Written by: Cally Worden
When I was a kid, Bonfire Night was defined by Dad coming home with a box of Brocks fireworks that were carefully placed in an old biscuit tin before we all trooped out into the chilly night to ooh and aah at tiny roman candles and stuttering Catherine wheels. And my brother and I trying in vain to set light to each other with sparklers. It was a lot of fun, but these days the abundance of flashy commercial displays has raised the bar, and satisfying our annual pyromaniac tendencies has become more demanding than ever. Here are some helpful tips to help your Bonfire Party go with a bang.
The most common fireworks available for home use fall into two categories:
Category one fireworks are small and generally harmless and can be used indoors, or in a small back yard. We’re not even approaching a Disney-style display here, but the fizzles and colours should be enough to satisfy very young children and will do the job if you simply can’t make it out to one of the public displays.
Category two fireworks have a bit more fizz, but at such they should only be used in a launch zone that is at least 5m away from spectators. The flight path needs to be free from overhead cables or hanging trees and branches, and ideally the ground should be soft earth into which the fireworks can be safely anchored.
Play it Safe
Every year hundreds of people get injured using fireworks. Many of these injuries are preventable and result from misuse, or poor quality goods. Whatever category of fireworks you choose, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. There are a good number of unscrupulous manufacturers out there who cobble together fireworks that look good, but have not passed the rigorous British Standards safety tests, and so can cause horrific injuries. Good quality fireworks in the UK will have BS7114 stamped on the box. To be super-safe, remind yourself in advance of the firework code, and keep a couple of buckets of water or sand handy, just in case of unexpected problems.
Pick and Mix
It’s easy to be seduced by dramatic rockets and all manner of high-flying explosive fireworks, but to make your bonfire party that little bit extra special be sure to add in some of the low level variety too. These can act as a great distraction between the bigger airborne displays, and are often cheaper too, allowing you to prolong the fun. Sparklers are cheap, and coloured ones add a nice touch to the atmosphere.
Expert Bonfire Building
If you have the space and materials, there is nothing like a warming bonfire to add special cheer to a chilly November night. For best results create a fire pit in which to site your blaze, and this will help air to keep circulating and also assist in containing the fire. It needs to be just a few inches deep, and slightly larger than your intended fire in all directions. Place rocks or bricks around the perimeter, as these will catch the heat and spread the warmth evenly as the fire dies down. Start with crispy dry tinder in the centre – twigs, newspaper, bark, wood shavings and so on – then create a tent of slightly thicker sticks around and over your tinder pile, and build up and out from that with progressively larger sticks, branches and logs. Avoid using accelerants to get your fire started, as these are unpredictable and easy to mishandle. Obviously make sure you site your bonfire away from buildings, fences, trees and power lines.
All Important Food
Hearty nosh is the order of the day for Bonfire Parties. Traditional fare includes jacket potatoes, hot dogs, burgers, soup and baked beans. If your bonfire is hot enough, you can bake your spuds in the embers, wrapped in several layers of aluminium foil. The smoky flavour is heavenly. You can cook all other food indoors and serve it buffet-style on paper plates or bowls so your guests can migrate between indoors and out, and don’t miss out on the firework action. Treacle toffee and toffee apples for pudding will keep both young and old happy into the night.
Involve the Kids
If you have a bonfire, then making a Guy in advance to burn can be great fun. On the night be sure to keep kids away from the danger, and be aware that very small children (and your pets) may be less than impressed by some of the louder bangs. Prepare a cosy indoor corner where they can watch the action from behind a window. It’s also a good idea to make provision for some indoors fun to keep them occupied – glitter, glue and coloured pens and paper for making fireworks pictures are a great idea.
Be Prepared for Rain
This is the UK, and it’s November. Chances are your party will be scuppered by the weather, so protect any bonfires with a tarpaulin until the big lighting ceremony, and have waterproofs, hats, and gloves on hand for your guests. Glow sticks can replace sparklers, and preparing some appropriate music in advance (Rocket Man, Firestarter and so on) will help keep your party going whatever the weather.