Saturday 3rd November 2012
Time to celebrate the failure to blow up the Houses of Parliament or to celebrate the attempt, depending on your perspective and we went down to Ravenscourt Park for a Bond themed firework display (which just meant they played some of the themes as the display was happening, though I think they could at least have persuaded the Queen to parachute in at the finale). I don't know if this has always been the case with this particular display (I've been here a few times over the last decade) but there was no bonfire. That seemed a shame. If you've read my Metro article this week you'll know how much I like Guy Fawkes and surely this event is not complete without an effigy of him being burnt atop a pile of broken furniture and branches. This year he could have been dressed in a blonde wig, a shell-suit and a Jim'll Fix It badge and we could have made it a double punishment.
Maybe there's never been a bonfire here, maybe it's health and safety or a desire not to mess up the grass in the park, but I missed the inferno.
The guy is perhaps drifting out of favour anyway and you could argue that ending the burning of an effigy of a Catholic on a yearly basis is a good thing, but perhaps we're witnessing the evolution of this day away from being a commemoration of the Gunpowder plot and just the excuse for a spectacular fireworks display, promoting a current film release. You don't see many kids on street corners with awful and terrifying guys made out of tights stuffed with old pants any more (I can't remember the last time I saw one in fact) and inflation has made the idea of "a penny for the guy" ridiculous. Yet asking for a "pound for the guy" doesn't have the same ring to it. This used to be a week where kids could clean up with sweets and then pennies, but maybe dressing up and making things is too much effort.
Having said this I am not entirely sure that I ever made a guy either - I think I probably did, but don't recall. In 1976 a penny might still have got you a couple of blackjack chews (or four mojos) but it would still have seemed like a pathetically small amount of cash to ask for.
Days such as bonfire night must be allowed to adapt and change (and they will in any case) and I am not really mourning the fact that things aren't the same any more. After all a 45 year old man in 1976 would surely have had very different memories of how things were 35 years before and I have to say that the quality of the fireworks now makes this a marked improvement. But Bonfire Night should probably have a bonfire, shouldn't it? If only to warm things up a bit.
The fireworks were pretty, though this year for some reason I couldn't really fully enjoy the display as I started wondering about the mechanics of making and perfecting these exploding wonders. How do they make it so that whilst the main bit of the mechanism explodes, another part will explode a bit later? It's a remarkable art and I found myself considering how much time and effort was spent on perfecting new fuses and combinations of material and trying to imagine the unsung heroes who create this heady combination of art and science. There are no famous firework makers and yet their displays are seen by far more people than most artists and create emotion and audible reaction. Unlike most artists they risk their lives working in the medium of explosives too. Their art is not put up in a gallery, indeed it lasts for mere moments and then is gone (in a satire of the fleeting nature of existing but also perhaps of capitalism too - you can burn money as an artisic gesture or create ephemeral beauty by exploding thousands of pounds worth of fireworks). Of course you can film a display and people do, but you can't capture the three dimensional experience with a camera. It needs to be witnessed live and to fade and disappear in front of your eyes. It's like magic.
You firework guys don't get the credit you deserve, but let me doff my Guy Fawkes hat to you. You are the true artists in our society. That's the guys who make the fireworks, not the idiots who then sully this work by accompanying it with the music of A-ha.
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