Saturday, November 04, 2006

Remember, remember the 5th of November


The bangs began around five, slowly gaining in crescendo and momentum. They've been a source of tension in the house for days: I live with an Irish Catholic and a toddler, for God's sake! The latter is too young to appreciate the Blitz-like soundscape impingeing on her bedtime, and the former takes all Bonfire Night festivities as a personal insult directed towards him by the entire population of his adopted homeland.

And then there is me, whose nostalgia about childhood Guy Fawkes nights begins sometime around Halloween. Sigh.

Every one of those childhood years before childhood became for me about division and divorce, my mother threw the most fabulous Fifth of November parties for my brother and sister and me, all our friends and all their parents. A great crackly bonfire was lit on the stone flags outside the kitchen window, one or two grown-ups were given sole charge of the box of fireworks, and all the children had their own packet of sparklers to light as and when they wished. And it was always colder than it is now. We had red raw noses, cut-off mittens, and woolly hats. The oven was stuffed full of baking potatoes, which we ate, steaming and dripping with butter, in the dark; and old baking trays filled with Black Jacks and Fruit Salad sweets in their black and white and pastel wrappings were passed round to one and all.

Oh, the joy of in standing in a raggedy little circle, lighting our sparklers from the lucky someone who'd managed to get theirs lit from a grown-up's match. And the frisson that passed through the crowd as the grown-up-in-charge would yell 'Stand back!' as they lit the blue touch-paper of the Catherine Wheel pinned precariously to the wooden fence at the bottom of the garden. The sense of the lateness of the hour, of festivity, of danger - that something could, and occasionally did, go wrong - these only added to the piquancy of the night.

It's no wonder my longing for these golden moments has intensified as the date draws near.

But the thing about fireworks is this: they're not much cop if you can't actually see them. And by some geographical Kentish quirk our house is situated on a hilly cul-de-sac which intensifies sound but prohibits viewing. You would have thought, given the hill, we'd be able to see something, but no. The angle is wrong. Even when I held Anna-mouse up to the study window tonight before her bath in the hope of catching a glimpse over the rooftops, we were left sorely disappointed.

And so it was, around 6.42pm, that this forty-something seven-year-old was seized by a force that surprised her as the Bim took over the bath and bedtime. She found herself writing a note ('GONE TO WATCH SOME FIREWORKS xxxx') grabbing the car key and heading out. Yes, out. At beloved child's bedtime, the witching hour, the hunkering down to dozy domesticity, a bit-of-tele-then-bed hour. The pact hour, where it is silently agreed between you and yours that you will both keep to this ritual, this denial of Life Outside, for most, and sometimes all the nights of the week. Said child will be watched over, until child is child no more.

Not tonight. Tonight I stood, hatted and gloved, by the banks of Quaint Town's river and wept for my little self as the showers of light rained above the houses on the opposite shore. Then I pulled myself together, found an open newsagents, realised I was in there to look for Black Jacks and Fruit Salads and to my utter delight, found them. I got back into the car and made my way to the highest spot I could find just as a Council display on some open parkland a couple of miles away was beginning.

I stood and watched, downing my sweets and watching the lights of hope and promise with the wonder I felt of old. I felt myself grow lighter and younger with every chew. Whirling corkscrews, tiny fishes and bursting flowerheads coloured the sky for their moment of fame. There is such wistfulness in the life of a firework! Perhaps that's why they captivate me so.

I returned to the house two hours after I had escaped it. I played down the nature of the force which had caused me to leave, but I could see from the Bim's tired eyes that he saw it in me anyway, and did not need me to explain. Friend to my soul that he is, he went to bed early and left me to continue my chosen time alone.

I sit with hot water bottle on my lap, my heart lighter, and my tongue satisfyingly, brilliantly black.

*Photo courtesy www.freeimages.co.uk

1 comment:

Rachel said...

You make me wish I had been with you. It sounds like such FUN. I understand the nature that pulled you out. It pulls at me too.

rachel