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Bonfire Delight

November 6, 2009

Do you remember those videos, which showed pet shop fish or a roaring fire? You could slot one into the player, watch it on TV and pretend you had a fish tank or a real log fire in your home. It was a great fad, but I never thought it would be supersized in the noughties. Welcome, then to the virtual bonfire.

As we celebrate November 5th and the gunpowder plot over this weekend with a plethora of firework displays complete with bonfire, a rugby club in Devon will be holding its ‘non-bonfire night’ for the fourth year, a stunning solution to health and safety bureaucracy, which has apparently gone down well with the locals. Watch the fire on a large screen! Marvel at the machines creating smoke to give you the sense of a real fire! Appreciate the heaters that give you heat as if you are close to the flames! Now fair play to the people who came up with this idea to circumnavigate the paperwork and costs of setting up a bonfire. I can’t help feeling though that real life is slowly being eroded through fear and bureaucracy, so we become less connected to the marvels of our planet. It won’t be long before we have to watch virtual Conkers falling off virtual trees because it will be deemed too dangerous to walk through a park in the autumn, lest a Conker hits you on the head and hurts you in some way. Doesn’t it make you grieve for your children?

I remember bonfire nights of years ago. At around that time you’d see kids on corners or outside shops shouting “Penny for the Guy,” trying to get money for sweets, or fags, or something. Right beside them would be a dummy representing Guy Fawkes who would soon be put on the fire. The real Guido Fawkes, of course, was executed for trying to blow up Parliament so many centuries ago. Some of these guys were really well made, plenty more were rubbish. Some were the result of some poor sap, who was either the younger brother or the smallest in the gang, commandeered to be the guy for the night. I also remember fireworks being let off in gardens up and down London, or elsewhere on the estate, if you lived on one. You didn’t need to have a garden the size of Hampton Court to be safe enough to have a bonfire night at your house. You just needed a bit of space.

One year my Nan came from overseas to stay with us. We were kids, she was our Nan, she was funny and we loved her. We left her at home and went to Weaver’s field for an official firework display. We were aware of one stray firework shooting over the trees in the direction of the shops on Bethnal Green Road. We carried on watching the display, but a few moments later, noticed a small glow coming from the row of shops. Then the glow started to spread. From that point onwards everyone stopped watching the official show and turned to see the flames go higher, holding hands with smoke, its partner in crime. The scream of the fire engines in the November cold, mixed with the flames and smoke of our unofficial show, was exhilarating. When we got back home, we told our Nan who laughed as if she was fit to burst.

Now how are you going to get that kind of memory with a virtual bonfire?

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