How Bonfire Night traditions are going up in smoke – Sarah Todd

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FAR be it from this correspondent to encourage the fun police; the rising ranks of do-gooders who seem to want to legislate against anything and everything.

However, as Bonfire Night approaches, there is one group of campaigners who deserve our congratulations.

Will you be marking Bonfire Night?

Will you be marking Bonfire Night?

The message about the distress that fireworks cause to animals and wildlife seems to be getting through. So much so that supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has announced it won’t be selling any fireworks this year. They have been banned altogether in all its 2,300 stores.

Asda, Morrisons and Tesco were hot on the heels, announcing they will be offering special ranges of ‘quiet’ fireworks. The Co-op has not sold fireworks for five years.

Yorkshire firefighter temporarily blinded after being hit by firework

The concept of noise-free fireworks will probably be hard for the younger generation to grasp, but many of us remember the days when fireworks were pretty rather than loud and screechy.

A debate has started about the sale and use of fireworks.

A debate has started about the sale and use of fireworks.

But back to GFN (Guy Fawkes Night). The fact that displays are no longer confined to this one night of the year is at the root of the problems. Animal owners were already complaining about fireworks being let off before we reached November.

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Nobody seems able to have a bit of a gathering these days without sending at least £500 worth of fireworks up in smoke in their back gardens. This is what happens in our celebrity-obsessed world. Unable to make decisions themselves about what to wear, how to decorate their homes and what sort of a party to throw mere mortals look to glossy celebrity magazines for inspiration. They read that some reality television star has rounded off their umpteenth go at tying the knot with a ‘phenomenal firework display’ and they want the same. Never mind the old lady next door, or people’s dogs and cats. What people want they seem to get.

Oh dear; this is becoming a bit of a moan. Perhaps it’s because there was such magic around November 5 during this reporter’s 1970s childhood.

Do firework displays need better regulation?

Do firework displays need better regulation?

Rather than letting off fireworks, we spent the week before stuffing straw into a hessian sack and dressing a Guy (as in Fawkes) in old clothes to throw in a wheelbarrow and take around the village.

We weren’t really fussed about collecting ‘pennies for the Guy’ as there wasn’t a shop to spend them in, but we did get sweets and messing around finding clothes and so-on filled in the half-term holiday.

Whatever night November 5 fell on, that is when our bonfire would take place.

There was none of this stringing it out over the weeks before and afterwards. Until the blessed Millennium celebrations nobody would have dreamt of letting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve either. That Tony Blair has a lot to answer for.

There is also a question of respect. It’s the unknown and unexpected that is more upsetting. And knowing about fireworks being let off also means that animal owners can arrange to stay in. There’s nothing worse than returning late to find chaos and realising there’s been the equivalent of the last night of Glastonbury down the road.

It’s sad that, on top of people’s lack of courtesy towards neighbours, another nail in the coffin of Bonfire Night (as us rose-tinted spectacle brigade remember it) is health and safety. Of course, it’s an evening that requires common sense. But increasingly, there are just too many hoops for organisers of small, community events to jump through.

Working together to gather fallen branches and rubbish to burn on a bonfire, making a Guy and co-ordinating hot dogs and toffee apples has brought neighbourhoods together for generations. Many modern municipal events seem to miss out the bonfire altogether and just let the fireworks off. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s not Bonfire Night without a bonfire.

According to the Dogs Trust, a survey found that over half of the British public think fireworks should be limited to public displays only. This line of thinking is easy to understand but some small-scale displays bring real joy to people who couldn’t get out to bigger events.

The old folks’ home my late grandmother used to live in always put on the most magnificent display. It was held, without fail, on November 5 – the residents would have read the owner the riot act about any other night being just plain wrong. Well done everyone for bringing Bonfire Night under the spotlight, but please protect proper old-fashioned community bonfires from having cold water poured on them (so long as they’re only ever held on November 5).

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.