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9 November, 2003

Ooh! Ah!

Bonfire Night was last night. Or rather, it was 5 Nov. (Wednesday), but Lancaster City Council always saves its big firework display until the nearest Saturday evening.

Castle Hill was as crowded as always, but we found a good spot amongst the graves (it was better than that sounds), able to see a large patch of sky between the trees. I often wonder whether it's better to watch from the castle, with the fireworks going off almost directly above and filling the sky, or from the park almost a mile away and somewhat higher, to get some perspective against the skyline. Last year I did go to the park, but in heavy rain, so that wasn't a fair test. A locally renowned photographer, Jon Sparks, has certainly captured some excellent images from there. I noticed that 3-4 people around us at the castle were pointing compact digital cameras at the sky, but I really doubt they would have caught much of the spectacle, with coloured explosions filling the whole sky, not just the area of a viewfinder. I'd have thought it better to forget the camera and capture the memories.

I successfully managed to blot out the noise of the crowd - in the past there have been annoying loud conversations and people pushing past, but this time there was just the bangs of the fireworks, half-drowning the jingoistic music from the council's PA's - mainly Elgar, it seemed. The fireworks themselves were excellent, particularly those that went up, burst, then burst again as the individual sparks fell. I was slightly disappointed that there were fewer really big rockets than in past years, at least at the start of the display - I love to hear the deeper thud of their launch, and watch the faint, fast-moving glow as each ascends far above the main explosions, then the perfectly spherical explosion of brilliant colour or pure white, sometimes changing colour as it fades. All week the weather had been very windy, so perhaps the display team had withdrawn anything that could have been blown significantly out of the controlled area. Saturday evening itself was relatively still, so it seems a few of the biggest rockets were reinstated towards the end, and the finale was no disappointment. An excellent 20 mins.

I'd been in something of an antisocial mood all week, and could quite happily have gone for a quiet drink in a pub afterwards or even just gone home, but it was decided we'd go to Vicarage Fields where as usual a large bonfire had been lit. Almost everyone I've known socially in the last half dozen or so years seems to turn up there each year, and that's not to say I relish seeing many of them.... Another negative point is that it means about 100 people try to get served at the same small quayside pub at once, which isn't a pleasant experience. To their credit, the owners had taken the excellent initiative of erecting a beer tent at the back of the pub, by the fire, so the crush to get served was almost negated. I didn't fancy a drink - it was still only 20:30 and I wasn't in the mood anyway, but we walked round the fire, the others stopping to talk to various people. As the fireworks had started at 20:00, I'd noticed the fire really catching, and flames reaching high above the trees. By the time we got to it, it had died back drastically, but the colour of the flames indicated that it was still remarkably hot - though the tips of the flames were yellow-white in the cold night air, the base of the flames and the overall impression of the fire was transparent blue - quite a bit hotter than the average domestic fire!

As it happens, there weren't many people we knew at the fire, and none we'd choose to spend the rest of the evening with, so we did go to a pub. The first choice, the Three Mariners (one of the oldest pubs in Britain, apparently, and currently failing because the building site next door is driving custom away) seemed full, unless people were voluntarily drinking outside in a builders' yard, so we went a bit further, to The Bobbin, a gothy pub I rather like. From there to The Whittle (which has been The Golden Lion for about as long as I've known it, about eight years, but it's not easy to change a pub's traditional name!) as there was a guitarist playing (okay, but I didn't find her material compelling), then to The Gregson because its on the way home and open until midnight. I don't think we stayed until closing, but it was straight home from there.

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