Remember, Remember the Fifth of November:
Standing in the middle of Grey’s fireworks display, my eyes are focused on the flickering bursts of colour – the obtrusive tree in the foreground is no longer a concern as I feel my entire spirit captured by this phosphorescence. As a whistling firework shoots into the sky, I feel myself strangely transported, as though my spirit has latched onto the fizzling rocket ascended into the heavens. Every delayed bang, like an echoing gunshot, seems to shudder through me and the luminosity colouring the sky reminds me of another time, almost another world.
I remember First Year, watching fireworks with people I had only scratched the surface of and tentatively called my friends. The crackling flames of wonder made me yearn for home, where Bonfire Night meant family – an evening spent with loved ones. It felt wrong to be experiencing something so curiously important with people I barely understood to be real.
It doesn’t feel wrong this time.
The air almost seems alight, the warm scent of smoke juxtaposing the freezing chill of the air that brings everything into sharp focus. Another radiant explosion leaves aureate sparks in its wake and a gust of wind catches them, scattering them across the sky like falling stars… like a sprinkling of fairies…
I remember the fairies. One of my earliest memories of the fifth of November is of bonfires and fairies. Watching the towering muddle of abandoned furniture and snapped branches pile up and up and up, only to fall back down to dust. Tiny quivering flames grew stronger, engulfed and soared upwards, the shifting blaze shedding sparks into the sky.
I turned to my childhood best friend, our youthful faces glowing with the warmth of that fiery beacon, and I told her to watch the fire fairies. We followed the tiny winged creatures as they were born in the scorching temple and flew to worlds we couldn’t see in the dark – golden lights drifting into the night.
As a multitude of flares combust in the sky, staining it with gleaming ivory and cobalt and emerald, I realise that the spectacle must be reaching its climax. I follow a firework that whistles as it is propelled into the sky, and as it bursts into a glimmering intensity of sparks, a sphere of indigo is ignited at the extremity of each trail of light. This particular kind of firework has always been my favourite.
I remember seeing these glowing creations for the first time at my local town park. My little sister didn’t like the booming sounds that reverberated through the darkness and she covered her ears, whimpering. I found myself captivated from the first thunderous explosion. I was sure there must have been a kind of magic behind this light show – the way it made my heart feel like it was soaring as each jet of colour was injected into the sky and reflected on the awe-struck faces on the earth below.
It became a tradition, going to the town park fireworks show. There would always be a roaring bonfire seeping warmth into all who clustered around it, and quaint stalls selling roasted chestnuts which I liked to smell the richness of but would never eat. I would clutch a hot chocolate in hands that didn’t feel as if they belonged to me – they had been claimed by the evening breeze, skin blazing against the frigid air you could taste with every inhale. My siblings and I clutched sparklers and wrote our names onto the sky in shimmering brilliance, watching our mark slowly fade into the obscurity of the night. The fifth of November became sacred to me, as I discovered beauty in the depths of the night.
I would eventually discover that my midnight adventures were in fact roughly six o’clock adventures, as the winter darkness deceived my younger self. As I grew older, the mysticism of bonfire night faded. And yet, as I watch the last incandescent comet burn out of existence, I feel the remains of its enchantment linger within me.
Observing the hectic pushing of people trying to leave, to continue racing through their life, I feel empty for a moment. I return from memories of youth and fairies and family, finally present in the living moment. The evening feels like it belongs to the whimsical ambience of those memories, as though Durham has become part of the plethora of memories that encapsulate home.
I breathe in the petrichor and the faintly singed air, hear the crackle of distant fireworks; I watch the wind send leaves tumbling across the now-empty street, and I am content.
Riana is a second year English student and who enjoys writing short stories in her spare time. After watching the fireworks display at Grey this year, she found herself trying to understand why Bonfire Night felt so important to her. Through this piece Riana explores memories of her childhood that gave the fifth of November such a sentimental meaning.