Friday, 6 November 2009
The smell of gunpowder in the air.
I still think one of the most evocative things about Bonfire Night in Britain is the smell in the air the morning after: it still transports me back to childhood at the first breath of it. Smoke and the reek of stale gunpowder – did battlefields once smell like that when the fighting was over?
Incidentally, November 5th in living memory in this country has been entirely secular and has never had the slightest whiff of contemporary anti-catholicism about it (unless one lived in Lewes or Northern Ireland, I imagine.)
Here it was always a hugely enjoyable event organised, if one can call it that, on a family by family basis regardless of religious tradition and not only enjoyed by the children! First the fire, carefully assembled for a few weeks leading up to the event, then the fireworks – a collaborative venture in terms of expenditure and always set off by the adults, lastly the hot cocoa and the food, mostly hotdogs, and potatoes cooked in the embers of the fire.
Still, most of this has now disappeared into nostalgic memory, such is the influence of the risk-averse acolytes of “Health and Safety” (three words which should never be uttered in polite society), not to mention the underlying fear of litigation if something should go wrong. Ambulance chasing lawyers have a lot to answer for, along with their victim-culture mantra of “there’s no such thing as an accident.”
It’s all a great pity; late autumn in this part of the world is dark and damp and pretty miserable; we need all the light and laughter we can get!
The alternative large-scale, planned civic events involving lavishly coordinated displays of fireworks seem to have taken much of the spontaneous fun out of things, which is often the way.
I did go through a period of thinking one shouldn’t celebrate 5th November because of its historical connotations, but now think that was just an strangely aberrant form of PC-ism too.: we can’t alter our country’s often tragic religious history, or in any meaningful way apologise for the events of the distant past, but perhaps we do now have an opportunity to change its trajectory – what can I be thinking of now!