November already. The season of fog, fireworks and frankfurters.
No sooner have we recovered from the halloween cocktails than it’s time to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Time to ignite excitement for firework displays, hot punch and jacket potatoes.
I find I can really get behind the idea of blowing up the Houses of Parliament and am only too happy to mark it with foil wrapped food and hot alcohol.
And I’m happy to attend an organised fireworks party where someone else – a proper grown-up – is in charge.
As a child, Bonfire Night happened in our back garden.
I was always tense.
This was the seventies and eighties. Things were different; dangerous.
The regulations around fireworks didn’t exist.
Our TV screens were flooded with public information films about children being blinded, burned or killed ‘meddling with fireworks’ as Felicity Kendal so beautifully put it.
As far as I could tell, Firework Night had the potential to fill A&E by teatime.
I was an imaginative child and all those images of kids in woolly hats and bandages made me a reluctant participant.
I was looking for the health and safety arrangements before such things officially existed.
Did we, for example, have a bucket of sand in which to extinguish the sparklers?
Answer: no. The choice was to stab them into a patch of mud or throw them over next door’s.
I was terrified that my dad would return to what looked like a dormant firework with catastrophic consequences. I envisaged tending to him with a triangular bandage, some Elastoplast and an ancient tube of Savlon, which were the contents of the family first aid cabinet.
My Brownie first aid badge didn’t stretch to blast injuries.
And the presenters on Blue Peter had got me worried about setting fire to unsuspecting hedgehogs which may have crawled into the bonfire.
Ok, we had hedgehogs to burn back then (serious face: the hedgehog population has declined by a third in the past decade) but even so, I’d read Mrs Tiggywinkle and I knew she wasn’t up for doing a Joan of Arc reenactment.
So Bonfire Night did make me anxious.
The two aspects of it I liked were the creating of the Guy and the baked potatoes.
You don’t see as many kids begging outside shops with effigies as you used to. Although I have to hand it to the two boys outside Tesco’s who were taking it in turns to sit, slumped against the entrance wearing a mask while the other shouted ‘Penny for the Guy’ and held out his baseball cap.
(That’s the twenty-first century for you. Everybody wants something for nothing.)
All a far cry from the assemblage of my brother’s outgrown sweatshirt sitting atop dad’s old gardening trousers stuffed with newspaper and straw with a balloon head…
“Who’s the Guy?” My dad would ask.
“Idi Amin,” I’d reply. For some reason Idi Amin had taken root in my consciousness as the biggest baddie of all time. (This was in the days before Michael Gove, obvs.)
So Idi would be thrown on the burning pyre and we’d all wait for the big pop as his balloon head exploded. Happy days.
And then my mum would appear with the jacket potatoes.
We really only had jacket potatoes on Bonfire Night. The rest of the time, the potatoes in our life were mashed, roast or, more often, cooked in our ‘Thomas Kartoffelfeuer’ clay oven pot – my mum’s pride and joy.
But you can tire of a smoky potato with a blackened outside. So the 5th of November became a red flag day in the potato year.
Mum would bake them in their foil wraps, scoop out the innards and mash with cream, cheese and black pepper and rewrap them.
They’d be delivered on a platter, glinting in the light from the fire and they were so delicious I never gave a second thought to how they could scald my hand through my woollen mittens.
Yes, health and safety went out of the window when the hot spuds came out.
We’ll be off to the fireworks later. It’s a paid event. There’ll be fantastic fireworks because pyrotechnics is a whole technology in itself now. The jacket potatoes will be served on hygienic polystyrene trays and the hot punch will be worth queuing for.
There’ll be a first aider on site and I won’t have to worry about a thing.
And as for the burning effigy? If it’s not Trump I’ll eat my bobble hat.