Hundreds of Lancastrians who came out to see the City Fireworks 'spectacular' trudged home disappointed last night after being subjected to a frenzy of health & safety regulation that saw a few hundred kettled in a corner of Quay Meadow while the rest were turned away minutes before the display started.
Although Quay Meadow had been advertised as a viewing area, most of the wide, flat, empty field was cordoned off, with only a section of it accessible. Unfortunately it was a corner where much of the firework display was actually screened off by trees. Kept from the tauntingly moonlit meadow and caged behind barriers, huddled the people, cheek by jowl. Pallid under glaring electic lights and so blasted by the speakers from the Radio Lancashire Roadshow that they couldn't have socialised even if they hadn't been busy desperately keeping track of their toddlers. The organisers seemed to have taken all their ideas from the Guantanamo Bay Party Book.
Sparklers were banned. Stewards and police watched suspiciously for any signs of pleasure breaking out. Anyone who had the temerity to go use the loo at the pub was refused permission to come back on the field, leaving separated parents frantic at the barriers.
On the Quay, hundreds of disbelieving parents and kids trooped around without a hope of getting to Giant Axe (even worse view) in time, where they were being sent by the police. While warehouses completely blocked the view from the road (and, mercifully, the music), both pedestrian bridges were packed and the far river bank inaccessible. A few took the 'Lune Resistance' route, through the trees, only to end up trapped in the Quay Meadow Kettle.
The fireworks display itself was clearly very much reduced from previous years, with about the half the show happening below the height of the tree line surrounding the launch site, teasingly invisible from most locations. Strangely, the music climaxed some time before the fireworks did, the finale happening in silence.
On the whole, it would have been more efficient to just put the money in a bucket and set fire to it. A few thousand people could have found a better use for the evening and the police could have gone home to their own families. Instead, we spent public funds to be made to feel like potential criminals, watched, regulated, herded, caged, restricted.
I realise it probably wasn't meant to be like that. It's just that the central planning priority seemed to be to forstall the possibility that we might all go mad and try to set fire to ourselves and each other in an alcohol-fuelled frenzy. This was clearly seen by the organisers as a very real threat at every point of the proceedings, and we were treated accordingly. It wasn't actually planned to prioritise the possibility of a community getting together in a relaxed and comfortable way as friends and families to enjoy a show.
So where's the love? Where's the community? Where's Bonfire Night? Up on the Ridge, the Gregson Bonfire Night went with a swing, with friends and neighbours and families getting together. Catching up with people they hadn't seen for ages. Sharing toffee. Lighting the blue touch paper and standing well clear, and so on. But for most communities, the legislation is unfathomable, so in most places bonfires are Not Allowed. Where Firemen were once seen as every child's natural hero, now, to many children, they are the spoilsports who come and put out your bonfires, which, as we sadly know, has led to distress and bitterness on both sides. Once, kids used to collect wood for their bonfires. Now, some just set fire to property.
A few years ago, bonfire night used to happen on the Quay Meadow too. A huge fire with a rope barrier to keep you mindful, and pretty much everyone you'd ever met could be found in the circle of fire-lit faces around it. You were there for the evening and there would be flasks of tea, coffee, soup or chocolate, or the odd bottle of wine or a hip-flask and plenty made trips to the two pubs as well. I remember, from my childhood, vendors selling black peas kept warm on paraffin stoves. Children from toddlers to pensioners wrote their names in sparkler-fire. People handed round boxes of treacle toffee and parkin. Much later, if you were still around when the fire burnt down, there were blackened potatoes in tinfoil, melted marshmallows and joints surreptitiously passed in the shadows.
Dads were in their element. With their cave-man fire building and keeping skills and innate knowledge of the safe handling of deadly explosives. Of course, most of our dads had fought Hitler and actually did have some basic skills, the foremost of which was knowing to read and follow the instructions on the fireworks box. Dads teamed up, making rocket launching sites, deputising the older kids to pace out the safety distances, as the smaller kids watched, learned the names of the different types of fireworks, had the safety basics dinned into them a hundred times and danced hysterically to firecrackers.
Back in the 1980s, the Farm collective and the kids from New Planet City made huge paper edifices to burn. I recall a rocket in which astronauts fought aliens and escaped down a chute as it blew up behind them. Yeah!
Bonfire Night is about friends, families and neighbours getting together in the dark and having fun with fire. It's not just about danger - it's also about trust and care making something lovely, and special. The City Fireworks Spectacular seems to be intended to replace that. As we trudged home last night, in silence, I realised we hadn't seen a single friend. I'd come a few minutes before the fireworks started and left at the end. There wasn't time, space or light to go meeting anyone. No warmth. Nothing. Just police and barricades. Stressed out people being watched for infractions. A few coloured lights and bangs through the trees.
I don't want to sound ungrateful, I know people have worked really hard, I'm really sorry about that. But the Fireworks Spectacular used to be fun. That's why it became popular. Now it isn't and no-one in their right mind would come back for a repeat of last night. Can we please fix the rules so we can just have Bonfire Night back?