November the 5th, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, sometimes known as “party time in the burns unit”, is in many ways the most British of festivals. It’s completely dependent on our fickle weather, is made far more dangerous by the addition of alcohol and is based on a historic event that is only properly understood by people who wear tweed and smell of books. If the date had reasons to provoke a giant family argument and incorporated a requirement to buy presents for people you don’t like, we could follow it with a bank holiday and the nation would have that British Thanksgiving that tacky gift shops have been begging for since the 1980s.
I’m personally indifferent to fireworks, because the only thing I need to cause flashes before my eyes is to try getting up too quickly after a night on the sauce. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the excuse to have a nice autumnal party so soon after Halloween. Depending on how the calendar works out I might still be dressed as a sexy, flammable witch, and will happily just stagger towards the nearest pyre of burning rubbish, clutching a bottle of pumpkin-flavoured, 100% proof vodka. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing that reconstructive surgery can’t fix. Here are my tips to make sure your bonfire night isn’t a damp squib.
1. Don’t be fooled by the writing on the selection box
No matter what the packaging might try and imply, there’s precisely zero chance that your “breathtaking, kaleidoscopic, interplanetary” selection box from the local supermarket is going to deliver Iraq war quality visuals to anybody who hasn’t consumed hallucinogenic drugs, and in any case those are the people that need to be kept away from things that explode. What is more likely is that you’ll have a variety of coloured smoke, some fizzing fountains and a passably intense Catherine wheel. It won’t hold a (roman) candle to the display in your nearest park, let alone Disneyland, but you also won’t have to queue to get in and be surrounded by children who are screaming and filling their nappies. If anything, sarcastically reading out the names and descriptions of the fireworks before halfheartedly lighting them is a far more British form of enjoyment than actually being impressed by anything.
2. Don’t expect too much from an organised display
Unless you know any pyromaniacs, home fireworks can be a bit of a let down. On the other hand, so can big organised displays. At least when you’re at home, risking your own property going up in a cloud of smoke, you’re theoretically in control of the order of events. Organised displays function by maximising the amount of time you spend standing around eating toffee apples and looking at your watch, on the principle that by the time your legs start to buckle the final payoff is worth the wait. But is it? It helps if you imagine the hours of buildup a bit like being taken on a date to an expensive restaurant, paid a great many compliments and plied with fine wines. By the time you actually get to the important part of the evening you’re morally obliged to pretend you’re enjoying yourself for the sake of any other people who are present, even if it’s over a lot quicker than you expected. Sometimes there’s no big bang. Cough. I’m sorry, but I just don’t know where to fit £5 candyfloss, a Crown & Anchor stall and a fight over car parking into that metaphor. If I could, I’m not even sure a family magazine could print it.
3. Booze and fire are a thrilling combination, but dangerous
My old friend ethanol can be relied on to improve almost any social situation, from funerals to the first day at the office. Organising bonfire night might not be one of the better examples though, so try and have somebody who can see straight in charge of lighting the touch paper and any requirement to slosh petrol around. It’s handy for them to remain sober enough to remember that most fireworks need to be pointed away from faces, houses and garage forecourts, apart from a Catherine wheel which needs to be nailed to something in case it careers across the floor like a rubbish special effect, melts a few Jimmy Choos and shoots down the steps of your neighbour’s basement flat. Putting out fires by pointing an extinguisher through a letterbox is a lot easier when you’re sober and not dressed as a naughty skeleton.
4. It’s hard to be a good example to children when burning things is so much fun
I take my responsibilities to the next generation very seriously, although they mostly involve staying childless and functioning as a cautionary tale. As a sometime role model to the offspring of my friends, I’ve always struggled with the requirement to pretend that my many vices are something I regret. This applies to fighting, intoxication and louche sexual behaviour, but around this time of year it also becomes applicable to purifying things through the power of flame. I maintain it’s unfair that society creates a holiday where its momentarily acceptable to burn petrol-soaked effigies on piles of rubbish, then turns round and tells you that it’s inappropriate for these effigies to resemble ex-partners, or for piles of rubbish to contain men’s clothes, share certificates and golf clubs. If God didn’t intend for us to fight fire with fire, he wouldn’t have made it so easy for unknown vandals in masks and latex gloves to force down the window of my ex-husband’s Jaguar and fill the back seat full of newspaper and firelighters.
5. Have a plan B and don’t rely on the British weather
This piece of advice could just as well apply to any night of the year, but there is something particularly depressing about importing 300 euros worth of French rockets and realising that it’s wetter than the front seats at a One Direction concert and windy enough to blow the flatulence back up your bottom. You can save the explosions for another time, but make sure you have an instant party ready to happen indoors. A log fire (and warm brandy) might soften the blow, but don’t repeat my mistake and get merry enough that you think it’s feasible to let off any Roman candles in your fireplace. Eventually you’ll go too far, a rocket will get stuck in the chimney and you’ll all be outside waiting for the fire brigade to turn up, again. Don’t bother with indoor fireworks either – despite incredible advances in technology since the 1970s they’re still nothing more than an underwhelming collection of cake sparklers, foul smelling smoke puffs and those bizarre snake poop things that resemble stop motion monsters from an old episode of Doctor Who.