Guy Fawkes Night

FireworksWhen I was a child we always had a bonfire and fireworks at home to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Many other children from the neighbourhood came round to our house for the party and often brought their own boxes of fireworks with them too so the display went on for quite a long time, often in the cold and damp. There was always much excitement and anticipation as we waited for Dad to come home from work and have his dinner (we always had it on November 5th whatever day it fell on) before going to light the bonfire. We had spent days beforehand making the ‘Guy’ using Dad’s old clothes.

Today private parties such as this are frowned on as being dangerous, so people go to organised events, usually at the weekend before or after. Of course there were also organised displays then, at the weekend, but we still had our own on the actual night and never did we need to call out the fire or ambulance services, no-one ever got hurt. My Dad was very strict about the safety aspect. Also they were never so noisy in those days. Why does everything have to go off with such a loud bang now?

A few years ago, around this time of year, I was invited to go into a local school to run a workshop and read some of my poems. I hadn’t at that time written a poem for children about Guy Fawkes night and as this was my theme for the workshop I decided to write one for the occasion, remembering the bonfire night parties at home when I was a child.  Here it is:

Oh Light the Bonfire Please Dad

Oh light the bonfire please Dad,
It’s very nearly dark.
I know it’s cold and foggy
But I’m sure you’ll get a spark.

We made the Guy last weekend
With an old pair of trousers and shirt.
We painted the face on a paper bag,
(it looks like Uncle Bert).

My friends will all be here soon,
When they’ve had their tea.
Oh go and light the bonfire Dad,
So everyone can see.

The fireworks are ready Dad,
Mum’s locked them in the shed
And Sylvia from down the road
Will bring some more, she said.

I love the Roman Candles
And the Golden Rain,
The Sparklers and the Catherine Wheels
And others I can’t name,

There’ll be Rockets too and Bangers
And, just for a laugh,
I know you’ll light a ‘Rick-Rack’ thing
To chase me down the path.

Look, the fog is lifting,
I can almost see the moon
And there’s the doorbell ringing,
Please light the bonfire soon.

We’ve got our thickest clothes on,
We’re gathered on the lawn.
Please light the bonfire quickly
So it can keep us warm.

We’ll ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and clap our hands,
It’s going to be such fun,
And then we’ll have some Parkin
And there’s soup to eat, with a bun.

So please light up the bonfire Dad,
And the fireworks too.
We won’t complain about the smoke,
Oh, light the bonfire, do!

© Elizabeth Leaper

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Fire

Our back garden is a sort of fat, reversed  ‘L’ shape. Imagine it as a square with one neighbour’s property sitting in one quarter of the square and the other quarter of that half shares a boundary with us and  their neighbour on the other side, who is therefore our neighbour for the bottom part of his plot. Got it?

Anyway,  many years ago this second property used to be an old telephone exchange but has for some considerable time been out of commission and the grounds have become considerably overgrown. Recently this property has been sold and the new owner intends to build an eco-house on the plot. We have been clearing our side of the boundary and erecting a new fence. This has been something of a long job over the winter due to illness, weather and other causes.

Preparatory to building his house the new owner, who is temporarily living in the house on the other side of his plot, which will subsequently be sold, has been clearing much of the overgrown vegetation and removing some dead and otherwise obstructive self-set trees and shrubs. There are also on his plot two very wide and tall evergreen trees which actually take a lot of the morning sun from our property and we had privately been hoping he would remove these but leave some of the other smaller trees. However, he wishes to keep them! It’s his plot, his decision. I suspect he is keen to keep the privacy they will give to his house from the main road that runs along the bottom of his plot (and alongside our garden). He had been burning much of this cut vegetation on a bonfire on a cleared area near the fir trees.

One evening about ten days ago I was at the our kitchen window whilst preparing dinner and happened to glance out. I noticed a pall of dark grey smoke rising from where his bonfire had been and assumed he had re-lit it. Suddenly a great gout of flame shot up the two fir trees. I called to my husband and son that our neighbour would need help and we ran out to assist. Fortunately we had not yet fitted the last new fence panel in the top corner so had access to the neighbour’s plot. I immediately started filling buckets with water. The neighbour was there but his hose wouldn’t reach from the next door property so he was also filling buckets. We have two hoses, so my husband and son connected these together, which fortunately reached across our garden, through the fence gap to the trees and with this and buckets of water we proceeded to attack the fire, which had begun to spread to other small trees and hedging.

Another neighbour. we were told, had phoned the fire brigade. Now, we have a local fire station a few minutes round the corner but no, they decided to send one from the main town, some nine miles away, through rush-hour traffic and road-works – presumably because our local station is a voluntary one and they would have to call the men out. Even so, I’m sure it would still have been quicker. By the time the fire brigade arrived we had pretty well extinguished the fire and all they needed to do was spend a few minutes making sure we had damped it down properly.

It turns out that our neighbour had not burned anything on the bonfire site for about three days and he had earlier that evening spread out the ashes. Obviously the fire had not completely died out or cooled down sufficiently during that time and by spreading the ashes he had allowed the breeze to rekindle the flames. The two fir trees have survived although they have lost a fair bit of greenery and smaller branches, but we can now at least see daylight through the previously dense growth!

The moral of this story is, as any Girl Guide or Boy Scout could have told him, that you should always keep a bucket of water close at hand and make sure your fire is well and truly out before you leave it. Thankfully there was no serious harm done but it could have been a lot worse – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

Bonfire

Mild
and still.
Bonfire blazes bright.
Branches pruned from olive
trees.

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In Spain my daughter has a few acres of mostly olive but also some almond trees. They have been much neglected in recent years and so they have been spending time pruning them ready for spring. We had some wonderful bonfires burning the brash – it does blaze up well, must be the oil!

This Elfje also appears today on Simply Elfje.

Site content copyright of Elizabeth Leaper (Libby).

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