comment, Paul, lets me add in this comment from Sylvia Milburn, who also set off the fire in the same way. It’s pretty safe, actually, but the telling of the story can’t help but make it feel more frightening than it is. Anyway, here’s Sylvia: “That’s the first time I’ve seen the word skedaddled written!
      I worried all day when it was my turn to light the bonfire. I made sure Michael Keen was standing at the entrance ready to haul me out if something collapsed.
      Your experience sounded terrifying.”

  2. It was lovely to see you on the gate Larry. Didn’t realise you had lit the bonfire too though! Brave man. As ever we all had a lovely time. We’ve only ever been to the Hexham bonfire once and never thought it was as good as this one. It’s a great chance to get together with the community (once the fire is lit and you can actually see anyone) . I think the biggest impact your diary has had on me this year is to point out all the effort that goes into keeping a small and vibrant community going and the locals who do the hard work, often un-noticed and unrecognised by others who attend the various events. It’s certainly helped me realise how much goes into our treasured 5th November celebrations. Thanks!

  3. How exciting, I never knew someone went under to light it, is it a permanent tunnel? Someone needs to get in touch with script writers of Midsummer Murders — what a plot that would be ha ha, pleased you got out safe Larry. Great pics too.

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