The cartoon in The Times depicts John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor, asking for a penny for the guy; the guy in the cartoon is his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. It is a cartoon that would presumably have resonance among older readers for guys have become a rare sight.
Even when I was a child, fifty years ago, guys were not common. I can remember only one year when when assembled a figure from sticks, newspaper and old clothes, in order to set fire to it. The last time I saw anyone asking for a penny for the guy was at the entrance to Kew Gardens Underground station in 1982.
Firework Night now has become a movable occasion. Displays take place between 31st October and 5th November, according to local preference – and whether or not it is a weekend evening.
Firework Night was never a big deal when I was young; the fire was built from the dead cuttings from trimmed hedges and the pyrotechnics came one item at a time; one Roman candle, one Catherine wheel, one rocket, each of them was savoured. However ordinary in retrospect, the occasion was special at the time. Perhaps we were easily pleased.
Special moments in the year weren’t too frequent – Christmas; the annual village outing to Weymouth; going camping in Devon, the next county; but every one of them was remembered and pondered for long afterwards.
Perhaps the inflationary principles that apply to money, apply also to experiences. The more the money supply is increased, the less worth each banknote has. In a similar way, perhaps the more the supply of experiences is increased, the less memorable each of those experiences has become.
On the other hand, perhaps the passing of the years has magnified memories, perhaps they did not occupy then the place they now occupy in the landscape of reminiscence. Maybe the memories remain clearly, but the moments themselves – with the exception of Christmas – were approached without a great sense of anticipation and were marked without a significant awareness they might be of the stuff that would be recalled decades later.
As there are moments in those distant decades that remain as vivid as a rocket bursting in the night sky, so there will be moments as significant and intense for children today as were the special moments of the past. Perhaps the landscapes of their memories are dotted with many more moments than enjoyed by schoolboys fifty years ago, but in fifty years’ time, there will be someone remembering vividly Firework Night this year (whichever night it falls on).