Spent a couple of sun-warmed hours building the bonfire. Kindling from the hedgerow, bigger stuff from gardens of various relatives and some wrecked-as-therapy furniture from my brother’s house. Going for the usual classic pyramid fire, settled in and balanced with some apple and oak logs eight plus feet long. When finished aesthetically pleasing and satisfying. Just the will it rain/will it light questions to be answered.
We’ve been having some kind of family bonfire for as long as I can remember and various friends, neighbours and acquaintances putting in appearances.
Tonight is no exception. The fire lights fairly quickly, with the assistance of some heavy-duty cardboard bike packing boxes. The chill air is soon warm and filled with floating sparks and pale ash flakes. The fire throws a friendly light around too, coats are discarded and fireworks lit and enjoyed. Conversation and the crackling flames; happy sounds of celebration and comradeship.
Seems odd, of course, that we celebrate treason (or actually it’s discovery and failure) and burn an effigy of one of the conspirators (though, I believe one of the least important, politically speaking), one Guy Fawkes (an Anglicisation of his Spanish name). The Gunpowder Plot was meant to kill the Protestant king in the Houses of Parliament and set up a Roman Catholic monarchy. Failed. The final stages of the captures and killing of the last of the plotters took place here in the English midlands.
I wonder as the fire topples in on itself, whether this counts as early terrorism.
The stunning light and sound spectacle of the fire and the explosions and bright temporary constellations flung across the skies are remarkable. This fire is on Saturday, there will be fires and parties over at least the next week, and with luck I will see more displays. I love fireworks!
But, standing apart from the group, usually one of the last to leave the scene, I hear rolls of explosions beyond the high tree-lined horizon. It’s gunpowder. Some huge bursts. Modern fireworks are hurled into the sky like mortar bombs. The technology is modern and sophisticated. There are repeated crack-crack-cracks. Harsh. Fast. From our own display spills the smell of chemicals used. They are explosives after all. They are missiles. They burn at fantastically high temperatures.
It could be the sounds of battle. Very close. The sound of rifle fire, bombs, mines. The flashes that dazzle and shadow the sky.
It will be Remembrance Day (11th November here) and I am transported momentarily. How do serving soldiers react to firework celebrations? Does it set off some nerves? Some memories? And for veterans of conflict, whether military or civilian? There are wars being waged at the moment – the moment in which I am enjoying the more positive sides of gunpowder – lest we forget.
Moments later, the embers raked out, I am in a car, listening to Mumford and sons, heading back to my home where there will be welcome laughter, warmth, jacket potatoes, sausages and beer.

Tomorrow, no doubt the air will feel colder.
4th November, 2012


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