I Survived Bonfire Night
And unless you’re reading this from your deathbed owing to a fire related accident, so did you. And so did millions of others in fact. I’m sure there were a lot of burned fingers across the country, and probably the odd serious injury. The gruesome statistics aren’t out for 2014 yet, but for 2013 the BBC grimly reports “82 fire-related injuries between Halloween and Bonfire Night.” Eighty two injuries, not deaths. And it was a sharp rise on previous years.
In a country of 60 million, with a major national celebration that involves a week of children and drunks playing with fireworks, this isn’t just an acceptable level of danger, it’s not even trivial, it’s staggeringly good. I would be surprised if that makes this week safer than other times of year, suggesting that we should probably have big bonfires and play with fireworks every week.
But that didn’t stop the usual warnings. Local news reported that the emergency services might be stretched, presumably dealing with those other 81 injuries, and that it would be better to go to an organized event and watch a display put on by experts.
Experts at lighting a fire? Experts at lighting little paper tubes that go pop? Really? After a stiff drink and a bit of a rant at the television I composed myself and thought about the nature of bonfire night.
Of course as we all well know it’s a celebration of the foiling of the gunpowder plot by Guido Fawkes and his Catholic conspirators to blow up Parliament and King James. But it’s always seemed like a double edged celebration, with a little nod to the man who had taken a good long look at the government of the day and decided the best course of action was to blow them to kingdom come. Not an entirely unreasonable position.
Then there’s the sort of pagan practicality of it, as the nights get colder and the leaves pile up it makes perfect sense to burn them, and people no doubt did this for years before Guy Fawkes’ attempted political reforms.
The best thing of all about bonfire night though is that it’s just bloody good fun. In a country not really given to lavish celebrations or extravagant displays, and a world increasingly obsessed with health and safety and scared of even the smallest explosions, bonfire night is a welcome hiatus in all this. An excuse to eat, drink and be merry, talk to our neighbourand of course to throw little bombs around and set fire to stuff without being labeled terrorists.
So no, I won’t stop playing with fire on November the 5th, I won’t wait for some expert at lighting blue paper to do it for me, and I won’t accept the Department of Misery telling me to stay at home, lock the doors and windows and forget all about an interesting and fun part of our culture.
So remember, remember on the 5th of November, that we might on the face of it be celebrating thwarting a plot to destroy the government of the day, but we’ve also got an eye on what we can burn in it’s place.