I love Bonfire Night. Give me fireworks over Hallowe’en any day. When I was a student there wasn’t a fire, but we used to go down to watch the fireworks shooting out of Clifford’s Tower with the sort of thump you could feel deep down in your chest, but my love affair with all things sparkly started much earlier. When I was a child, growing up in rural Devon, I never went to the sort of community show that was put on for the citizens of York in the 1990s. Back then, I was lucky if I got a sparkler (you had to be standing behind the rope, next to the Village Hall Steps and be visibly little for one of those), but even so, the night was full of almost uncontainable, fizzy excitement.
Back when I was a child, my dad was on the Fireworks Committee. He used to spend the evening on the stage, knocking nails into the stands for Catherine Wheels and rockets while my mum, my sister and I watched, out in the field in the dark. We would trip down the lane, our cracker-torches casting little lights into the hedges, mysterious in the dark, welly booted, gloved and hatted, ready for the lighting of a bonfire that the older kids had built over the previous weeks, and my dad would scare us with tales of children who built dens in them, fell asleep and were burnt alive (a bit like the ones who shut themselves into fridges, or played in cardboard boxes in the road). Where the boys obtained the tyres and the old mattresses, and how they got it going even on the dampest of occasions was a mystery beyond my childish brain, but still.
There were always rockets with parachutes that we children would chase after in the dark (I never found one, despite all the running around getting gloriously muddy), and there was always a dramatic tale to be told when we returned home. There was the time my mum’s coat (she had a rather glamourous fake-fur collar-y hood type thing, I seem to recall) caught fire, and the time that all the fireworks went off in the hall (that one possibly tops the lot).
It had rained all day, I remember, and my dad had refused to go, declaring from the be-slippered comfort of his own fireside that no-one in their right mind would go down the hill to watch a bonfire and fireworks in such a downpour. So, instead of Mr Safety, Mr Cigarettes took his place upon the stage and, my mum and I looked on in amazement from our spot by the fire as the hall windows flashed first white, then green and then red, and everyone suddenly piled out, the raffle hastily abandoned.
When I had children of my own, one of the things I was excited about was sharing my love of bonfire night. Daddy, my own Mr Safety, refuses to have a bonfire (apparently it’s anti-social), so, when they were big enough, Sam must have been about six, A 4 and L in a pushchair, we took them to the community show. Oh, what a mistake that was.
We should have realised, after we took them to the battle re-enactment in the summer and Sam hot footed it out of there the moment a cannon went off, that he would not take very kindly to the experience. He didn’t appreciate the impressive bonfire. He didn’t want to stand and watch in the dark. No matter how much I oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed he wouldn’t look at the pretty lights. The bangs had him in a state. He tried, several times, to run off, and we eventually returned home, somewhat stressed, and me, disappointed.
But, never one to let one bad experience put me off, I set about coming up with an alternative plan. Now, it turns out that Daddy had a completely different experience of the 5th November to me; rather than going to the local display, his parents, ever the genial hosts, held a party in their garden. For him, the night was full of family and friends and something called Grey Peas (a delight I feel I can live without investigating). So we decided to give having a party of our own a go, especially as we found that we could buy boxes of fireworks with a low noise factor.
There was the time when Sam spent the entire evening hiding in the sitting room, playing with his cars, the time when it threw it down and we all stood about giggling under umbrellas, and the time we finally got him to hold a sparkler. He’s still not keen, though, it has to be said. This year we went to watch the community fireworks from the safety of a friend’s garden, and, despite taking Daddy’s ear defenders, he remained more interested in the plastic chainsaw than what was going on outside.
I doubt that Sam will ever catch the spark of excitement that is bonfire night. I’m glad that he is unlikely to take it into his head and visit Ottery St Mary for the mayhem that is tar barrel rolling (the one time I have been heartily glad to return home), but there is a part of me that is sad that he doesn’t share my joy. But, what I hope, after all these years of looking for a way to make it special, is that when he looks back, when he has a similar vantage point of years, rather than fear and anxiety and stress, his memories of Bonfire Night are filled with family and friends, fun and laughter, however he chooses to do it.
This post is dedicated to all of my family and friends who, over the years, have helped us to light the odd sparkler or three. Thank you.