Bonfire Stories

5th November 2021

With the warm embrace of a bonfire, the flames light up the stories in our heads that cannot wait to shoot out! When sitting around the bonfire, we all, always, have something to share.

Here is an eclectic mix of stories, memories, films and jokes for November 5th. 


Where I grew up, Bonfire Night had little to do with Guy Fawkes. He was just the stuffed doll – the prize – at the top of the heap of wood. No, the real appeal was the effort to build the biggest bonfire you could, and then defend it from marauding gangs of kids from neighbouring villages, good fuel being scarce and all. And going raiding ourselves, of course. Stealing others’ bonfire wood was great, but stealing the Guy was better. The adults mostly left us to it. They’d done it in their turn. So long as nothing and no one got seriously damaged.

Gangs of kids assembling as darkness falls. Plotting great deeds – mostly imaginary. A delicious prickle of peril (the fights were occasionally real). Running free. A world to ourselves. Those are the spirits that Bonfire Night conjures in me. 

I don’t know for certain that Philip Pullman came up the same way. But to me he invokes exactly those emotions in his writing. Brilliant adventure stories about young people, freed from society’s normal constraints to confront magics, brave great perils, and follow strange destinies. Those are my bonfire stories to share.

So, sit comfortably. Imagine the bonfire heat stretching your face tight, and the night’s chill tickling your back. Then listen to the marvellous Michael Sheen, reading from Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage. The book slowly unfolds the origin story of Lyra Bellacqua, heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy and in this short passage we perfectly taste the darkness and perils of her world, and the power of youth to intervene for good.


Bonfire stories from the beginning of time, or the beginning of the end, have consisted of scary stories mostly and always set in the woods. But in my family, there is one story that is told at every bonfire and it consists of one very expensive shed. One cold November night, before Covid took away the pleasures of gatherings, families and friends came together in the back gardens of the local flats to set off some fireworks. My uncle, feeling overly ambitious, decided to start the night off with most of the fireworks lighting up at the same time. Although that sounded like the best idea at the time, my gosh did he regret it! 

And so as the little string at the end of each firework began to get shorter, our suspense was growing. (In order for you to get the full picture, please start the track Blue Danube in your mind). 

The fireworks were off… and none of them reached the sky. They were whizzing away in every direction – but in particular, the direction of the shed. As the shed went off in flames, no one could run to its aid due to the gunpowder mine field in front of us. And so, there we stood, all of us. At our first bonfire, watching my uncle’s new shed go up in flames. 


Bonfire joke:

A man walks into the doctor’s surgery. He is completely naked and has wrapped himself in cling-film from head to toe. The doctor carefully looks him up and down and says “I can clearly see your* nuts” 



V for Vendetta (2005) for a good old Bonfire type movie – which I only watched last year after hearing so much about it. It really does resonate: a super hero in a Guy Fawkes mask who starts a ‘terrorist’ campaign against an oppressive government on November 4th. Europe in the grip of a pandemic. The US fractured by a second civil war…


Bonfire joke:

I went to a zoo but it wasn’t very good. It only had one small dog. It was a shih tzu.


Remember, remember the 5th of November! But do you remember it as Bonfire night or Fireworks night? 

To me it was all about the bonfire. The adventure and excitement of scouring for wood and building the biggest bonfire we could. Cutting branches off trees, nicking pallets from behind the local shop, knocking on neighbours doors to see if they had any old furniture or rubbish. For me it was all about how bright the bonfire burned, not how loud the fireworks were.

So, in the spirit of the bonfire I’d like to share a movement I came across a couple of years ago called ‘Bonfire with Soul’. It’s the vision of Duke Stump, former CMO of purposeful brands such as Nike, Lululemon and Seventh Generation. 

He’s on a mission to obsolete Harvard Business School and believes it’s time to ‘unlearn business as usual’. He invites a new breed of business leaders, or ‘optimistic rebels’ as he calls them, to take ‘The Other Path’ and build businesses with soul – powerful, emotionally charged brands that stand for something meaningful in the world. 

So, if like me you consider yourself an optimistic rebel and believe in business with soul then check out Duke’s story  

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