The other afternoon I was watching a heated argument on the telly about Health and Safety in connection with Bonfire Night. Apparently some bright spark wants children banned from having sparklers. The words Nanny State were bandied around and I had to agree with those who said it’s about time the government accepted that most parents had some commonsense when it came to overseeing younger children and knew to teach their older children to abide by certain safety rules.
While both views on the subject continued to be voiced, my mind drifted back to the cold dark autumn days of my youth and the build up to Guy Fawkes Night. Not for us children growing up in the late forties and fifties organised firework displays, the great thing was collecting wood for the Bommie on which to burn an effigy of the man in charge of the gunpowder intended to blow up King James and his Parliament.
We had to find somewhere safe from the thieving hands of kids from neighbouring streets who were hell-bent on having a bigger bonfire than us. It was a time when even a decrepit backyard door could be nicked or even part of your wooden fence. The gift of any old furniture when someone was buying new was met with effusive thanksgiving.
Then there was the Guy to make and I remember one particular year that my dad drew and painted us a brilliant mask depicting a man of the appropriate historical period (1605). It was attached to a drumhead cabbage head which was fixed to a body made from stuffed with paper men’s clothes.
Our parents could not afford money to burn so we only ever had about two or three fireworks, such as Golden Showers or Roman Candle and a Catherine Wheel, as well as a packet of sparklers each. Any extra fireworks involved lugging our Guy to the nearest shops and hanging around outside, pleading A PENNY FOR THE GUY, PLEASE! Us girls didn’t do none too badly. Of course, times have changed and the notion of burning an effigy of poor ol’ Guy Fawkes these days wouldn’t go down well. Besides he suffered a completely nasty fate altogether.
In my early teens I remember sitting on an old sofa intended for the bonfire with some other girls, gazing dreamily into the flames, little suspecting that any minute the lads would toss several bangers beneath the sofa in an attempt to frighten the life out of us.
Naturally us girls ran, screaming when the bangers went off but we had seen them coming. The only time I ever did get hurt on Bonfire Night was when I was sixteen and walking with my boyfriend to have a look at the various street bonfires to see which was the best. A wandering spark found its way inside my school scarf and burn my neck slightly.
There were always adults present to keep an eye on things. Besides living in the backstreets of Liverpool where houses were heated mainly by a single fire in the kitchen, there was something mesmerising about those bonfires. And towards the end of the evening one could guarantee finding a baked potato in the dying embers of the fire. The spuds might have been blackened but that didn’t stop us enjoying them with a bit of salt and a knob of melting butter on them and none of us suffered upset tummies.
I, like many another from that era, accepted there was risk involved where there was fire and fireworks working their magic. Some people do act stupid and so there will always be accidents but as long as the majority show commonsense and stick to certain general rules, then is there really any need for laws to be passed as if we’re all idiots?