Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

Fireworks blossom on
the black sugar paper sky.

The spicy smell of first frost
makes nostrils tingle.

The bonfire burns like a furnace.
My face is as hot as an iron.

My fleece jacket is snuggled
Round me to keep me warm.

I write my name in air
with my white hot sparkler.

Before bed, there’s hot chocolate,
floating cushions of marshmallow.

From The New Generation by Angela Topping (Salt 2010)

This poem was based on my own memories of Bonfire Night as  a young child and also as a parent when the girls were younger. We used to have a small bonfire in the back garden and a few fireworks lit by my dad or later, my husband for our children. I always loved Bonfire night, it seemed to me magical and comforting, though the notion of the guy used to upset me, particuarly as I knew Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who has been killed horribly for trying to blow up Parliament. I now know he was a mercenary employed as a pyrotechnics expert by the plotters. He was very brave: to avoid the cruel death of being hanged, drawn and quartered, he jumped when hanged, effecetively breaking his own neck. I cannot understand why he became the focus of such hatred, especially as James I was an unpoplar king and the laws against Catholics at the time were horrific. It is only now that the law against Catholics marrying into the royal family is considered to be outdated and might even be changed.

Although I loved bonfire night, I uset to be traumatised the next day by items in the news about children who had been badly burned. As teenagers, we used to build our own bonfires and cadge combustible materials from houses near us, save up pocket money for fireworks and beg spuds to roast in the fire. I wlecome, therefore, the growing trend of organised bonfires, put on by the council in parks and so on. Much safer and a lovely act of community bonding. Ever since the Millenium, though, fireworks have been set off on almost any occasion. I don’t like this trend. Once a year is enough to traumatise pets and disturb neighbours, and worse, overdoing things can soften their impact. In a society that demands and gets strawberries in winter, for example, we are blurring the lines between the seasons with our excesses.

Where I live now, and have lived for the past 25 years, I have a good view of other people’s fireworks and prefer to recreate a favourite memory of when my oldest daughter Laura was around three years old. We had just moved to this house and I sat on her bed with her, having finished the bedtime story routine, opened the curtains and spent a happy half hour with our noses pressed to the pane watching the sky flash orange, white, blue and green, shooting stars swim by our window and sparkle off into the navy blue above our trees. It was unplanned, the baby was asleep in her cot in the next room, full of breastmilk and my husband downstairs.

The best pleasures are the simplest by far.


Happy bonfire night everyone! And remember, light the blue touch paper and retire. Keep the fireworks in a tin and drop our sparkler on the ground when you have finished writing on the night.


1 Comment

Filed under Children's Poetry, Festivals, Poetry Collections, The New Generation

One response to “Bonfire Night

  1. Paul Beech

    Hi Angela,

    Love your “noses to pane” memory and hope you’ll work it up into a poem because moments of joyous revelation like that are pure gold.

    The smell of woodsmoke and gunpowder on a frosty night always takes me back to the bonfires of my boyhood in Farnworth half a century ago. We had a gravel slope at the side of our house and my Grandad Beech, a park keeper, would deliver a wagonload of tree loppings for Bonfire Night. We’d usually lose a few branches to youthful bonfire pirates who’d tow them away behind their bikes, but we’d still have enough for a good blaze. All our local relatives would come round and the senior members would sit chinwagging on hardback chairs as the flames leapt twenty feet high and we lads set off rockets and volcanoes and Catherine wheels under parental supervision.

    Homemade treacle toffee would be passed around and there’d be roast chestnuts in the embers. On one infamous occasion I enlivened the local hop at the school hut opposite by tossing ripraps under the dancers’ feet and ended up vaulting our garden wall to escape the enraged youths after my blood…great fun!

    The organised bonfire at Verdin Park that I took my seven-year-old granddaughter to at the weekend was very different but fun too with its fairground rides and carnival atmosphere. I’m not sure about community bonding but there was certainly a huge press of people, and being a big fella it was all I could do to keep hold of my granddaughter’s woolly-gloved hand every time she dived for a narrow gap in the crowd. It was strange to see the half-moon blue-tinged in drifting smoke. The firework display was spectacular of course – especially the simultaneous starbursts directly overhead, which shook us to our boots and engulfed us in new worlds of psychedelic dazzle.

    My granddaughter pulled her earmuffs off and the look of wonder in her eyes was something I’ll never forget. This too was one of those golden moments.