Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fireworks and Candy Floss

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I'd heard this before I'd come to England, but to be honest I thought it was just a line from V for Vendetta (which it is, I'm told, though I've never seen it). But I had no idea that it had real historical significance, and I can't help but wonder if the bazillions (read: probably less than 10) of friends from the US who posted this rhyme as their Facebook status on Monday (the fifth of November, for those following along) actually knew the historical significance either.

Because really, I saw a lot more Guy Fawkes mentions on Facebook from friends from home, and a part of me was feeling pretty self satisfied because I understood what it means, and I celebrated this holiday the British way. But I digress.

As you can tell if you own a calendar, Monday was Guy Fawkes night, but because that's a school  night for all of the primary school children, and a work night for adults, it seems as though it is custom to have the main Guy Fawkes celebrations the closest weekend to the actual day (at least in Oxford) so that meant that Guy Fawkes was celebrated this past weekend, Saturday to be exact.

There was a 'carnival' and fireworks event in South Park just a five minute walk from the Oxford Brookes campus, so it doesn't get more convenient than that. I put carnival in quotations because this was a pretty weak carnival. I don't know if this is because carnivals just aren't as big in England, or it was because it was just a one evening event, but if I was into carnivals, I probably would have been pretty let down. Luckily, as it turns out, I've never really been a carnival gal, so I was merely surprised as a nonobjective observer of the scene before me.

So on Saturday night Caitlin, Austy and I put on our pea coats and our gloves and scarves (mine is a giant Union Jack, perfect for this patriotic British holiday) and walked down to South Park, paid our £6 entry fee and entered the park.

 The first thing that struck me was that the entrance was awkwardly off to the side, the back of the carnival rides (which are forming a circle) facing us.

The first thing I see is that there are two sections: the carnival section with the rides and a few games and what I presume is the more grown up section with food stands, a stage and a giant wooden structure of some kind.

The first thing I feel is the squishy mud and a change in gravity as I almost fall. Keyword: almost. Thank god. Because I just know I'm going to slip in the wet mud or wet leaves at some point when I'm here and the cold and wet Saturday night was not the ideal time or place.

And therefore the first thing I touch is Caitlin's arm as I try my very hardest to not slip and fall as I walk across the massive field to the food section of the event. This proved to be quite difficult because as we walked, the ground just got muddier and muddier and the mud just get slicker and slicker. It really became a struggle to walk anywhere.

The first thing I hear is the booming music coming from the carnival side (truly, we heard it before we even left the Brookes campus) and it is so loud. I can feel my heart pulsing in time with the bass. As we walk closer to the food section, I hear the contrasting of music, because the food section has a stage with a man singing and playing the car. And I'd like to reiterate that these two sections are not far from each other. It was like the pop music of the carnival was competing with the covers of the food section. But it shouldn't be a competition. It's the same event, put on by the same people.

And the first thing I smell is what I don't smell. It doesn't smell like anything. There's not distinctive kettle corn smell or the smell of things frying. It just smelled like air.

After these first impressions I began to take in my surroundings for fully as we walked around checking out everything this event had to offer.

This carnival consisted of a handful of rides, including a few for little kids. No ferris wheel, no swings, no classic booth carnival games. I mean, come on England, step it up. But in all seriousness, it was probably because this was a one day affair and not something that could have millions of pounds invested in it.

It was interesting going to a carnival or fair in the UK because there are certain things you expect of fairs in the US: farm animals, strength-testers, water pistol games, booths selling t-shirts and other various junk items and tons of extremely unhealthy food: funnel cake, kettle corn, deep fried oreos, fresh squeezed lemonade and more. You also expect it to be warm when you go to carnival  so that was pretty different as well.

And the food they were selling, I guess I knew they wouldn't have lemonade and funnel cake, but a girl can dream right? They did have cotton candy, called candy floss here and luckily I realized that before I ordered or else I would have looked really stupid, and I hate using the wrong words here because I'm trying to assimilate. They were serving hamburgers and hotdogs, they had multiple pizza carts and had a few hot drink carts serving hot cocoa, coffee and probably tea. One thing they served here that was quite different from in the States was mulled wine, which I think is a pretty popular winter drink in the UK. They did have a food truck called "A Taste of America" that served Pork BBQ (which kind, we weren't sure), hot dogs and more. So basically all of the American food I hate. It was just interesting seeing their version of carnival food.

By the time we completed our lap around the carnival and food sections, people had started to gather in front of the strange wooden structure. It hit me--they were going to light this on fire. Let me explain: Guy Fawkes day is also known as Bonfire Night because it is tradition to throw effigies  of Guy Fawkes into a roaring fire. I personally think it's going a little too far, but they really hate this guy, so there you go.

So people were gathering to get a good view of the massive fire and we decided to join them. The shows on stage continued. At this point they are on the third act since we've been there. The first was okay, but the last two... just didn't really do it for me, or anyone really. And they both did terrible covers of Ed Sheeran. Bad move. Very few can sing Ed Sheeran as well as Ed Sheeran, so sometimes it's better not to even try. As we waited I ate my candy floss, which made my hand very sticky and unpleasant to stick back into my glove, but it was worth it. I'd rather have a sticky hand than miss out on the deliciousness of cotton candy. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?

6:45 (the published starting time for the fireworks) came and went with not a light in the sky. There was some sort of reenactment occurring at the front of the wooden structure, but as occurs every time I'm in a crowd of people I could not see a thing. Caitlin would update me and Austy on what was occurring but she  couldn't make sense of it, so we were all pretty lost. And it seem like many people around us knew what was going on either.

Around 7:15 the fireworks finally started. It was a really good show and there were a few types of fireworks I'd never seen before. What struck me though was that they seemed to be very low fireworks. And anytime the fireworks seemed to reach the height I'm used to them reaching, people around us would say "Wow, that one was really high". For a country so into fire safety I was surprised they would allow fireworks to occur so low in the sky, and so close to the trees.

I have to say it was pretty strange watching fireworks and not being able to feel my toes at the same time. The only time I ever really watch fireworks is in July to celebrate Independence Day, so to be so cold while enjoying a fireworks show was a different experience. And fireworks and sparklers, which a few of the people at the Guy Fawkes celebration had (I was quite jealous) makes me think of the Fourth of July. I kept expecting t to hear American patriotic songs. While I obviously know that wouldn't occur, I was pretty surprised that there weren't any British patriotic songs sung or played.

I mean, this is a holiday celebrating the failed plot of a man who tried to blow up parliament killing the King and all of the leaders and hoping to bring the Catholic Spanish government into control. If there's any time to feel patriotic it's now. But I don't think that they are really into patriotic songs here. (Side note: my English friend Beth said that the only patriotic British song she knows in God Save the Queen, which is their national anthem.) But alas, no patriotic songs to be heard.

The bonfire was actually awesome. The stack of wooden palettes had to be over 2 stories tall. The entire evening I was so excited to see it lit on fire. I felt a little pyromanic because I usually don't really even care about fire. But I knew it was going to such a big bonfire that I was super excited to see it. And it did not disappoint. It was awesome. It spread through the wood palettes slowly, the left side burning first because of the wind and slowly spreading to the right side. We stayed long enough to watch the entire stack crumble into itself. Even from as far away as we were, as you can see in this picture, we could feel the heat. My entire face was warm, and every time I turned away my face was assaulted by the cold. It was amazing to be standing nearish to such a strong heat source.

My Guy Fawkes day turned out to be a success. I got to see a fireworks show, eat candy floss and  celebrate a very British holiday with the general public of Oxford. It was a good night, even if I didn't get to hear God Save the Queen.

1 comment: