All the planning for these events would kick off the day you started back to school for the autumn term. You would collect bits and pieces of timber from the hedgerows for the bonfire from the end of September right through to the night itself. You would be out waiting for the conkers to fall, prise open the conker casements that nature hadn’t always completed to expose the liverish brown, shiny new conker that you hoped was going to be the conker that no other kid could crack. Then you would be off around the farm labourers asking them to keep their eyes open for the largest, roundest turnip or swede for the Halloween lantern and your mind was ever full of the most ghoulish, frightening face for your Halloween mask as well as the apple bobbing competition which entailed getting a bite out of an apple that was suspended across the classroom on a string head height as well as, getting a bite out of an apple that was floating in a bowl of water with hands clasped behind your back. This was no done deal. Everything in those days was competition. There was a prize for the most imaginative mask, a prize for the most illuminating lantern and also a prize for the most competent apple bobber. And last but not least, the making of Guy Fawkes himself that we all took so seriously. The arguments and banter that created. No two people’s minds effigy is ever the same or it certainly didn’t appear to be so then. A trolley would be made to wheel him around on and as you knocked on every door almost before the door was open a group of screaming kids were shouting, “A penny for the guy.” The money raised would go into a small fund to purchase fireworks, Catherine Wheels, Roman Fountains, Rockets, Bangers to name but a few.
Guy Fawkes Night was quite a big deal. Every village had a bonfire party where the whole village would take part. There would be jacket potatoes and sausages all ate with relish in the glow of the bonfire. And the cheer that went up just as the flames consumed Guy Fawkes on the top of the fire. Happy days. The bonfire was always in a grass field in the middle of the village, more often than not the field had been grazed by the local dairy herd. Every village had one and pranks were a plenty.
Bonfire night was a very adult evening for us kids and the older girls who would never look at any of us younger lads other than with complete contempt were very often the targets in their tight mini-skirts. As the fire was burning we would look for a cowpat and insert a banger. These were called in those days either a Cannon, Little Demon or just plain Banger. The Little Demon for this particular prank was always the obvious choice. We would engage the help of an older kid who had had no joy at all with these long legged older girls to get them in conversation two or three meters from the cowpat which was to be duly ignited. Once in conversation an ember stick from the fire would be chosen, walked back around into the darkness and approach this group of long legged girls who were deep in conversation and flirting watching the bright, brilliant bonfire. The blue touch paper was ignited and then we stood back and listened and watched. A muffled bang followed by an “Urgh” was the sound and sight which sent us kids into absolute hysterics, as now the girls were trying to brush off the back of their legs making their situation even more unpleasant and with all the comments that followed pretty untenable. When I look back, it was a truly awful, disgusting prank. However, the girls didn’t seem to hold any malice as when the Christmas party arrived, they too would joke about the very same prank.
All these events, especially bonfire night are all so different nowadays. Our rockets were a foot long, just launched from a milk bottle. The bangers used for the cowpats were three inches long. Roman Candles eight to ten inches long. Catherine Wheels three or four inches across. They were good time fireworks for people with no money who were just out for a good time. And what I remember about those times were nights filled with laughter, a belly full of good basic food and an evening that was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. So much different to the bonfire parties of today.
The majority of working class people have long left the villages so each village sadly no longer has its own bonfire night. The evening is now more of the preserve of the small towns where the population of the villages now go to be entertained. If entertained is the right word. It is an evening where buckets are passed through the crowd for a donation for the fireworks and ear protection for those who want it. The fireworks arrive in pickup trucks. An effigy of a Guy is nowhere to be seen and once the fire is lit and the fireworks ignited the whole experience resembles something of an imagery of the Siege of Sarajevo. Kids screaming everywhere because of the hideous noise of these monstrosities, rockets, two meters long and look as if they could bring down a small aircraft and once they are airborne, the bang can only be described as ear drum shattering. Ten minutes into it, you really are expecting to see any second a flinching John Simpson in bullet proof jacket detailing and explaining what he is witnessing.
Where has it all gone wrong? Why is our quest for bigger, louder and better so insatiable? By wanting such a lot more we have got immeasurably less.
Rabbit trying his hand at apple bobbing and to be fair to the rabbit, he ain't using no paws.
Ever since Owen Paterson talked about "The Badgers Moving the Goal posts", the wildlife around my house won't leave our goal alone.