5 Nov 2017

Home is where the fire is

More than any other time, Bonfire Night conjures up childhood memories.

Even more than Christmas, if you can believe it.  Why should this be?  Christmas is such a big deal for children, and I have many wonderful associations with it.  But somehow, the words "bonfire night" conjure up instant sensory recollections.

I think it might be something to do with the fear I felt at the time.  I was terrified of fireworks.  Never one for loud noises, fast things and big flashes, I favoured the softly whooshing Roman Candle and the Catherine Wheel (my namesake and favourite) which was safely nailed onto a tree.  When you are afraid, your senses are sharper.  I can close my eyes and instantly be back in the dark, damp field behind my childhood home.

Everyone would be gathered outside with numb fingers and noses.  The trees around us were dark shadows against shadows.  November is the perfect time of year to stand by a tower of crackling logs - the air would be so cold that our breath would fog up, yet the heat from the fire was the most intensely hot thing I had ever felt.  I would cringe away from it, the skin on my face burning, yet long to move closer the glowing flames out of the sea of dreaded coldness.

Then toffee apples - fruit! a sour challenging taste for my younger self - smothered in the silkiest, smoothest nectar imaginable was repulsive and delightful all at once.  Next the hiss - bang - sound of the hastily-lit firework.  Watching the tiny spark fleeing upwards into the starry sky, I would crouch down to the ground, unable to bear the tension as I waited for the noise to reach us.  It will always sound muffled to me when I think back.  A pop, penetrated through woolly layers of gloved hands, as I squeezed my them to my ears, and Mum put her hands over mine.

And sparklers... When the whole nightmare show was over, I still had to suffer the exquisite torment of taking one of the beastly things in my hand!  I would hold it, quivering, at arms length, my only defense being the amazing purple gloves I had strung through my coat sleeves, with little people knitted onto the fingers.  "How do you lose them when they are attached to you by a string?!" Mum would ask the general heavens.  A question I still can't answer.  All I know is that they were my favourite gloves, my suit-of-armour against the biting cold, and the burning fire, and the wildly exploding colours all around me.  I felt safe within a world of dangers.  Protected in my family unit against the dark forces all around.

It's kind of the same feeling I have now that I am back living in the countryside.  Nature is leaning in all around me.  It feels as if I am back in her territory again, far away from the city, with its borrowed green spaces parceled up like safe little gifts from outside the urban limits.  Nothing about the English landscape here feels new, or borrowed, or for put there for me.  When I am outside, with the smell of wet earth and rotting leaves, I experience the special privilege of walking along those ancient paths of childhood memory.  And our home is a pool of light and warmth lent to us by the cold, dark wilderness outside.

It's scary and magical all at once, and totally where I want to be.  Particularly on Bonfire Night...