Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason
Why gunpowder, treason,
Should ever be forgot.
The ambient temperature today is a balmy (for November) 17C. This is all wrong.
Tonight we are going to be burning things. We are going to be letting off rockets. We are going to put on our itchiest jumpers, wooliest socks, thickest gloves and most ridiculous bobble hat and scarf sets. Because tonight is November 5, and it’s supposed to be really cold.
I love love love Bonfire Night. It’s one of my favourite days of the year.
When I was little the whole town would go down to the beach, where there were at least five different bonfires on the go. Everyone made parkin or treacle toffee, and carried it in tins to share. It was so dark you couldn’t see what you were being offered so you’d just take it and eat it. There was always a bit of competition about who’s toffee was the best. I personally like my treacle toffee super, teeth breakingly brittle, rather than so chewy you bite it and can’t open your mouth again for another half an hour. I like to be able to keep talking.
I remember one year wearing an itchy woolly jumper my nana had knitted for me, underneath a woolly coat in an icky brown colour that she’d also knitted, with a matching hat, scarf and gloves with pompoms on it. That was because Bonfire Night was meant to be really cold. Honestly I can’t remember if it actually was that cold, or if we were just overly wrapped up because we were children. But in my imagination the only bit of us that wasn’t wrapped up – our cheeks – were cold in that prickly sharp kind of way your face and nose gets when it’s below freezing.
Being little meant that it was impossible to see who anyone was in the dark. Everyone looked like a shadow. Shadows with tins of sweets. Which sounds sinister, but it wasn’t. I like sweets.
The Rotary Club would let fireworks off from the end of the pier and we’d all stand and ooh and aah. Someone would have a packet of sparklers and I’d write half my name in the air and then panic I was going to get burnt (I was very conscientious and the government had some truly terrifying public safety adverts about children getting burnt by sparklers when I was a kid) and dropping my sparkler on the floor before I finished it. (My name has three syllables…)
As the bonfires began to burn down, someone would put baked potatoes wrapped in foil into the embered edges and they’d get handed round. A kind of upside down tea with cake and sweets first and savouries second. For some reason I also associate Bonfire Night with Lancashire Hotpot. I’m not sure if I ever did eat Lancashire Hotpot on Bonfire Night, but when we did eat it, it had to be with a thick pastry crust on top, mushy peas and a large dollop of pickled red cabbage.
Every year, in the few days before November 5, this is what I think of. And the weight of nostalgia is so great every year I like to try to recreate this feeling. For the most part I can gather all the necessary elements – the bonfire, the potatoes in foil, the cake in a tin, the toffee, the hotpot, the large dollop of red cabbage, the sparklers and the name-writing and the fear of first-degree burns, the fireworks, the darkness. But not the pier (it burnt down) or the beach (I live in the middle of London) or, it seems, a suitably cold temperature. Which means I can’t wear my thickest jumper, which also, conveniently, has pom poms on it.
Oh well. Maybe I’ll wear it anyway.