(This is my November column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, published just before the annual village Bonfire Night celebrations)
I’m old enough to remember not only the time when “Penny for the Guy” was a common cry at this time of year, but when a penny would be enough to buy something.
You could get four fruit salad sweets or a chocolate mouse for a penny. Or for just a few pennies, you could buy the cheapest fireworks from our local Post Office. My favourite was a box of coloured matches, while naughty boys preferred bangers or jumping jacks. Children were allowed to buy them, and we did. These days we may complain that health and safety regulations have gone mad, but looking back, you can see why we needed to invent them.
My favourite childhood memory of Fireworks Night was our family party. Raised in London suburbia, I was lucky enough to live in a house on the corner of the street, with a wrap-around garden big enough to host a decent bonfire without torching either the guests or the neighbours. That’s something you couldn’t do in most modern estate houses.
Each year our guy got sent on his way atop a pile of crumpled newspaper and sticks. In that simpler age, it didn’t occur to us to build a bonfire shaped like anything other than a bonfire.
Not so now we live in Hawkesbury, where the village bonfire is always a spectacular structure: Tower Bridge last year, complete with London bus. What shape will this year’s be? Whatever it is, if the old guys we used to make could see it, they’d be flabbergasted. Some guys have all the luck, they might say.