Thursday, 5 November 2009

Bonfire night

My best ever firework display was the Southbourne Prep School bonfire night in 1951, when I was nine years old. The fireworks were laid out ready on trestle tables on the playing field in front of the school, to be set off, one by one, by the assembled masters after the bonfire had been lit. Boys and parents were lined up on the touchline, ready to go 'ooh' and 'aahh'.

It might have been a stray spark from the fire, or a master's dropped match or fag-end - for whatever cause suddenly the whole lot started to go off, all at once. At first we thought this was part of the show, but then the masters began to run away ... Adult decisions or panic reactions must have taken place, but there was really no choice but to let it run its course. It lasted about ten minutes, and it was spectacular. Rockets flew off horizontally, Catherine wheels span away into the sky, firecrackers leapt around like liberated venomous insects ...

I was enthralled by the undeniable beauty of this unintended display. But the real reason I now think of this as 'best ever' is that it awoke in me, for the first time in my life, a sense of gleeful anarchy, a realisation that the worlds of controlled order and wild chaos are sometimes separated by no more than a random spark. That perverse exhilaration has never entirely died down, and I hope it never will.


  1. Hey I remember that too! And I was just under 4! (if your recollection of the year is correct - I'm sure it would be).
    So that explains it all!
    They had to pull that school down shortly after I left at the age of 10. I don't think it was because of any anarchic actions on my part though.

  2. hahaha, love your detailed recollection, I can just picture the scene...

    Nicola x

  3. Well, funnily enough I experienced the same feeling when watching our school burning down. Flames soaring into the dark sky. They reckoned it was Scottish Nationalists that set fire to it. It was built by a pirate from treasure he had plundered. Good old Dollar Academy. Not many pirates there now...

  4. I was scared of fireworks so didn't see that spectacular sight - must have stayed at home :-((
    My memories of fireworks are visiting neighbours and the son of that house putting fire crackers in my coat pocket.
    Sparklers will do for me!