It’s Bonfire night. Also known as Guy Fawkes’ Night, the fifth of November annually celebrates the anniversary of the date that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators tried to execute the Gunpowder Plot – a plan to blow up the House of Parliament in England in 1605. Whilst ostensibly celebrating the failure of this attack, there are definitely a good proportion of people who celebrate the fact the attempt was made.
In Lewes (East Sussex), down the road from where I live in Brighton, Bonfire Night is a massive celebration worked towards all year, with a carnival, political and historic floats, lots of fire, fireworks and a slightly tense atmosphere of celebration. It’s fantastic, and I recommend a read about it here. Every year, an effigy of a past or present Prime Minister or member of Cabinet is paraded through the streets mockingly. This year, a model of David Cameron with a pig will be the focus of attention, relating to news stories that emerged in September. I’m impressed with the speed at which the Lewes organisers managed to get this put together.
I have always loved Bonfire Night, for the revelry and fireworks. Traditionally, it’s been a much bigger affair here in the UK than Halloween (though recently the Halloween celebrations here appear to be trying to emulate those of the United States). As a child, my first school had an enormous field and every year there would be a large bonfire with fireworks, and children would bring their Guy Fawkes dolls to parade around and put on the fire. ‘Penny for the Guy! Penny for the Guy!’
I was a lucky child in a number of ways and my parents would take me to Beaulieu House and gardens some years, as they had huge celebrations at their Fireworks Spectacular, with Victorian fayre carriages and games. Two fireworks displays were delivered, one for the children in the early evening, with gentle music and fewer scary ‘bangs’ and one later, with great orchestral music and flamboyant firework explosions.
Fireworks are wonderful.
The date has gathered more meaning in my life since childhood, however. On this day in 2003, a very dear friend of mine passed away from Leukaemia at 19. We had known each other for a few years, having gone to college together in Winchester. We both commuted from Southampton together, and were part of a small group of us who travelled on the train each day. There is never a year that passes that I do not think of Sinéad and her family. It made Bonfire Night quite difficult for a few years, but despite bittersweet feelings, I would always watch for the fireworks and think of them celebrating the life of my friend, or have a drink to her. I still do.
Moreover, it’s the birthday of another dear friend who used to journey to college with Sinéad and I (and some other lovelies) who now lives in Brighton too. So the day annually brings a mixture of emotions, but I have trained myself over the years to make them warm and as full of happy memories as possible. (Happy birthday, Bethan!)
This year I’m not really able to go and celebrate. The thought of the crowds at any event make me very cautious and the thought of being in the middle of one right now make my body uncomfortable and shifty. My recent wobbliness and lack of temperature regulation mean I don’t trust myself to be able to stand up for a long time and actually enjoy a show. I am likely to either be concentrating on keeping myself upright or be tired quickly from the standing.
I could easily navigate the above inconvenience by taking a folding chair. However, I was at a supermarket the other day when a few odd fireworks were released to the sky in the surrounding area. To my absolute annoyance, each time they exploded they prompted me to jump out of my skin, be visibly shaky, and to have palpitations for a few minutes afterwards. Consequently, I’m avoiding going outside tonight.