An Elegy for Bonfire Night
Bonfire Night, or ‘Bommy Night’ as I’ve always known it, is incredibly special.
I’ve always loved it. The incendiary anarchies historically igniting it, the malformed maladjusted tellings ‘n’ re-tellings, its scorched/debauched well-hung drawn ‘n’ quartered hell-fire. I love how it lives as a legend-hot flamestrom in my molten malleable memory. But more than anything I love how it has always belonged dangerously to children. Yeah, you heard me, dangerously. I was one of those children and it damn well deliciously, dangerously belonged to me.
I was one of those sugar-buttied kids pagan-dancing around an out of control Bommy Night. It really was fireworks ‘n’ thievery; thievery from other people’s stores of bommy wood. It was name-calling,stone-throwing theatrics, fighting to protect your squares bommy wood from another squares thievery. Dustbin lids as shields, just learned swearwords and a battlefield mentality. Oh, we were mucky kids.
It was the over-excited thrill of buying bangers ‘n’ rip-raps from The Wizards Den joke-shop – what older brothers are really for. Once, for a devilish dare, I let a banger go off in my hand. They egged me on the proper lads and never ever expected the puff to do it, but do it I bloody well did. It was inexcusably dangerous, something no one in their right mind should ever do. But it felt so fuckin’ fabulous when said banger didn’t blow my fingers off. I became instantly heroically brave, a bravery so pronounced that it shut down the scally doubters. Yeah, I scorched my thumb, scorched it bad, but that black flare-burn was more than worth it…and all the time, manifesting malevolently magnificently around us, the menacing bubbling re-birthing of Bommy Night.
Odours of evocative smouldering days before the event, as if time itself were singeing. The building of small fires we stood around while erecting the big bommy, telling ghost stories, unbothered by rain, rattling off jokes, baking spuds and rubbing chapped hands on short-trousered arses. People in the square bringing out old furniture to burn, everything from bed-heads to radiograms, and no end of warped mirrored wardrobes. Gleefully witnessing ‘the bommy’ grow into an organic mountain of so many different woods, sofas and piss-stained mattresses. We were an oak-broken community of familial histories, knowing all that old bark; those old bites used to be past debt futures.
Then there was the booty stolen from ‘The Woody’, a massive yard housing long planks of timber. Then more wood stolen from the increasingly emptying, deteriorating flats. Before final brutalities of the oncoming demolitions, our tenements were being torn down, ripped apart brick by brick, family by family, by us. Our Paul, incredibly acrobatic swinging from flat to flat, beam to beam, sinewy brave, so full of natural leadership, a feral pixie, scally Puck, so proud of him being my brother.
Making a Guy from your brother’s old jeans and jumpers, felt-tip drawing the Guy’s goateed mask, smelling the felt-tip, pretending to be high. Going ‘on the Guy’, outside shops and pubs, chanting “penny for the Guy” with friends or on your own. I preferred it on my own, could soak in the atmosphere more. People giving money or crisps, dandelion and burdock, treacle-toffee, cinder-toffee, sometimes toffee apples. Cold air ghosting, watching through breath-phantoms the sparking electric night, flashes dancing, smoky baking and toasty, effervescing scents embed, empower.
The Machiavellian visage of a grinning Guy Fawkes, scheme-shady manipulative on the lid of your Standard Fireworks box, my first hero, still a hero. Counting your fireworks, placing them carefully on your bedspread, counting them, counting them, counting them, then counting again. Tiny, bright soldiers lined up for secret inspection, Mount Vesuvius, traffic light, witches’ cauldron, roman candle, rip-rap, rockets and sparklers. Not just the military, they’re your hidden biscuit tin treasures, gems, rubies, diamonds soon to explode and shatter meteoric-skyward into a million precious stones.
Staying out much longer than normally allowed, ignoring your mothers square-searching squalls and gloating, knowing you’re beginning to leave her pinny-strings, her many sides. Half-seen by neighbours counting pennies, urban shadowed in red-brick arches, folding like sheets big tawny ten bob notes. Standing as if possessed, because you are possessed, so furiously possessed, eyes and ears reacting to every sound, every screeching rocket, electric crackle.
Magic, pure undiluted magic of knowing your whole community will be together and in absolute awe of the bommy, thrilled by their children’s reactions to fireworks, a darkening night’s rites of passage. Burning velveteen evenings, disinterest in television, wet-stretch sound of distant traffic. There really is some huge volcanic party monster manifesting, feels like its giant step is nearing and heart-poundingly closer, ever closer, taking over, talking actual possession here. You, your body and your imagination are the same, everybody’s body bag blood-pulsing, lava-glowing and florescent.
Choosing who’s going to light the bommy, usually the cock of the square, the bully. A tightly-folded newspaper torch, the lighting of it, lit below, its humble beginning, eventual flare and increasing far-reaching heat. Circle jigging, giggling, throwing on wood, sometimes whole doors and running, howl-dashing away from huge sparking showers splaying wild and tidal wave, SCRAM!
It’s blazing, blazing so confidently working-class, so yours, your peoples, all your peoples and it’s beyond mere magnificence. Stories of other people’s Bommy Nights illustrate in flame, instinctively know you’re connected and adding to stories, who needs words, it’s about feeling spectacle, spectacle freeing you. It’s about to engulf the square, the tenements, the planet. Throwing the Guy on top your blazing bommy, the thrill of watching it limp and drunken burn, his football head falls off, such a pissed wimpy Satan, baggy-bowed, apologetic and fuming.
You’re a kid feeling this incredible shamanic surge and know right here, right now where you live, Blackstock Gardens rules the world, no-one fighting, not even the bully, just joining in. From long sprawls of landings pointing towards bee-hived mothers, everyone is together in this supreme act of fiery commonality. Windows burning/cracking, black smoke tyre clouds are billowing, rubber-mist is thick bleak and clawing, there could be demons, there are demons.
Liverpool, feeling being from spitting/glowing Liverpool and its fast ferocious histories. Watching the wildfire heart of all you were/are/will be dominate and roar the sky. Heat-searing dangerous, steering, moon-bound and star-shine and everyone knowing they were somehow involved. The old, kohl-scribbled ancients scowling glum-war resistance, saying they’re not responsible, not to blame. You know they’re hissing rubbish, that’s their radiograms, wardrobes, splitting mirrors, their piss-stained mattresses, barks bites, dark-night memories going up in flames.
By Gerry Potter
Main image by Chris Payne
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‘In Lancashire, rugby league provides our cultural adrenalin. It's a physical manifestation of our rules of life, comradeship, honest endeavour, and a staunch, often ponderous allegiance to fair play’ - actor Colin Welland, born in Liverpool on this day in 1934. pic.twitter.com/UB1r5jqSjf