I apologise in advance – I did not take any photos. I put my camera into my bag, and I fully intended to take photos. I even thought about it a few times while I was at the bonfire. But I never actually executed the plan.
Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, also known as the start of my favourite season. When I was a child we sometimes went to small bonfire parties – I think we might even have had our own once or twice (until we got banned by the council from ever having a fire in our garden again – grumpy complainatron neighbours). But it was not until I came to university that November 5th became such a big deal.
Last night I was tutoring until 6.30, and as soon as the lesson ended I hurried to my bike and pedalled like mad back towards college to meet some choir friends and my new boyfriend Charles (people who I have not told about him, consider this post your official notification). In a feat of contradictory well/badly-organisedness I had not had time to put on tights for added warmth, but had brought them with me, so I made everyone wait while I ran to the bathroom to put them on. It is interesting, incidentally, how much more difficult it is to put on tights when you are in a hurry. Suddenly your feet are all angles and the fabric becomes impossibly fragile and you can’t keep your balance standing on one foot.
Anyway when I re-emerged our group had suddenly expanded from four to about fifteen, mostly Charles’s college friends in an assortment of odd hats. We rabbled our way towards the centre of town, at every road junction meeting another wave of people heading the same way. By the time we reached the main street we were a small group in a crowd of hundreds, all streaming in the same direction. If I were a tourist without knowledge of uniquely British festivals I would have been terrified: it looked like an invasion.
The bonfire is always held in a park at the north of the city, which you can approach from several different directions. All the roads in the vicinity had been closed and were just a solid mass of people flocking forwards towards the entrances. I am decidedly not a fan of crowds, or loud noises, or flashing lights – it is rather ironic that I enjoy Bonfire Night at all.
It has been raining quite a lot lately, so the grass was pretty squelchy and as a result the paths were blocked solid with people attempting to buy flashy plastic toys to wave around. We lost most of the be-hatted stragglers and the original gang made our way to a small empty patch of grass to wait for the fireworks to start.
They were absolutely gorgeous fireworks, I have to say. The louder explosions made me wince, and the ending which was a storm of bangs and screeches made me actually turn away and try to hide in Charles’s jacket, but for twenty minutes the sky was a riot of golds, purples, reds, greens, yellows and silvers. When I was a child we lived across the valley from a firework factory and they would often test their newest batch. We’d kneel up on the bathroom window ledge and watch them – all the colours without the noise, which was lost in the wide space between the two hills. It wasn’t quite as impressive as standing right up beneath the sparks though.
Once the display had come to its noisy end, people started to dissipate and they lit the huge bonfire almost immediately. I hadn’t had time to eat, so we briefly stood in a queue for a burger van – the falafel van was nowhere in sight, to my bitter disappointment – but then realised there were no veggie burgers on sale, so we rejoined the crowded streets to find another purveyer of fried goods. In the town marketplace at night a beacon appears, locally known as the Van of Life although I think its real name is slightly different (it has a competitor on the other side of the marketplace who is called the Van of Death – its real name is entirely different!) and we joined the rabble there. I was quite impressed to see that they were frying my veggie burger in a separate pan and using special green tongs to serve it; I was all set to pretend I didn’t know it had been fried next to beef and chicken burgers, so it was nice to actually know it hadn’t. We sat on the wall outside Kings College and pondered the economic logic of a gift shop which stays open long after dark. I just had a look for the shop’s website and didn’t find one, but I did find a directory page which informed me that the shop closes at 5.30. That clearly is not true – I have seen it open at nearly 10pm, but never have I been tempted to buy a teddy bear wearing academic dress at that time or indeed any time.
Now the next event to look forward to, if that is the right word, is Remembrance Sunday this weekend. We are singing Faure’s Requiem and the well-known stanza from For The Fallen, and in between the two the names of the students and fellows who died in the world wars are read out, until it is hard to sing around the lump in your throat and not a few of the choir are crying.