It’s Autumn. Time to get wrapped up in your big coat, scarf and wolly hat. Imagine yourself in a photoshoot fit for an autumnal catalogue, complete with playful smiles, kicking piles of scattered auburn leaves. In reality, the combination of hat, scarf and big coat can leave you sweating profusely because it’s actually a wee bit milder than you think it is. Nevertheless, imagine strolling in your local park and listening to the sound of leaves crunching underfoot; autumn in Britain, (if it’s not constantly raining), can be a good opportunity to go outdoors and socialise. Then when you get home after a brisk walk, you might settle down on the settee, all cozy in your big socks with a proper brew and biscuits. In your autumnal scene, did you imagine bombs going off or dogs persistently barking at neighbours’ fireworks late into the night? No, didn’t think so.
When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why our country seemingly celebrated a man who’d committed treason. The younger me clearly didn’t realise that fires were actually lit to burn Fawkes’ effigy to celebrate King James I survival, following the attempt on his life. You see, history was (is) not my strong point. Good thing that I was reminded about Guy Fawkes recently when I visited York Dungeons (where my sister was accused of cavorting naked in Ye olde Yorvik – which is a whole other story…).
Instead, when I grew up in Sheffield in the early 1990s, my Bonfire Night historical references were limited to walking past a few teenage lads outside the corner shop begging for a “penny for the guy”. Who invented that strange tradition? I wouldn’t mind if there was an effort that warranted a small financial donation for artistic flair – but drawing a marker-pen face on a stuffed bin liner and asking people to put change in your upside-down, knock-off Burberry cap so you can buy some fags, didn’t inspire me to donate any of my pocket money. Historically, it seems, young children used to ask for a penny for the guy and use the money for fireworks but I’m sure the lads I used to see were just collecting a few bob to go and get a few ‘tinnies’ to drink on the park. My Bonfire Nights weren’t spent begging but rather trying not to get burnt by flames or amateur firework displays where men (yes, I’m generalising) suddenly acquired expert knowledge of minor explosives for one night only and I pretended not to be worried that a rocket might just chase me around the back garden.
I do have sympathy for people who are anti-bonfire night: people who have been harmed or frightened by fireworks. Poor pets who have to endure the deafening noises or the minority of anti-socials who have been known to put fireworks in wheelie bins as I’ve seen in the news or on neighbourhood forums. Why do some people have to spoil it? This week, I read an article in the local paper about a group of kids setting of fireworks in the city centre during the morning commute – the potential consequences don’t bear thinking about. I think of the extra pressure on our emergency services, having to respond to bonfire or mischievous night related incidents.
Having said that, I personally quite like Bonfire Night; it can be an excuse to meet up with friends and family, eat drink and be merry while watching pretty patterns in the night sky. I’ve already been to a spectacular firework display hosted my partner’s cricket club last week which brought pleasure to the families who attended. On Bonfire Night itself, I’ll be going to a family bonfire party where our priorities will be eating, drinking and socialising. And eating. And drinking. I’m looking forward to getting wrapped up and catching up with family. Whatever you’re reason for celebrating Bonfire Night or if you’re anti-5th November celebrations, I hope it’s enjoyable and a safe one.