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Remember, remember the 5th of November. It’s a rhyme that most kids expect their parents to fulfil. And, with the aid of fireworks and other child-snares, they do. You may be taken to a display; it’s quite the experience what with the rather more ‘industrial‘ fireworks and the impressively large bonfire, and it’s difficult for anyone to resist the buzzing excitement that permeates a night spent at one of these. Then again, you may have your own home display, courtesy of the resident pyrotechnic. These are no less fun; there’s food and drink on demand and a warm home if you’ve not yet built up the resistance one inevitably does to British Novembers. It’s a different kind of ‘remember’ from the kind that I received on the night of my eleventh one.

It was a cold night, I remember. And cloudless. These details were important because nothing ruins a good rocket like clouds. And a winter night isn’t a winter night unless you’re blessing the inventor of central heating. This night was perfect; the sky was free of clouds and I was shivering violently. My cousin had come over for the night to our house since my dad hosted our own backyard display. I suspect that one could draw some interesting insights into his psychology…do we have a closet arsonist here? Some latent, primal love of fire? A cheap-skate? As the time of the first rocket’s lighting drew near, my neighbour joined us, appropriately fizzing with anticipation, and my father was then put under the unique pressure that only four firework hungry children can deliver. It was brutal, but the man was seasoned, and handled it with only the occasional threat to cancel the whole thing. I don’t think these bothered us: they were expected. If you didn’t get at least one threat, you clearly didn’t want it enough.

The fireworks that night were as enjoyable as ever; they went up with a high-pitched shriek that had me clinging to the fence in delighted fear -I’ve never liked loud noises- and spent themselves with a rainbow bang that was deeply satisfying. We had them all, from a big box that was full of the best kind of treasure- the colourfully explosive kind. There were the Catherine Wheels -placed on the part of fence that still bore the wounds of a past night that went slightly wrong in a rather flame-y way, we had the occasional, strategically employed rocket of the sort that ought to be labelled ‘Will tip the emotional balance of any pet within a twenty mile radius‘, Roman Candles that fountained fiery sparks of all colours, and the sparklers that are the delight of every gloved child and the bane of the overly safety conscious parent.

I don’t remember the precise details of the night; the in-between stuff such as chats and drinks that was probably part of the night. It was some years ago, and there were more exciting things going on, things that my memory was certain were important. The watching of the rockets’ journey into the sky, the whine, the colours, the constant background noise of displays around us, a noise that seemed to continue longer then than it does now. And, of course, the unique smell that’s as close to gunpowder as most of us will ever -or indeed want to- be. This hearkens back to the reason we get to indulge our primal desires to see and hear loud, noisy and colourful explosions. The alternative name for Bonfire Night takes its name from that of the most well-remembered man of what is part of our culture; ‘Guy Fawkes Night’. But Fawkes wasn’t the ringleader; he was simply the first to be caught. The others escaped to Holbeche House after stealing supplies from Warwick Castle. Once there, they discovered that their store of gunpowder had become wet and, being the sort that genius comes naturally to, spread it in front of the fire to dry. To what I’m confident was great shock, it exploded; the conspirators were wounded and one blinded, leaving them weakened for the siege that was to come. This event reminds me of the one that was to occur on my as yet unremarkable bonfire night. Ours did not involve gunpowder, admittedly. Our traditions are marginally safer than that, yet some things are always going to repeat; some events are beyond the prevention of even our greatly advanced society.

The event that occurred to transform the memorable into the memorable, and make this one of the few bonfire nights I remember distinctly, didn’t occur right away. It may have been anything from one hour to several, but we managed to systematically work our way through most of the hoard within the box that my mum had bought from the local shop. It had been an enjoyable night, and we were cold yet happy and wanting more. I think we were round at the side of the house when it happened; that was the designated launch area. But I do remember for sure that we, or at least I, heard a sort of wet squeal pierce the air that wasn‘t of our doing. It had come from the front of the house and within a minute, we were definitely there, and definitely confused. It didn’t occur immediately to us to look at the large and, more significantly, oily bush that straddled the fence, separating the houses of my family and my neighbour’s. We did, however, look when the bush began to smoulder, regrettably without the more pleasant connotations usually associated with that word. I’m also unsure about how long it took to move from smouldering to burning, but I recall the smoke.

In my memory, it is everywhere. The bush is giving out smoke like my maths teacher gave out homework and I’m terrified- at this moment due to the fireball that’s too close for any comfort. The maths teacher held a fear better known in their dark dominion; commonly known as ‘school’. I’m doing the usual thing that people do when faced with a scary thing that they don’t know how to deal with; I’m running about my garden helplessly, and my only sense of purpose is: keep away from the bush. My little brother, my cousin and the neighbour are out of the garden and seeking higher ground and within a minute I’m following. We’re hovering uneasily as the adults are trying to get water to the bush, and then we’re running back, unable to let events unfold without marking them. After all, the house might burn down if my eyes aren’t there to see it doing the opposite. I hang to the back fence as my neighbour connects the hose to a water source and then instructs the transmogrified eleven year old jelly of fear to ‘watch it’. I’m doing my job, I’m checking on the bush, and ‘soon’ it’s all over. The only other events of the night worth remarking on are the fire engine and the police car that belatedly turn up, only to receive a short explanation before they leave. Shortly after the fire will prove to be not-entirely-extinguished but it will be dealt with easily and there will be no further trouble, save an unfortunate reminder in the form of a smoke-scented living room. It’s quite possible that more than a few of those responsible for the manufacture of air fresheners had unusually fragrant, money-filled dreams that night.

That night marked something of an intensification of my fear of loud noises, and also instilled a growing indifference for fireworks that mean I’m now largely neutral to Bonfire Night. My eleven year old self would hardly have been able to credit it, but for the seventeen year old self it’s been reduced to a mere date in the calendar that receives more attention than say, the 4th of May, but much less than the 25th of December. I’ve never experienced a fear quite like it. I can’t remember a single event changing my feelings on a subject so drastically; the next year we didn’t have a display and we didn’t attend one. This news was not only far from unwelcome but was in fact pleasing. I can say with sincerity that I remember, remember that 5th of November.





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Healing_Angel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 5, 2010 at 3:41 am
You are not alone. I hate loud noises too, although I can't remember anything specific that happened.
 
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