The bonfire burned and burned, choking out black smoke, and when my headache got so bad I could barely see straight, I decided I would have to look into it.
I say this at every year’s end: I am so tired of fighting. I sometimes wish I could lose this supernatural gift I have for attracting causes, unearthing conspiracies and refusing to take the official line. It’s not a gift, it’s a curse.
‘I see dead people,’ said the boy in that film about ghosts. I see problems, underneath the surface of everything, no matter how shiny. It drives me mad. I wish I could become normal and believe in what things look like on the outside. But I came into the world suspicious. I was born a cynic.
This bonfire in a field next to where my horses live gets lit every bonfire night for a fireworks event held by a pub which borders that field on the other side. And every year it goes on burning for weeks, sometimes months. Local people have been contacting me for some time asking me to look into it. But until I started keeping my horses in the field right next door to the bonfire, I always thought their fears sounded far-fetched.
This year, I witnessed the bonfire being built by the employees of the man who owns the field, who also happens to run a nearby waste disposal plant, where he deals with rubbish for the local council. You may know that some of the rubbish taken away from us householders ends up, at some stage, in outside processing plants… Oh, for goodness sake. This is too much, isn’t it?
One of the people who has been begging me for years to look into all this is a well-respected independent councillor. I contacted him and asked: ‘If I start writing about this, knowing the situation as you do, what do you think will happen to me?’
‘Nothing. You’ll be fine,’ he answered, way too quickly. But now I feel like I’ve started so I’ll finish. Fine. This is the story of the strange case of the everlasting bonfire. Normally, on the morning after a bonfire event, you would expect to see a smouldering, fairly flat pile of ashes that might smoke for a few days but which would go out in the rain.
In this case, we all woke up the day after bonfire night to find that the pub’s ‘community bonfire’ was getting bigger. A lot of what was on it just didn’t seem to be burning. On top of which, as that stuff burned down incredibly slowly, churning out black smoke, men were arriving in tractors and piling it back up.
A week later it all but went out, then someone set the whole thing on fire again and the flames roared into the sky as high as during the fireworks. From my vantage point in the next-door field, I photographed everything.
It was about two days in that I noticed I had a headache. I made no connection at first. Then my headache got worse and by the end of the first week my entire skull throbbed. The builder boyfriend said his lungs were wheezing. They’re wheezy anyway in winter but he claimed they were worse than usual.
Then a friend arrived at the field looking peaky and when I asked her if she was all right she said: ‘I think I’ve got a virus. My head is killing me.’
Shortly after that, another girl came to check her horse and said: ‘I’m not stopping long, my head’s throbbing. Didn’t think I drank that much last night.’
I rang the independent councillor and asked him: worse-case scenario, what did he think was being burned in that bonfire? I told him to send me all the evidence he had and he forwarded me lots of emails in which he has tried to warn the Environment Agency and the local council about his suspicions for years, to no avail.
No one in authority seems to want to look at it. The pub owners say it’s nothing to do with them; they only let this geezer build them a bonfire on his land for their fireworks event because his field is next door to them. They can’t stop him burning whatever he likes on it after that.
‘With all this black smoke, have you any concerns for your customers?’ I asked, for it struck me that one way through this might be to persuade a big corporate brewery chain to back me in my Erin Brockoviching. But he didn’t seem keen. So it all hinges on whether I have the energy to start the year trying to organise an air quality investigation. Or whether I make it my New Year’s resolution to become happy and normal.