Posted in Events, Personal life

Of Jealous Guys and Ambitious Bonfires

(This is my November column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, published just before the annual village Bonfire Night celebrations)

Cover of the Ladybird book entitled James I and the Gunpowder Plot
All you need to know about Guy Fawkes in child-friendly detail (image: Amazon UK)

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.

Picture of giant model of train in bonfire
The answer: Hawkesbury’s 2016 Bonfire Night set fire to the Hogwarts Express (Check out the two people standing to the left of the picture for an idea of the giant scale of the train!) Photo by Andy Musty
Posted in Family, Personal life

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Christmas decoration at a shopping mall in Brazil
Image via Wikipedia

“Shall I put some Christmas decorations up now, Mummy?”

My daughter has just put the Halloween decorations away in a box to be stored in the cellar till next October.  She’s acquired quite a collection of plastic pumpkins in her seven years, each with a different feature – a ghoulish laugh, an integral torch, a battery-powered spooky judder.  It made a surprisingly cheering montage in our front window.

Since Laura was tiny, we’ve enjoyed making seasonal displays that can be seen from the front path, echoing our house’s past as the village post office with a permanent shop window.  Now that there’s a post-Halloween void, she’s itching to fill it.

“Wait until after Guy Fawkes Night,”  I plead, taking a rare opportunity to dust and polish the bare windowledge.

Obediently, she potters off, humming a Christmas carol.  I’m unwilling to fast-forward my thoughts to December, but I realise I’m unlikely to gain much of a stay of execution.  We’ve already had to pack our Christmas shoeboxes for school and the Nativity Play has been cast.

“I’m going to be Mary!” piped up an excited voice  as a throng of infants  headed out of school on Guy Fawkes Night.

I appreciate their teachers need a long run-up to the festive season, to be sure that the children know all their lines in time. I just wish I didn’t feel compelled to rush in to December when November has barely begun.  As it is – whoosh!  not only will November hurtle by, but in no time at all 2010 will be a thing of the past, and we’ll be giving a nostalgic sigh each time we remember to write 2011 on a cheque.

What we really need is a late November festival to act as a brake on the speed of the year.  Harvest Festival is long over, but there are still some leaves on the trees – why not an Autumn Leaf Fest to mark the baring of the skeletal trees, victims of the late November winds?  Or a Winter Warmer Day, when everyone finally accepts that there is no Indian summer around the corner, stashes their cotton clothes in the back of the wardrobe, and dons their thermals for the first time.  Or a pre-Christmas Purge, chucking out the old toys that haven’t been played with since last Christmas Day, clearing the decks ready for this season’s excesses.  Any of these could fuel Laura’s passion for window displays and hedge off the onslaught of Advent.

How I envy the Americans their Thanksgiving Holiday – perfectly placed to fill the void between Guy Fawkes Night and Christmas.  Would it seem churlish to celebrate it here too, as if we were glad to get those pesky Puritans off our soil?

Perhaps we can engineer an acceptable alternative of our own.  After all, we have plenty else to be thankful for.  And acknowledging our blessings might also serve to constrain the unnecessary excesses of the modern Christmas.

Happy November, everyone!