The fifth of November.
Bonfire Night, full explanation for colonials here, brings back just the one memory that over-rides all the others – the Bonfire Night we set fire to our dear mother.
We’d be around eight years old, Ned and me, well he’d be two years younger than me as he always has been, so its the early sixties, lets settle on ’64 then, this suburb of Leeds is as yet still young, half of the houses that now exist around here aren’t built yet and the concrete is still setting on Green Lane, the thoroughfare that runs through here and brought the buses.
There’s a Post Office, a Co-op supermarket and no pubs and the centre of attraction around these parts is the cricket field, which incidentally is still going strong these days although not as central to public life as it once was, in fact most folk around here wouldn’t even be able to point you in the right direction to it anymore.
But in 1964 everyone knew where the cricket field was especially on Bonfire Night, because they had a bonfire, sold tickets and sold parkin and toffee to raise funds, had a big bonfire, a really big bonfire in a quiet corner of the field but didn’t go quite so far as to have a firework display, places didn’t do firework displays back then as there was absolutely no point being as everyone just brought their own fireworks and set them off randomly right through the night.
So we went to the cricket field bonfire, me, Ned and our mother.
She was dressed in her long fur coat, I don’t expect for one minute that it was real fur, not for reasons of personal objection to using dead animals to clad oneself but from mainly financial reasons, she dressed in her long (it touched the ground, nay swished along the ground when she walked) brown fur coat every time she had to go out in cold weather and resembling every inch a big brown bear she led me and my younger brother to the cricket field that night, to watch the bonfire and set off our own fireworks.
Its the one time of year when us English people can legally explode gunpowder without fear of prosecution, the time of year when every shop will flog you sticks of gunpowder on the pretence that we are celebrating the death of a seventeenth century traitor, we’re not allowed to own guns or ammunition but once a year we can throw gunpowder at each other for the sheer amusement factor.
We took our fireworks to the cricket field bonfire in our mothers big fur coat pockets, now even Ned and I at our tender ages knew that this wasn’t such a good idea for every box of fireworks encouraged you to put them inside a tin box after purchase despite the fact that the manufacturers are quite happy to sell them to you in a cardboard box, but when we reminded our mother of such things she just waved her hand and said something like “Tish-poo, flim-flam, we have no tin boxes, get your wellington boots on and let us fly to the cricket field for we are late my kinder and all the best parkin will be gone”
Yes she really did speak like that.
Arriving at the cricket field it seemed as though the whole of this nouveau suburb had come out onto the streets to celebrate the butchering of the country’s least favourite catholic in 1605, the place was heaving, the bonfire blazing, and everywhere you looked around the field people were setting off their own fireworks in as careless a way as possible, such fun, a Health and Safety Consultant would have had a thrombosis right there and then.
We’d only lit a couple of sparklers when this huge man ran over to our mother screaming at her to take her coat off.
Well really, some people are so rude, at the very least our mother would expect him to take her out for dinner and fine wine before making such demands but he was most insistent and indeed started to tug it off her back – Ned and I stood there aghast with our little sparklers wondering what on earth was going on, I mean, it wasn’t like it was real fur or anything and even if he thought it was couldn’t he just throw a pot of paint over it like all the usual Animal Rights Activists ?
And then we realised his haste – she was on fire.
More specifically the pocket in which she had stored our fireworks was on fire although the huge man didn’t realise that at the time, if he had I do rather think that he might not have been so hasty in his interference, in truth our mother was a leading light for Palestinian women suicide bombers with her coat of high explosives.
The coat removed it was thrown to the ground and stamped into the mud to extinguish the conflagration, “I do apologise most sincerely madam” explained the huge man as he picked it up from the ground caked now in mud, “but your coat was on fire, I do believe you were hit by a stray rocket”
“Oh dear” said our mother, “and that was my only, erm, favourite coat too”
And as he was fluffing the coat back into some recognition of a coat the huge man happened to feel something in the burned out pocket, and then notice the fireworks sticking out of the top, “You keep fireworks in your coat pocket ?” he gasped incredulously.
“Come my children” our mother huffed, “its time we were leaving…”
The bears fur coat was dumped unceremoniously in a dustbin on the way home along with our fireworks, more the shame, and Ned and I had to make do with looking out the window at everyone elses fireworks that year.
This year there will be a repetition of that potential fireball of humanity in my back garden when I attempt to light a whole box of fireworks that I found at the back of our garage a few weeks ago, I don’t know how long they’ve been there, years probably, do fireworks “go off” or do they increase in verocity ?
We’ve got the hospital casualty department on speed dial just in case.