One thing we noticed about four months into our British adventure was the prevalence of quite regular bangs, whistles and pops in the night. Quite regular. I’m thinking an average of once or twice a fortnight.
Not sure what the fascination with DIY fireworks is all about, ultimately. Maybe it’s just an easy access thing. If I had grown up in, say, New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts, I’d be as accustomed to the 10pm symphony as any old Oxfordian.
However, there is one night which tops them all. Remember, remember, the 5th of November!
Oxford, along with most respectable English towns and cities, celebrates the burning-alive of this infamous scoundrel (don’t recognize him? Shocking!) with bonfires and a spectacular 6.45pm fireworks show which it turns out annually kicks off at 7.15 without fail.
Having missed that memo, we rushed and fussed to get a makeshift dinner on the table. The Bakestress and I had just sung a concert (more to come) and the Philosopher was ravenous after a few hours deep in thought.
We whipped out leftover celeriac soup, threw some diced potatoes in a bowl, and wilted some spinach in cumin, a bit of butter and bleu cheese. Fifteen minutes later, burnt-tongued, wrapped and booted, we were ready to face the uphill cycle into town.
We arrived with two minutes to spare and locked up our bikes. The park was packed with people, young and old alike, all equally anxious for the festivities to begin. And, it turns out, equally deceived. We stomped our feet for fully half an hour before deciding to leave the scene. As if on cue, the sky lit up in protest.
An extremely cute girl on the shoulders of her father in front of us clapped after every one, shouting “That one was my favourite Daddy!”
It was nice to be lost in the crowd, all awed by the same piece of fun. It was good to be a part of something – even something trivial – bigger than ourselves for fifteen minutes on a cloudy November evening. It was right to have some evening entertainment that felt real, unlike disappearing into a movie or a book for a few hours.
I’d recommend it, at the end of a long week.
Let me leave you with a song, just to disavow you of any illusions you might have about the prim and proper British. If you ever make an enemy of an Englishman, protect your hedges!
“The fifth of November, since I can remember,
Was Guy Faux, Poke him in the eye,
Shove him up the chimney-pot, and there let him die.
A stick and a stake, for King George’s sake,
If you don’t give me one, I’ll take two,
The better for me, and the worse for you,
Ricket-a-racket your hedges shall go.”