Ever since I was a tiny, tiny kid I’ve been attending bonfire nights pretty much annually. I remember when I was growing up in whatever town it was and fair creaming myself when bonfire night pulled into town. We’d park up in a residential area to save paying for parking and we’d dance down to the river and we’d stand on the opposite bank from where the bonfire and the display were and we’d crane our necks to snapping point and watch the local council jizzing the townsfolk’s money into the sky. Wonderful! And, as potential hospital visits fizzed and banged wondrously miles above us, we would whoop and cheer and wince and, in my case, cry, actually.
See, the banging was all a bit much for me, as a small person. It frightened me. I was like a dog in that sense. Dogs hate bonfire night, not for its over-commercialisation but for the bloody noise, and I was the same. I never wailed and spun round like those sad beasts. But I was certainly glad of my old man being there with his reassuring mittens. As soon as the first rocket popped its load I’d remember that I was now going to be scared for half an hour and I’d run to my father. He’d then cover my ears with these heavy mittens he’d bought in the Lake District and after that I would feel safe. All the sounds would become dull and distant. Sometimes I would close my eyes, too. Even sleep. It was reassuring.
These days, of course, I’m brave as hell. I’m old (37) and when they send up the bombs I’ll just stare right at them, cupping my hand to my ear provocatively. Bring. It. On. I’ll scour the papers looking for the loudest, most bad-ass, son-of-a-bitch displays. It’s just once a year so I really like to have my ears blown in. Organised displays are best for this, of course. You might pay a fiver to get in, but you can rest assured these clods have got some real daddy fireworks in their tin. Absolute cloud-wreckers. You’re also paying for pros to light the fuses. It’s reassuring to know that the slap-headed monsters in charge do this full-time. They’ve had 12 months of training for this. They’re ready. As a result these organised displays can be bloody safe.
I’m more than ready for the big off. I’ve already bought shedloads of sparklers and matches and I’ve been practising signing my name in mid-air for nights on end. I’m a bit tasty with a sparkler. I have friends with such long names they have no chance of finishing their surname before the start of their first names have disappeared into thin air. I am lucky. My name’s so short I can get the job done and still have time to put my age in brackets afterwards and underline the lot. I’ll probably bung about 40 sparklers in my quiver. And I’ll stuff my pockets full of toffee apples and fags, and I’ll angle my head to the heavens. And I’ll drink it all in.
I might hoover up a couple of unofficial displays over the weekend. I know someone on Facebook who’s got a Catherine Wheel and I wouldn’t mind seeing that swivel. But really it’s the big, more impersonal display I’m after. Squashed up next to some sobbing child, wondering at how us, mere humans, can sling explosives into the abyss and make the sky momentarily bright and beautiful. And then I’ll have a good old laugh at whichever politician or paedo’s been immortalised as a Guy and balanced on the stack. I’ll cheer and holler as some merry mayor lights the pyre. Then I’ll stomp around the bonfire with the townsfolk, chanting as the shamed celeb melts up top. And then I’ll waddle home and get warm and I’ll haul out my laptop, and I’ll bring up some classic displays on YouTube.
I still can’t get over what Sydney did for the Millennium. Spaffing that lot into the sky. Absolute legends. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it. I’m looking up at the sky now. I cannot wait to see the heavenly sod illuminated. It won’t know what’s hit it.