Alan Cuthbertson – Bonfire Night

Bonfire night

Over the summer we had attended numerous Spanish fiestas, celebrating this and that. During a discussion about fiestas in general, one of the Spanish lads asked what kind of fiestas we have in the UK. I pondered the question for a minute or two and explained that we don’t celebrate all the saints as they do in Spain; Plus we don’t get the weather to have the big outdoor celebrations that take place in Spain.

Heather reminded me that the following Saturday was to be November the 5th. I turned to the young man and added. “There is one celebration we have, ‘Bonfire Night’.”

“Qué haces?” What do you do? He asked. With my limited Spanish, I felt going into an explanation about Guy Fawkes was going to be too difficult, so I simply explained what actually takes place. “The children make a dummy of a man with old clothes and during the week before Bonfire night they sit on street corners asking for money.”

“Begging?” somebody at the table asked.

“Well sort of,” I answered. “Then the night before, on the 4th of November, they go around the streets being mischievous.”

“Causing trouble?” asked the same man at the table.

“Well, yes sort of,” I said, knowing this was rapidly going downhill.

“What do they do with the money they are begging?” asked a different man.

alan-cuthbertson-bonfireI thought for a while. “They buy…” I didn’t know the Spanish word for fireworks so selected the nearest that I did know, “…explosives.” As the conversation continued we attracted more listeners. “On the actual night everybody helps to build large fires.

We place the dummy on top, light the fire, and watch him burn.” Thinking about it, it all seemed quite macabre. “Once the fire is going we set light to the explosives,” I could see they all thought we were completely mad.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “On the 5th we will have a Bonfire outside my house at night time,” I suggested.

We hadn’t really prepared anything, and as a result I just grabbed some firewood from the garage and set light to it. Before we knew it there was a large fire burning.

The smell of the wood burning, along with the sound of people having a good time, reminded me of the bonfire nights I enjoyed as a kid. I sighed and said the only thing missing now is the pops, whizzing, and bangs of the fireworks. I’d said this almost to myself in English, so I can only presume that my friends grasp of our language is getting better.

In an effort to make the night complete he had gone to his car, retrieved his shotgun, loaded it and fired it into the air, right behind my left ear. “Different,” I said. “But not sure how it would have gone down in East Leeds.” I was also a little concerned about our telephone line, which ran above us.

As the night went on you would have expected the assembled crowd to diminish, but that wasn’t the case. As people drove past on their way home from the bar, they would just pull over get out of their vehicles and join the party. It was almost 3am before the last person left with the shout, “Again next year!” we’ll see.

Alan Cuthbertson is the author of Fiestas and Siestas Miles Apart, and Clover House.
He has lived in Spain for over ten years.
For more information please visit

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