Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
Early Memories #6    | HISTORY Page | Obituary Page |

6. Bonny Night

It was in the late autumn, with Bonfire Night on the horizon, that our juvenile preoccupations imposed most strain on the equanimity of Mawson Street residents, though some of them took advantage of our enthusiasm to get rid of unmanageable items of junk that had probably been refused by the regular dustmen. For weeks before the event, we'd be collecting bonny wood and any combustible rubbish, scrounging cardboard, crates and packing straw from local shopkeepers.

Old newspapers, garden rubbish, it was a great chance for householders to have a clear-out. We'd hide this accumulation under cover, in back yard sheds, keeping it dry and safe from marauding Temple Street or Mansfield Street gangs. Once we were presented with a collapsing upholstered armchair, took turns sitting in it as the gang trundled it along the narrow back entry, jammed it in a back-yard doorway while arguing and pleading with a protesting parent-- aw, mum, it's only until bonny night...

Then word got round that someone's uncle was sawing up an old telegraph pole, and we struggled with a whopping big log, manhandling it down the back passage, easing it into a yard, until a parent came out to see what the fuss was all about and indignantly sent us packing elsewhere... Someone else would donate a sagging mattress; we could always rely on the garage at the end of Mawson Street to give us some waste-oil--that soaked in nicely to convert the bedding into a cert of a firelighter. Insurance of successful ignition, even if the Manchester monsoon started on the night, as it often did.

And we worked with a will collecting a good stock of fireworks, scrounging old clothes to make a guy, dragging him round in a go-cart pestering the shoppers on Brunswick Street for pennies for the guy, haunting the queues at the Ardwick and Coliseum cinemas, cheerily chanting "Guy, guy, guy, Poke him in the eye, Hang him from a lamp post, And there let him die". Then rushing to the newsagent to invest the proceeds in a mounting collection of rip-raps, Little Demon bangers, Fireflies, Serpents' Nests, a variety of rockets and showy display pieces like Golden Rains, Daisy Fountains, Mighty Atoms, Mount Vesuvius, and lots of Bengal Matches and sparklers.

On the day we usually were allowed out of school early and building up the bonfire was a communal effort. Any available dads supervised while the kids slaved to move all the combustibles from storage points into Mawson Street, and assembled them into a pyre in the middle of the street with the guy seated on top, keeping a few replenishments in reserve.

When dusk fell, out came the matches and the sparks were flying up to the rooftops in next to no time. Mums brought out trays of parkin and home-made treacle toffee, just to start things off, and toddlers were allowed the thrill of joining in, waving a few sparklers about before being packed off, protesting, to bed, a few lucky ones able to view the continuing excitements from a bedroom window. Then we could bring out the bangers and get down to the serious business of the evening, taking it in turns to light our showpieces.

I recall occasional calamities. Fireworks were stored in big biscuit tins to keep them dry and safe from stray sparks, but sooner or later someone would be howling because in the excitement they'd forgotten to put back the lid, the premature eruption of their treasures providing a side attraction, wreathing us in smoke and acrid fumes...

Or if we were too enthusiastic in stoking up the fire, a provoked housewife might yell from the doorstep that her front windows were cracking with the heat, and attempt to calm down the flames, and any unlucky revellers in the way, with a wildly-aimed jugs of water.

But when the pyrotechnics died down, and we ran out of fuel for the fire, someone would hand out potatoes to be cooked in their jackets on the hot embers, and enjoyed with a dollop of melting marge, while parents supped tea, as a grand finale before we dispersed.

It strikes me that if the shortcomings of the current Manchester A to Z Street Guide can evoke such memories, there may be a market, in these heritage-conscious days, for a Manchester "As-it-Was" Street Guide. Wonder if I can interest any aspiring nostalgia-publisher out there... ■

© Harry Turner, May 1997

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