x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

History ablaze

Here's a busy people's guide for those who aren't familiar with the origins of Bonfire Night

With only 400 years of history, Bonfire Night may be a mere babe to Halloween, but (in my opinion), it's more adult friendly (everyone loves fireworks, soup and sparklers), dressing up is not mandatory, and, moreover, the story is far less complicated. For those who aren't familiar with the origins of why the British love to place a male effigy on top of a huge pile of sticks and logs and then set fire to it, here's a busy people's guide to this enthusiastically celebrated chunk of British history.

In 1605, a few disgruntled Catholics, who were fed up with the Crown's attitude towards religion, hatched an ambitious plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and, with it, the King of England, James I. The doomed project ended on Nov 5 when soldiers discovered a man named Guy Fawkes in the cellars of Parliament, armed with 20 barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes and his accomplices were arrested, tortured and duly hanged.

To celebrate the king's fortunate near miss, Parliament decreed that Nov 5 would be a day of public thanksgiving, and what better way to celebrate it than with fireworks and large bonfires? Which is why, hundreds of years later, on and around Nov 5, Britain, and various British expat outposts, like The Club in Abu Dhabi, are ablaze. Since it is illegal to buy fireworks without the appropriate permission from the authorities, paltry back garden bonfire night parties are happily absent here. Memories of sparklers failing to ignite, Catherine wheels refusing to spin and rockets leaping six inches off the ground before plunging into the rockery drove me, as an adult, to traipse miles across soggy ground to a huge village bonfire with the crowds and forget about my frozen feet for the 15 minutes the sky was lit up.

I use the word "traditional" loosely, since a bonfire made out cardboard boxes, bits of old wood and anything else flammable may not be quite what the king would have imagined. Soup and hot buttery baked potatoes are still very much on sale, but so are chips, burgers and ice-cold drinks and, whereas in England people huddle as close to the bonfire as possible, in Abu Dhabi, the heat sends us scurrying to the beach, where we do all our "oohing and ahhing" as the fireworks light up Reem Island.

My only wish is that Guy Fawkes could have waited a week or two, giving us parents time to recover between the two red hot events on the kids' calendar - at least long enough for the sugar rush to subside.