Every year, we whiz down the Warwick Road to Warmington, for Warmington’s Bonfire Night. It’s always on the actual 5th, and the bonfire is always a whopper.
This year, we’re off with our chums, the Always-Sprightlies, and it’s half past five, and we’re eating a vast tea of jacket potatoes and Bolognaise with buckets of grated cheddar to keep us going. The children are already screechy with excitement, and are winding up the dogs, which worries me.
‘But will he be okay?’ I say, for the hundredth time. It’s the Pants’ first experience of fireworks, and he’s already tried to wee on the stairs. Dora is in her cage, grumbling away like an old kettle.
Just as we’re agreeing that wouldn’t it be lovely to have a glass of that red, someone notices it’s almost six, and then we’re all swirled into activity – grown ups clearing the table, children all crammed in the hall wellying up, me turning on the television and RadioTwo full blast.
‘What’re you doing?’ asks Stephen in horror.’I suppose you’re going to leave all the bloody lights on, as well?’
‘Yes,’ I hiss. ‘And where the hell is Merlin?’
We open the front door to all pour out, and the missing cat streaks in, straight upstairs to hide beneath a bed. I can hear Pants whining, and I hesitate on the doorstep. Dora joins in with her clockwork bark, and feeling horribly guilty, I pull the front door closed and run to the van in the darkness.
The Sprightlies beat us there, and save us the last space in the lay-by above the village. We’re all pleased, because it’s the best get-away spot and crammed with cars from Horley and Hornton. We all get out and discover we’ve two working torches between eight.
‘Gosh,’ says S, when Stephen puts the Maglite in her hands. ‘What a whopper,’
We skirt St Michael’s (which is beautiful, incidentally – but more grey-in-the-stone than our lovely St E’s), stumbling only slightly in the starlight. ‘Come on,’ say the children, and drag us down the hill into Warmington proper.
Oh, but it’s pretty, even in the dark. Warmington can trace its roots back to the Mesolithic age, and it spills gently down a hill like a tipped treasure chest. The houses are grouped round two generous greens – the top one has a big pond, and I always think that if I could draw my perfect village, I would definitely steal bits from this one. We pass the pub – The Plough – all yellow-lit and heaving with handsome farm-types in checked shirts.
Village children are rushing around coat-less, brandishing light-sticks, and we can smell sparklers and hot dogs and onions, and behind all that, the hot, crackling smoke of the mighty fire.
‘Can we go, can we go, can we go?’ say our children. The men slide off to ‘bring you hot drinks, darling,’ and S and I are left to peer through the darkness, trying to identify the flame-licked silhouettes of local buddies.
‘I’m sure that’s Tasha’s hat,’ I say. ‘Or not. Oh, I’ll wave anyway…’
The men come back empty handed – no tea! – and the children are racing about playing It in the crowd. S and I natter on, as is our way.
Just as I’m starting to shiver (no tea!), the fireworks crack and vhisp into extraordinary, pointless life, lighting all the faces around, eliciting oohs and aahs, as parents try to jolly surprised young children
‘Too loud, Mummy!’ wails a boy in the crowd. Our four are transfixed, and Stephen pulls me against him, sheltering me from the wind. He keeps pretending to jump at the bangs, and I slide my hand to horse-pinch his thigh: hard. This is the first year I’ve not had to hold Jess – she was always petrified of the rockets and anything that does that crackle thing. I look at her profile now – eyes wide-open, mouth laughing and chattering. She’s wearing enormous grey furry earmuffs, and I smile, privately, and wonder if they’re boosting this new-found bravery.
The fireworks last the perfect amount of time for me with no tea.
‘Can’t we stay?’ say the children, as we call them to us. ‘Please, please?’
‘No,’ we say. ‘School tomorrow.’
We start walking back up the hill to the layby, sharing bags of Haloween Haribo to keep us going.
We’re full of plans for next year, what we’ll do.
‘And whatever else,’ I say, navigating the cars. ‘We’ll bring some tea in a flask.’
‘And hot chocolate,’ says Ellie.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘And hot chocolate. More torches. More flasks. It’ll be excellent.’