In case now is the first time you’ve ventured out of bed for the day, it may have escaped your notice that winter has officially arrived, thanks to the UK switching back to GMT today. With that comes a lot of moaning, but winter also brings a lot of fun stuff. Aside from the infiltration of all things pumpkin-flavoured, and an increase in the levels of “celebration” of Halloween (thanks, America: I love you dearly, but we needed neither of those things), Brits get excited about a couple of other events prior to Christmas, one of which is Bonfire Night.
Much as Christmas is dominating the calendar in terrifying new ways each year (from my summer outpost across the pond, I received word that some supermarkets in the UK were stocking decorations and sweet treats in August), so too are Halloween and Bonfire Night being marked earlier than their official dates. This is often done to coincide with the October half term holiday, which I’m sure is about maximising enjoyment for young people, rather than to ensure that their struggling parents will hand even more of their hard-earned cash over to big businesses, but either way, these events seem to stretch out further with each passing year.
I raise the subject because it’s smacked me between the eyes on three occasions lately. Last night, as I was heading home from work (as fast as my Park and Ride bus would carry me, so that I would make it home in order to livetweet Strictly), I noticed a steady stream of pedestrians – groups of families clad in wellies, the type of people who wouldn’t normally be out in rain boots on a dry Saturday evening. Sure enough, I soon passed a sign advertising a bonfire for that evening. It was 25 October. All Brits are well familiarised with the rhyme: remember, remember, the fifth of November. I did a double take and then quickly rolled my eyes and growled. Great, I thought, more torture for local animals – domesticated or not. More mess to clean up.
It reminded me of incident number two, which took place when I was searching our field at camp for a missing headcollar in the summer of 2013. The Americans don’t celebrate Bonfire Night, but they do enjoy letting off brightly-coloured gunpowder for another reason – Independence Day… which hadn’t even happened yet on this particular occasion, though we were in the days approaching the fourth of July. I found a foreign body in the field among the still-tall grass, but it wasn’t the item I was looking for: it was the remnants of a paper lantern, the kind popularised by weddings and other celebration events, those which are lit and released into the evening air, as some sort of crude and misjudged symbol of peace, light and happiness (I can’t think of anything less romantic than burning some paper on my wedding day, though given the cost of those these days, perhaps it is relevant, as these events are similar to burning money).
We don’t have many neighbours at camp, as it’s pretty remote, but we aren’t the only ones to keep animals. I remember being frustrated of the inconsiderate nature of the person responsible’s actions – camp is often criticised for disturbing the peace whilst it is in session, yet here was one of our neighbours putting our animals in danger, as well as spoiling their own part of the world.
Earlier this week, I wanted to offer a virtual high five to the Marine Conservation Society, when for some reason their post popped up on my Facebook feed (I don’t follow them, I suspect a friend had liked or shared the post), so I did the appropriate equivalent and shared it with my own friends. A few days later, it occurred to me that I could spread the message further via Twitter and my blog, so here I am, following through.
Firstly, the event manager in me is going to give you a little lecture: all things fire-related should only be handled by trained pyrotechnists. You may think I’m exaggerating, you may think “oh, but it’s cute, and it’s just a bit of paper”. That bit of paper is on fire, you know nothing about wind (prevailing or otherwise), and it is not just your planet which you are ruining or your own life you are putting in danger.
In addition, as the original post says: what goes up, must come down, and you have no control over where or when that happens. If it happens on your own head, I daresay karma came and got you, and you certainly won’t think it’s a pretty romantic statement in that moment. Odds on, though, it’ll come down in someone else’s field or property, and I’ll tell you for nothing that keepers of animals have enough to worry about without your flaming litter falling from the sky (Equine Atypical Myopathy, anyone?).
I feel that publicity throughout my lifetime has improved, and that people are generally more aware of the dangers of fireworks and associated events than they were when I was a child: we keep our pets indoors, look out for hedgehogs when building bonfires, and I am relieved when I see people handling lit sparklers with gloves on. But some people still don’t follow the basics, and these daft inventions don’t help.
My pleas are these: please keep yourself safe, then remember that you have a responsibility to help other people keep themselves and their property safe. And finally, if you think that this message needs to be heard, share it. We live in a wonderful world – let’s look after it.