I have been in university for several years now and yet this year was the first year I went to the main city firework display on bonfire night. I love bonfire night and it was a bit strange that I had not been before. When I left the house though, I realised that I didn't want to be a student on bonfire night. For me, bonfire night has always been and will always be a family occasion. Bonfires are something that I have come to associate with my Dad. It was a regular occurrence to come home after school to find the house locked and Dad at the bottom of the garden adding freshly trimmed branches to a smouldering fire. Having got over my frustration at being locked out, I would put on some wellies and help put wood on the fire, enjoying the smell of the smoke and the warmth of the fire. My hands and arms stung from scratches off the wood, my eyes stung from the smoke and my toes ached from the cold. Stand too close and you'd get smoke and ash all over you, stand to far away and you'd freeze. I hate the connotations with the dark green coloured area of any local supermarket when I say this, but it was a wonderfully organic experience.
I remember bonfire nights clearly too. One year we had it in our own garden with some kids who my Dad was tutor to at school. The fireworks were cheap and probably a bit damp, so they didn't work too well, but it just made it more exciting when a roman candle actually worked for a while!
A different time we went to a quaker's house, where there was a massive bonfire. We were enjoying some food, chatting, staring at the fire. As I stood there, my side nearest the fire prickled with the heat, while the other was numb with cold.
One time a family who we knew with kids called Kim and Becky hosted a bonfire night celebration. I remember the paths round the garden being lit with candles, bobbing for apples, going inside for a paper plate with some buffet food, and of course the huge bonfire and fireworks.
One year we went to a bonfire at the school where my Dad taught, and tried to make out the faces of the school children who I knew, even though they were up to ten years older than me, in the flickering light.
Probably the earliest bonfire night I remember was the year we went to a house with a boy called Sholto. I don't remember much, but the whole family came and shared the experience of watching the powerful flames in the middle, flowing at a hundred miles an hour round the charred logs, roaring and shining pure heat at us. It was magical.
There were other bonfire nights through the years of course, but every time, bonfire night has been a family occasion for me. It's amazing how you can bond with anyone young or old, just by watching a fire in fascination, as it dances and billows.
Today there were lots of families at the celebrations as well as others. I would prefer to be in a family there than in a student group in their little bubble where everything happens at breakneck speed over a phone or internet connection, or in a bunch of schoolkids dashing round the fairground. No, for me, time stands still next to a bonfire. Part of me longs to be alone, part of me wants to share the moment quietly with someone who I feel completely at ease with, maybe my sister or my uncle. For once I was glad to be in universityland on my own, I wasn't looking through the crowd for people I knew, I was just floating backwards and forwards through time, leaning over the railings towards the bonfire.