So tonight is Bonfire Night tonight, more formally Guy Fawkes Night. But this year there won’t be any big public displays, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently on lockdown and here in Scotland large gatherings are banned. And while I’m missing all the things we can’t do at the moment, this one well, I’m ambivalent.
I mean I’ve enjoyed bonfires and firework displays, sang protest songs around bonfires, taken MasterS to municipal displays. I lived in Edinburgh for over thirty years so was thrilled by, and grew inured to fireworks. They were the finale to the Festival and Hogmanay celebrations. And here for the past two years our local pub has organised a bonfire and fireworks display. A lovely community activity which has raised funds for our local primary school.
Images from our local display, it’s always really hard to take good photos of fireworks
So why my ambivalence?
As a child I was scared by both fire and fireworks. The idea of a house fire terrified me, made me physically sick. And it wasn’t so much a fear of death or injury. It was the destructive power of the fire itself.
We sometimes had a bonfire in the garden, and a box of fireworks which would be set off by dad. I loved us writing our names with sparklers, and could cope with pretty Catherine wheels, but was unnerved by the rockets, and positively hated bangers.
For years, the clocks going back heralded a few weeks of dread. I rushed home from the bus and avoided going out again. It seemed as if every corner concealed other kids setting off fireworks, or even worse, throwing the about.
There’s a trend for my generation to look back at the idylls of our childhoods.All that playing on the street, staying out all day in the holidays. Some sort of halcyon time for kids. I remember the “Public Information” films which were rife on TV. The world was full of peril, old fridges, railway lines, strangers, nuclear war. And then there were the truly terrifying ones starring Tony and his speaking cat Charley. Have a look. But checking now, there isn’t a firework safety film. So why do I have a memory of someone horribly burned by a firework accidentally ignited their pocket? Did that actually happen to someone I knew?
I didn’t like “Penny for the Guy” either. An effigy toted around the houses in return for cash to buy fireworks. A couple of times BigSisterGlamourPuss made us a Guy, and they were really good. Specially the one with pretty authentic 17th century styling. But they were for our eyes only. Going around the houses was definitely NOT ALLOWED. Not that I minded, I found the whole thing quite unsettling. Particularly when the Guy was a poor old dressed up Teddy Bear.
I grieved for those toys and clung to the hope they didn’t burn. Deep down I knew they did.
And so on reflection it’s one festival I won’t be sad at missing this year. On my social media feeds I see stories of pets and other animals traumatised by the bangs of fireworks, I’m lucky DogS isn’t bothered by them, but that’s not the case for many others. And what of people who’ve lived in war zones?
Then the festival itself, commemorating the torture and execution of a group who tried to blow up Parliament. Even though most people won’t know or remember its roots, they aren’t pretty.
So yes I can do without it.
Instead I’ll remember the songs, and the sparklers and Hogmanay. And look forward to when we can do those things again.