The Cottage Smallholder


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Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gun powder, treason and plot.

Girl and bonfire

Girl and bonfire

“Guess what I won in the raffle?” Lil waved a book about to make her point. It was a slim hardback. She clutched it to her chest.
“It’s called How to Run an Allotment.” She paused to survey the audience.
“Well I’ve been running an allotment for 63 years. Started with my grandpa aged 7.”
“So you’ll be able to give a good review of the book then, Lil!”

The Allotment Association Social Club raffles are legendary. On Saturday night there were 27 prizes. I hooked a box of Maltesers and Danny got an extendable coat rack.
“Perfect for my shed when it’s finished.”
Work on this dream shed has temporarily stopped as the pallets had been set aside for the huge bonfire.
“Did they have a Guy?”
“It’s not pc anymore to have them Fiona,” The Chicken Lady replied.

It’s easy to forget why we commemorate Guy Fawkes Night. When I was little there would be prams and pushchairs displaying Guys on most street corners in Cambridge.
“Penny for The Guy.” Was the cry from kids guarding their precious creations. Some of the cash went on fireworks but most of it was invested in sweets. I suppose that back then it was our version of Trick or Treat. The one week in the year when children could legitimately beg.
But back to the history.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Guy Fawkes and his pals had succeeded in blowing up parliament. Would it have changed the course of history or would it have just been a temporary blip? There will always be religious wars in the world, humans are tribal creatures after all. Last night Danny and I were part of the allotment tribe. Bonfire Night was a good excuse to get together and have fun.

We had an unused box of fireworks that had been knocking about in my bedroom for years. Don’t ask. Danny was always a bit nervous about these.
“They could go off at any time!”
I thought that they’d be pretty safe and didn’t want to toss them out into landfill. So we took them down to the firework party.
“What happens if they don’t work?”
“I’m sure that they will. There are sparklers and rockets in plastic packs.”

We spotted that our box came out first.
“Look he’s having trouble lighting them.” Danny whispered. But Lee was just trying to light the lighting taper. When Lee’s lighting taper ran out later that evening he used his cigarette instead.

In fact, our fireworks were fine and the children adored the sparklers. Do you remember writing your name with them? And the tiny stings on your hand from the sparks? You don’t get that sort of hands on fun at the big firework shows.

Of course as a Catholic, growing up in southern Ireland where fireworks are banned, Danny has no childhood bonfire night memories and was intrigued.
“What’s that one called?”
“Those are Roman Candles, that Catherine Wheel should be spinning but look over there – that one’s working properly.”
Danny gazed as the wheel spun perfectly filling the air with shards of white light and stars.

These names, as familiar as the stones in the stream that we paddled in as children later got me thinking. It turns out that the Catherine Wheel and Roman Candle both have ghastly connotations.

Rockets whizzed into the sky exploding with pops of tiny stars.
“I don’t like the bangs. Had too many of those during the war.” Confided my neighbour and disappeared into the warmth of the club caravan.

The firework party on the allotments was great fun. There was a good barbecue, hot potatoes, coleslaw, pizzas and hot drinks. The chairman lit the fireworks. Not the great multifirework displays that we are used to nowadays. This was more intimate, like the sort of firework parties that I attended as a child. When a careful father progressed steadily through the box of Standard Fireworks.

It was the children of our tribe that made the evening zing.
They didn’t shriek.“Down with Guy Fawkes!”
They just loved the fireworks, the spectacle and the food.

Their excitement and awe was infectious. At one point two little girls flung themselves on the ground and kicked their legs in the air with the thrill of it all. If they hadn’t heard of how the fireworks got their names or even Guy Fawkes that can only be a good thing in my book.


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11 Comments

  1. Kooky Girl

    Bonfire Night is my favourite night of the year. So atmospheric – cold and smokey, flashing fireworks, a spitting fire, food. Wrapped up in your scarf and gloves. I love it.

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