Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bonfire Nostalgia

[Readers from overseas should probably check out this link before proceeding.]

This morning the air was lovely and crisp and, as I rode towards Earlsfield, there was a hint of wood smoke in the air. It reminded me that Bonfire Night is just around the corner.

I have many fond memories of Bonfire Night when I was young. When I was a child our house backed on to some substantial waste ground which, back in the days when children were allowed to be children, get dirty and scrape their knees, was the site of many imaginative adventures. Actually to call it waste ground perhaps gives the wrong idea, think more like unmanaged common ground; it wasn’t an industrial tip, it was green and there were trees and lots of grass and a disused canal running through it, where you could catch sticklebacks at certain times of year. Children would play, people would walk their dogs and it was a shortcut between several surrounding suburban areas.

And every Guy Fawkes Night, the entire street would congregate there to light the bonfire that the children had been building up, often for a couple of weeks, from old furniture, off-cuts, broken pallets, etc. I don’t remember it, but I’m sure the adults had beer while the children played with their sparklers. We’d watch the Guy burn, then later we’d set off the fireworks; little rockets launched from milk bottles held in place with bricks, Catherine wheels pinned to somebody’s back fence and even when they fizzled it didn’t really matter because there was always another firework in the box! By the time the fireworks were done the food would be ready. Usually each family would bring a dish, but the real fun was recovering the foil-wrapped potatoes and chestnuts from the fire! Happy days.

I haven’t been to a Bonfire Night in years.

Nowadays parents shriek in horror at the thought of letting their precious ones near an open fire – let alone fireworks. Burning effigies is no longer politically correct. Eating food which hasn’t been prepared in a sterile environment is seen as unhealthy. Most people don’t know their neighbours anyway, so if they do anything, they’ll take their kids to a firework display at the local sports stadium. It’s just not the same.

So this morning I was thinking that I would like to organise a proper Bonfire Night; Brett has never experienced one and it would be a good excuse to get our friends together for something other than brunch. This evening I sat down to write an email to the people I would like to invite but the more I wrote, the more fanciful it sounded. In the end, the message didn’t get sent. It didn’t even get finished.

As I was phrasing the request for someone to offer somewhere to hold the party, I realised that those of our friends who have a garden all have relatively small and reasonably well manicured gardens. Nowhere really they might want to hand over to scorched earth for the next twelve months. There was also the question of where to find the fuel. I don’t have anything I want to burn and given the minimalist, bijou norm for London residences I didn’t expect many others would be burdened down with lots of kindling.

So a winter barbeque would have to do – we could do the baked potatoes in the oven and all huddle round the barbeque… no, actually that didn’t sound like nearly as much fun as huddling round a bonfire.

The fireworks were another question… I was happy to organise the purchase and lighting of, but the actual cost of the things can be quite hefty – particularly if you want to do a half-decent display. Asking people to stump up cash for a contribution rather took the fun out of that too.

So here I sit; misery guts, bemoaning the loss of my youth and blaming obstacles for stopping me enjoying myself. Sod it. As I’ve been writing this post I’ve decided that I shall organise a party. Cinderella shall go to the Ball even if the dress turns back into a ragged apron. Let’s have a party. It may not be the lost hazy joy of my youth, but it will be friends, it will be company, lots of company (cue the Sondheim!)

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