For how much longer though as the Americanised Halloween continues to take over as the main celebration at this time of the year. There is a real lack of build up to bonfire night just now, the recent plague of constant bangs in the preceding weeks seems now to have passed. Is this due to the cost of such ephemeral pleasure or the police and councils stamping out the probably criminal dodgy firework shops that pop up throughout October in empty premises? Most people seem to go to an organised events now with better fireworks, increased safety and the only effort required is putting a hand in the pocket to fork out for the price of entry.
What to a contrast to my own childhood. In working class areas across the country in the Fifties and Sixties, Halloween was just another day in the build up to Bonfire Night. There would be a bonfire almost on every street on some adjacent wasteland or in some cases in the street itself. The annual ritual would begin during the October half term holiday with “Logging”, although in reality there were not many trees in Lower Crumpsall. Material for the fire was plentiful enough though, scrap floorboards, old doors, cast off furniture including old sofas and easy chairs, people would see it as an opportunity to have a clear out or get rid of that old shed in the yard or defunct pigeon loft. The kids probably selected the site for the ” Bommy” by default and , of course, the concept of a council safety certificate was unheard of. It was important to leave guards on your collection of wood as rival streets would often make raids on your stuff to supplement their own.
Although your parents or relatives would buy fireworks for you, everyone would try to get some money to buy bangers or ripraps to let off beforehand. The best way to raise this money would be “Penny for The Guy”. Some old clothes were stuffed with newspapers and a plastic Frido football would serve as a head. The whole affair would be dumped into an old child’s trolley or pram and kids would take up station outside factory gates or bus stops asking for a ” penny for the Guy” This could be quite lucrative at a time when a couple of shillings (10p) in a kid’s pocket would be regarded as a lottery win!
In the weeks leading up to November 5th, every newsagent and post office would display their stock of Fireworks, invariably Standard or Pains but occasionally the more exotic Brock brand would be seen. In those days, anyone barely out of short trousers seemed to be able to buy them and so the money garnered in by the enterprising “penny for the guy” beggars would be spent on penny bangers or twopenny rip-raps ( also known as Jumping Jacks) Sometimes large potatoes would be bought to bake in small fires maintained by the guards of the main stack of wood. These black-skinned monstrosities would be eaten with salt and some scrounged margarine.
On the day itself, there was great anticipation as dusk fell, the first rockets launched from empty milk bottles began to light up the sky above the terraced roofs, your tea would be bolted down and your Dad pestered to get down the tin box with the main fireworks, often lit in your own backyard. There would be pin wheels on the back door and the chance to hold sparklers or Bengal matches. After your own box was exhausted, it was time to venture out to the now burning bonfire with a paper bag of treacle toffee in your pocket. There was often a real community feel as people stood around watching the wood burn, someone would hand out Parkin, the treacle based cake many people made at this time of the year. Depending on the day of the week the 5th fell, this was often an opportunity to stay out late in the dark. I can never remember rain.
The following day, the kids would often collect spent fireworks and inspect the remains of the fires , expressing admiration for those fires that were still in. The air would be thick with smoke and the smell of cordite, a strange and poignant prelude to Remembrance Sunday which always fell on the next weekend. A day more resonant then to those scarred by the two world wars so recent in people’s memory.