THE first explosions started on Sunday like the declaration of war or the start of a siege.
What has become the moveable feast of Bonfire Night had begun.
I have nothing against the celebration of November 5th which has been an English tradition since the 17th century. What I don’t like is having to suffer the rockets and bangers of outrageous noise that usually last a fortnight.
Long ago, Guy Fawkes’ night was a proper community occasion. Gangs of neighbourhood kids went off chumping weeks in advance, collecting tree branches and old furniture, and built bonfires that needed guarding in case the next street came on a raiding mission. And weren’t you lucky if you got an old armchair or settee to put in the middle of your den?
This was before health and safety rules and regulations, which were not needed, because grown-ups imposed their own common sense rules on the kids. The bonfire was everybody’s responsibility. Someone’s dad lit the fire and others fed the flames and had charge of the potatoes roasting on the fringes, knocking them out with a stick when they were ready.
Did anything ever taste so good? Burnt on the outside, raw on the inside and absolutely delicious.
Mums and neighbours would set up packing cases and card tables and serve pie and peas, brandy snap and homemade treacle toffee and the night went on for ever.
This was all celebrated on November 5 itself, no matter what day of the week it fell. I have a vivid memory of standing sadly looking at the still burning embers of our bonfire the next morning before going off to school, thinking there was a whole year before we could do it all again.
Not that I should have attended as I was brought up Catholic and Guy Fawkes was part of a religious-political plot to blow up king and parliament in 1605. The Jesuits who taught me forbade students to attend such a Protestant occasion. Fat chance, they had.
Of course, no-one else taking part ever considered the religious aspects. Besides, we burnt an effigy on top of our fire that looked nothing like the historical Guy Fawkes. He always wore an old suit, with shirt and tie, that one of the adults had donated, and looked as if he was off to work at the Gas Board.
Our community bonfires were grand affairs and fireworks were more modest. Bangers banged but they didn’t explode like incoming shells.
These days, they are mainly huge organised events with firework displays that echo and reverberate like an urban battle. Not that I am complaining about that. Or a dad who gives a display in the back garden for his kids.
But wouldn’t it be better if everybody agreed to celebrate the tradition on the same day? This two week onslaught of explosions shatter the nerves night after night and leaves you trying to calm your dog and making sure your cat is hiding under the bed and is not outside and terrified.
Hopefully, by Sunday the siege should have lifted. But I wouldn’t bet on it.