Municipal fireworks displays are drab affairs. And the biggest and safest are the bleakest and most unfriendly.
The missing ingredient of all of them is the bonfire. No bonfire on Bonfire Night - no point. Watching expensive whizzbangs in the freezing cold and dark is not an activity, it is a procedure. Without the focus and unique light of a fire, there is no social activity to speak of, just a series of co-ordinated OOH's and AAH's with occasional incontinence.
Bonfire night always used to be a chance for a community to gather outdoors in the warm for the last time before the real winter closed in. And a chance to assess the past year and the chances for the next. Fireworks were a part of the fun, but the real business would be the preparation of the sacred fire. So much so that bonfire rustling was a regular community offence. Any bonfire built too big too soon was liable to be snatched the night before by rival estates or even villages. So timing was important.
The night itself saw extra fuel arrive, sometimes by the lorryload. The architecture was critical, and the unofficial office of bonfire-lighter was jealously guarded from year to year and even handed down from father to son. Etecetera when I were a lad etcetera (see Appendix 101B).. The point is that the culture of Bonfire night runs deep and fast, but is killed stone dead by the current showbiz packaging.
Unsurprisingly, bonfires are now banned in most cities (except Belfast?). And fireworks are the only way to celebrate the event, such as it is. And since fireworks are meant to be dangerous, and are definitely expensive, the council Bang-Flash Fest was born.
If the authorities say that releasing massive amounts of deadly, carcinogenic poisons into the atmosphere is Healthier and Safer than burning rotten wood then I suppose they know best. Now I love smell of Dioxins in the morning as much as anyone. Smells like - childhood. The school walk to school on November 6th was always a bit magical because of it. Xmas didn't leave a smell the day after.
But if I had to choose, I'd go for a pile of glowing embers, some ash-burnt potatoes with butter, and the leisurely shared hipflask every time. And given the chance, so would most people. Bonfires are the fireworks that keep on giving.