This catch-up post is out of chronological order because of today’s date. One year ago I attended a Bonfire Night in Bridge, a village near Canterbury, UK, with my good friends Simon and Lise. And so, I wanted to blog about it to celebrate the anniversary of that event.
We don’t celebrate Bonfire Night in Australia anymore, for a variety of reasons, some to do with safety and some to do with a distancing of our culture from such English customs. I remember the bonfires of my childhood on the empty block of land on the other side of the road from our house. The whole neighbourhood participated. For days, people brought old furniture, timber off-cuts, and broken fruit boxes and piled them high. I wrote about these memories in ‘Fall Out’, a poem about a dead childhood friend, which won a national award many years ago and was published in Azuria #4 in 2015. Below is the opening stanza:
Dead now thirty years or more, you were
just one of the neighbourhood knockabout kids
kicking a rolled-up-newspaper-and-twine footy,
racing bikes and billy-carts down the hill,
playing gangs in the paddock across the road
with its grass hillock hideaways, rubbish mound forts,
whooping and hooting with the next fruit box tossed
flinting sparks and flames on the Guy Fawkes bonfire,
skyrockets whoosh-slicing the night to the refrain
of bolts and penny bangers in metal pipes.
So, when Simon and Lise suggested we attend the Bonfire Night being held in a local field, I jumped at the chance. Once night, with a light touch of dew, had truly descended, we joined a couple of hundred people crowded at the fence line around an enormous mound of wood in the middle of the field and cheered when fire safety officers 'lit her up'.
We were treated to a sprightly fire that at times grew menacing, with its raging, crackling sounds, its tumbling and crashing timbers, and its glowing embers and burning debris carried by the north wind, which troubled our eyes and threaten to ignite the nearby oak and beech trees. The fierce heat baked our faces with grins, gasps and exclamations. The erupting, rolling, leaping flames took on whirling shapes with elongated mouths and jagged limbs.
Then came the fireworks, a magnificent, wonderful, splendid, surprisingly long, keeping-your-gaze-engaged set of explosions and colours. Whistling rockets. Crackling white star bursts. Dazzling splurges and cascades of yellow, red and green against the backdrop of night. Sooty embers raining down around us. The smell of burnt air and gunpowder. Cheers. Little children pointing and clapping. Adults with arms around each other. Faces turned upward and glowing.
Afterwards, we went back to Simon and Lise’s ‘Wendy House’ for some beer and wine and a pre-dinner reading of entries from The English Year: The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night. Padstow Oss. The Wooden Horse of Kent. And, of course, Guy Fawkes:
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
A great end to a night that was part nostalgia and part wonder.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any memories of Bonfire Nights, do share them in the comments if you like.