The sparklers, the baked potatoes, the faint risk of serious injury, Nadia Kamil has always loved a good old-fashioned, back garden fireworks display.
Nadia with the marshmallow that sent her over the edge into greed-induced nausea.
I love November the 5th.
Not least because the next day was my Grumpa’s birthday and I like to be reminded of him and how we’d joke about everyone going overboard celebrating his birthday every year.
I think I always loved Bonfire Night. Setting things on fire was a pastime of mine as a sullen teenager so it was nice we could do it as a family once a year.
There’s something magical about standing in the freezing cold, eating soup and trying not to burn your eyebrows off lighting sparklers off each other. The extended build-up between fireworks, like a one-liner comedian who needs an interval between every gag. Nearly every firework being a bit shit but waiting so long for it we all make “ooh” and “aah” noises to make it seem worthwhile. Seeing better fireworks coming from a slight distance away and wondering if we should’ve just gone to the council display. Seeing your dad pegging it from a firework he thought wasn’t lit. Magic.
Guy Fawkes Night is the very essence of Britishness. I never really realised what a weird thing it is until I had to explain it to some Americans.
“We have a big bonfire, we set off fireworks in our gardens and we make dolls out of straw and whatever household tat we can find, ask people to give us money for it, and then we throw it on the bonfire.”
“Because a man once tried to blow up parliament, I think.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Here, have a sparkler.”
“I get it now! This is great!” *writes name in the air with sparkler, then draws a cock and balls*
Americans celebrate their independence from Britain with spectacular professional fireworks in the height of summer. We celebrate a man failing to blow up the Houses of Parliament by setting off a few fountains next to the fence at the bottom of the garden, in the middle of winter.
What other time of year do we get to legitimately check for hedgehogs? (America doesn’t even HAVE hedgehogs.) The warming glow of a bonfire is all the more warming with the sweet knowledge you haven’t burned any hedgehogs to death. Oh, it makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Like an inside out hedgehog.
The joyful disregard for health and safety that would make a risk assessment spontaneously combust also delights me. The fact you can pop to the corner shop for a pint of milk, two Catherine wheels and a MegaBlaster™. This is what freedom looks like. Keep your guns, Uncle Sam. We buy explosives for beauty, not violence. OK, sometimes violence. I didn’t realise you could shoot a firework down the street as a prank/terrifying weapon until I moved to London. But hey, I’d still rather a few tossed bangers than bullets.
My favourite bonfire nights were at my friend’s house in Shepherd’s Bush. She’d make vats of delicious hot soup, trays of sticky brownies, toffee apples with twigs for sticks, steaming jacket potatoes. We’d all stuff ourselves* while freezing in the garden as 20 or so kids would run around with sparklers.
*I’d eat so much I felt sick but would continue eating toasted marshmallows like a bloody trooper.
It was a typical terraced house in London. The garden was not big. And yet, we’d all stand around, maybe four metres away, as the dads and cool mums lit shop bought fireworks one by one. As I stood watching, I thought: “This is the beginning of an episode of Casualty.”
It nearly ended up like that. As we watched a roman candle spit twinkling green and pink gobs into the sky with a sigh for each one, it fell over. It came towards us but the orbs of lovely light kept coming out. “Oh, that’s pretty” thought my boyfriend at the time. “It looks like it’s coming right towards me.”
A silver ball of fire skimmed his cheek and fizzled out on the wall behind him. Isn’t that the magic of fireworks? Even when one is heading for your own face, you can’t help but think it’s beautiful.
The next day the air is thick with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. And for me, the memory of pipe tobacco and extra strong mints.
Happy birthday, Grumpa.
Nadia is a Welsh-Iraqi writer, actor and comedian. She's into crafts, social justice and buffets. @NadiaKamil