Remember the 5th of November

“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

The English have been celebrating the capture and burning of Guy Fawkes, a 17th century Catholic traitor, for hundreds of years. Traditionally, it’s celebrated with a large bonfire with an effigy of Guy Fawkes smoldering in the middle. But now, people don’t really pay attention to the gruesome origins of the holiday, and instead just use it as an excuse to blow off fireworks in the middle of the city. It’s officially known as Guy Fawkes Night, but more often than not, they just call it Fireworks Night.

It’s such an iconic English holiday that I knew I had to do something for it. It would be like visiting the US and not doing anything on the 4th of July. So I scoured TimeOut: London for suggestions on the best way to enjoy this quintessentially British celebration, which, of course, would mean going to see fireworks.

photo credit: Wakefield Fireworks 2014 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Wakefield Fireworks 2014 via photopin (license)

My search had to be limited though, because I was going to be in Dublin during the weekend of most of the firework shows. Thankfully, Nov 5th fell on a Thursday this year and I could find things to do before I flew off to Ireland.

So after finding a free show relatively near, I told my friends, and we all made plans to go. I got their first and started to make my way to the park. Along my route, I passed a banner advertising the fireworks show. I only barely glanced at it, at first, but then a phrase caught my eye: “No tickets, no entry.” Tickets? But I thought this was free?

Now you have to keep in mind that my only experience with firework displays are during the 4th of July where people bundle their picnic supplies, make their way to a field outside the city (preferably near a body of water), find a spot amongst the crowds, and hunker down and wait for the oohs and ahhs. That was what I was using as my point of reference.

After reading the banner a second time, I stopped and took out my phone, cursing myself in my head and hoping against hope that I hadn’t been wrong about the show. Well, it turns out that I was right about it being free, but you still needed a ticket to enter. The whole concept of having a ticket for a free event was completely new to me.

Needless to say all the tickets were all gone by the time I was standing there next to the banner, minutes away from the park gates. I cursed again and went to meet my friends at the tube to tell them the bad news. I was really pissed with myself and angry that everyone had depended on me to plan things (like they always do, but that’s another story). How could’ve gotten it all wrong? Now how was I going to see fireworks?

My friends didn’t help. They weren’t as disappointed as me. In fact, they just shrugged it off. And for some reason they really got on my nerves. The group was mismatched and uncoordinated, haphazardly put together. They mindlessly walked around, not really paying attention to anything but their loud conversations as Zoe and I tried to figure out what to do next.

Zoe then came up with the idea of going to Greenwich, climbing to the top of the hill at the park there, and looking down on London as the fireworks shot out from a distance. I was sick of being the one who planned everything, so I agreed only because I didn’t have to think up of an alternative. So, off we went.

We got a little lost on the way there, but we eventually made it to Greenwich. It was 6:45, 15 to 20 minutes before the show started. I had no clue where we were going (I had only been to Greenwich twice, and in the daytime), so a let Zoe navigate using her phone. The others trailed along, not really paying attention to what was going on. I was steadily growing anxious, constantly looking up at the sky to make sure we weren’t missing anything. And my friends’ apathetic attitude and constant questions as to what we were doing, really got on my nerves.

We got lost again, making me only more upset. I could hear the fireworks in the distance now: Large blasts, echoing across the city. Only without sparkling lights to soften those harsh sounds, it sound like a war had started without our notice. I needed to get to that park.

We eventually found the gates, but they were locked. Another thing we should’ve known: parks close in large cities to reduce crime. I once again cursed my suburban logic, and sulked away from the group. I couldn’t stand the brash, caviler manner of my friends. I couldn’t stand the boom of far-off fireworks. I couldn’t stand my mistake.

The very distant view of fireworks from a Greenwich side street.
The very distant view of fireworks from a Greenwich side street.

But then I stopped and looked up. There, in between a few houses and apartment buildings, something glittered and bloomed: a faint bouquet of fireworks. I stood there, transfixed as the lights shimmered and flashed in that little corner of the skyline. I calmed down at that moment. It wasn’t what I was imagining, but I was still seeing fireworks on Fireworks Night.

After the lights had faded, we regrouped and eventually ended up in local pub. Once there, we ate and drank and played board games for four hours. I’ll be the first one to say that the night wasn’t perfect, but at least it ended on a good note.

And as Zoe had said earlier: “We can use not really celebrating Guy Fawkes Night as excuse to come back to England.”

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”


2 thoughts on “Remember the 5th of November

  1. “I couldn’t stand my mistake.” Now you sound like the Violet I love so much. But the mistakes don’t seem to be upsetting you as much. Thank heavens.


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