At the end of the evening of 5th November, there was always a certain note of melancholy.
In the morning, the bonfire that had burned brilliantly the night before would be no more than a pile of grey ashes. If the night had been dry, a few embers might remain that would glow orange if you blew on them. It being November, there had probably been rain, or at least a heavy dewfall, and the powdery wood ash would stick to your shoes if you trod on it. The odd remnant of the Standard Fireworks would be found in the garden. The bright colours that had filled the box that had been bought in a Somerton newsagent’s would have been scorched black.
Bonfire Night was never a big deal. 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.
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.
There would have been no consciousness that the bonfires and fireworks might ever be worth being recalled. If an onlooker had to discern what it was that would be remembered, could they have done so?
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 Bonfire Night of 2021.