Fireworking it out (aka, I’m a bonfire night girl now)

Ruby Cline

I’ve never been a fireworks person. To me, shooting flammable chemicals into the air synchronised with a cacophony of gunshot-esque bangs was always, at best, an excuse for a mug of mulled wine and a nasty shock to the eardrums. Complete with my naturally jumpy nervous system and vegetarian diet (rendering hotdogs redundant), bonfire night has never been something I circled in my calendar.

But there was something different about this year. I don’t know whether three years of pandemic measures – which meant these fireworks were  physically closer to me than most people – simply numbed my ears to the unsavoury noises, but this was the first year I can honestly say I enjoyed the show.

There’s something to be said for getting the city – town and gown alike – together on a rainy Saturday evening, and Cambridge really pulled out the stops this November 5th. Two weeks later, I find myself returning to it. The sense of community was immense, the BBC Radio guy (I don’t know his name, but the concept of presenting a fireworks show on the radio absolutely MADE my evening) managed to incite a few slightly reluctant collective whoops, and when the show was over, people poured into the pubs to escape the rain. 

But I also saw a longer-term change in the joy captured by myself and my friends from the show. This time last year was an almost violent cascade of drinking, dancing, socialising – essentially playing a caricature of the teenage life I left behind in London. In a new city and living a new life, our collective student body seemed desperate to prove something, but remained unsure what that something was.

In that life, fireworks were unimportant. We walked to Downing and they were cute, but it was never the focus of the evening. There were other things and people to think about. Mixers to buy. Gossip to pass onto anyone who would listen.

I would describe my life at this point last year as primarily ‘uncertain’. Everything was up for grabs, which meant that everything could be lost. And that wasn’t particularly unique– when everyone started a new life a month ago, it was a universal truth that nothing was true and everything was possible.

I don’t generally mind jumping into the deep end. I make a habit of going to events alone; I sometimes try impossible tasks to see what happens. But this was too much, even for me. There was no safe place to go back to, because it simply hadn’t been carved out yet. Accommodation was just a hotel, and term was just a game.

When I think back to first year, fireworks night is a memory that sticks out. Even with my mild inability to tolerate jump-scares it was an evening of support and love from a group of people I hugely appreciated and who, in retrospect, grounded my freshers’ Michaelmas.

This year, fireworks night was not an ‘on-the-way’ event. I spent the day asking who was going and adjusted my plans with it in mind. There was nowhere else to be. Nothing I was missing out on. No mixers to buy.

A firework, to me, is a small thing. A puff in the sky with an extremely temporary half-life. Almost the definition of fleeting.

I never thought that I could find so much comfort in something so temporary and trivial. It turns out, that’s one of the lessons that first year taught me. Amongst a cacophony of things you’re scared of losing and lives you’re scared to live, sometimes there is nothing but joy in the acceptance that some things are built to disappear.

Feature image credit: Ethan Hu via Unsplash


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