Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Genie

Back in the day you were allowed to buy fireworks for maybe a week or two before bonfire night and once November 5th was over, not thereafter. That was it, for at least another year. No cavalcade of rockets to bring in the New Year, (unless you were some sort of well-heeled Scrooge with a will of iron). No 'phlump, phlump mortar-round fzzt!' of roman candles to light up the birthday skies, unless you were lucky enough to be born after October 31st and before November 6th.

No, once it was all over, seen the androgynous dummy cremated, watched Catherine wheels spin freely, jerkily and not at all, had rockets blaze their trail across the sky and realised that the little pyramid-shaped one that you knew was going to be shit had not disappointed you. Once the serious concerns about how hot the windows were getting had subsided and once something had caught fire that wasn't supposed to and once an older neighbour had to go indoors with chest pains, it was done. Over.

Next day, we'd roam the foggy, post-inferno streets in a daze, like adolescent atrocity survivors, combing the cooling rubble for undischarged fireworks in order to break them open and call forth, from the powder they contained, what was commonly known as The 'Genie'.

'Place on ground.' Yeah, right.
The Genie was a flaky old demon. He didn't always make your wish come true (unless your wish was seared retinas and crop stubble eyelashes) sometimes he didn't even appear, would just give a damp sigh and fizzle off back to his lamp. He hated the rain, and we knew if it had been dry overnight there was a much better chance of a summoning.

Whenever he did appear, explosively and with an eyebrow-singeing 'whumpf!' well now, that was a time. The pile of powder had to be carefully set and a volunteer had to drop the match, someone who had perhaps thus far evaded a bonny night trophy scar - had not had a 'Little Demon' go off in the hand, not felt the molten whip of a toppled bottle rocket. Had not flayed their palm to the bone fishing out baked spuds from the embers of the fire. (I say 'baked', but of course this was much less al fresco Spud-U-Like and much more 'gnawing on starchy, smoke-tasting rocks'.)

As the Chosen One's trembling hands laid flame to the powdery kindling, chants to the Gods were muttered and a respectful path beaten, in case the Gods were wrathful. This swansong represented the greatest unity of Bonfire week. Whatever jealous claim you'd laid to those fireworks in their pristine tubular form was now forgotten as as the Swan Vesta bearer inched closer and you solemnly prayed that their piled-up innards would ignite. Here, a last chance to relive the magic, be privy to the cosmic lightshow, inhale something that smelt like old flintlock pistols and tasted of rotten egg.

We always forgot, somehow, how it would be. That these reanimated pyrotechnics were not bound to an orderly trajectory like their touch-papered counterparts. That their souls were jumbled up and when they cried out, it would be in chaos. If our guile and determination was to pay off, there would be fire and brimstone, a nuclear flash to rival any Tom Clancy novel. Saltpetre and singed nostrils. Afterimages to linger for a week or more; that's what would have made it all worthwhile. The months of canvassing for unwanted timber, the elaborate bonfire dens in which basic carpentry and sex education skills were dispensed with impunity, God willing.

This was the occult finale to the whole event, and, even though we'd used up two wishes each just getting him to appear, the genie symbolised the essence of rebirth. The dead risen, the phoenix from the flames, a closing ceremony to rival any olympic games and a big, whooshing cathartic send-off to whiten our hair and blacken our faces for the next time. As long as we didn't grow up and get old, and sit in nights and make children, there would always be a next time. And as long as the genie appeared to grant our final wish, there would always be a next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment