Bonfire Night memories

Today marks Bonfire Night – and here Salford reporter Chris Vickers shares memories of his family celebrations.

“As a youngsters my sister, Pat, and I revelled in our family bonfire night held in our backyard. After tea when dad got back from work, mum would tog us out in warm coats, hats and gloves and we would troop out of the back door with dad carrying the box of Payne’s Assorted Fireworks. Mum supplied us with treacle toffees.

“The show would begin to much anticipation with dad lighting a Roman Candle as mum urged Pat and I to stand well back. There was invariable a tense moment, a hiatus when it was uncertain as to whether the firework had actually been ignited or whether it was a damp squib; then came lift-off as the coloured flames exploded sending myriad colours skywards as we looked on exhilarated.

“Rockets followed soaring into the dark sky before erupting with loud bangs into coloured flashing, light, right, left and centre. Wow! We kids were at some point handed sparklers to hold and move about in rings, pretty sparks lighting our smiling faces. We were now integral to the festival.

“As dad worked his way through the box there were always the bangers guaranteed to evoke screams; and, best of all rip-raps which leapt about exploding erratically and loudly to squeals of laughter/terror.

“The night always finished with the grand finale, a Catherine Wheel fixed to the back gate, which fizzed and sizzled as it spun in fiery circles until finally exhausting itself.

“As we got older Pat and I and other local kids would help to build a bonfire on waste ground, proudly gathering and zealously guarding the wood from predatory gangs building their own fires. There was kudos in building the highest fire, and extra wood was stored in reserve to feed the beast on the great night. Fires thus blazed well into the night.

“The size of the fire was, of course, irrelevant if it was not accompanied by an inspiring, original guy to sit atop it before being consumed by the flames. Groups of kids could therefore be seen in the build up to November 5th either carrying huge guys around or pushing them in old prams asking: ‘Penny for the guy, mister?’

“Come the night and several fires would compete against each other, each gang convinced theirs was the best, and disparaging others’ sad efforts. The whole community seemed to visit at some point over the evening, and it was undeniable huge fun.

“As a teenager I used to roam about with a group of lads and I vividly remember one bonfire night when a group of us ended up standing on top of an air raid shelter in someone’s back yard as the flames of the ‘bonnie’, sited in the back-entry, licked up at us. We descended at some point to retrieve potatoes wrapped in foil baking on the fire; pure bliss!

“One of the gang, Johnny, unfortunately, had put some fireworks in his jeans’ pockets, however, and sadly, suffered severe burns as a spark ignited them. Such incidents cannot be tolerated and hence the move to organised, expertly operated family occasions where safety, rightly, took precedence.

“Now in my dotage I now get annoyed at the loud bangs and huge flashes that interrupt otherwise peaceful evenings, and frighten the animals. Bonfire Night was of its time and was great and it was based upon fact, the Gunpowder Plot, hence the ritual burning of a conspirator threatening our democracy.

“I don’t ‘get’ Halloween, and sit in a darkened room pretending to be elsewhere until its all over. It seems to be based soundly upon Hollywood films and merchandise and a purely commercial enterprise. It is nice, however, to see the youngsters so invested in it in their spooky costumes: ‘Trick or treat?’ just doesn’t hold the same resonance as ‘Penny for the guy, mister?’.

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