We're stood in the middle of a dark field. We have just spent the last ten minutes arguing and stumbling down a dirt road because the torch we took with us has died. Accusations of who should have brought batteries when they were last in town pepper the air with, 'What the hell is that?' as we come towards a dark lump, a darker dip, and a very dark hillock that looks oddly like a giant about to mug us. We can hear voices, the occasional flash of light, that strobes like aliens have landed and are probing cows again. Odder things have happened on this hillside. Eventually, after much mud and the continuous hooting of Little D who takes a stressful moment and adds owl effects, we see what could either be an extremely large and unlit bonfire or the worst UFO ever to be built out of the shipyards of Betelgeuse. Yes, it's that time of year to don holly (though Holly is never impressed with this), ivy (again, Ivy has slapped us several times) and go out into the dark to go wassailing (many people have slapped us when we have said this to them). Normally, you are supposed to go wassailing on twelfth night, this is the origin of mulled wine or just getting drunk at Christmas. It is a nod to the dark, to the coming of the light and with it we often have a bonfire but then the only man to walk into parliament with true intentions messed that up and now we stick him on top of the bonfire and ask for a penny for him. Yes, Guy Fawkes, so popular that parts of his body visited all four corners of England.
There we are in the dark, a dead torch and the occasional mobile phone going off, the moment the X-files tune goes off on someone's phone is our cue to leave but then something eerie, full of light and startling bright makes its way down the dirt road we came down. It looks like something from War of the Worlds, as if we are about to be hunted. As it approaches we can see it's merely the farmer in a JCB carrying hay bales and someone else in the bucket out front, who nods to us and raises a drink to the night. The bales are soaked in diesel - it's the country way - and they are quickly, and we mean quickly, lit by a zippo lighter and cries of, 'bloody hell' as a small mushroom cloud erupts into the night sky and we brush the remains of our eyebrows into the mud.
Yet, this simple act of vandalism brings joy in the heart of darkness that is the coming late autumn and winter and as the fire takes hold we crowd around, drink, light fireworks, watch the kids laugh and climb over mounds together to watch rockets explode in the sky. The mud is quickly baked, and those watching the fire step back as they realise the mound of wood is rather large, larger than any of us expected and now our faces are on gas mark 9 and our backsides are hovering somewhere around zero. Yes, it's that ruddy faced painful glow that comes with winter. It's wonderful. Our community is wonderful. We're drunk.
All the humour aside, and some tall tales too, though the hot face and cold bums stands true. There is something mesmerizing about a bonfire. It is something ancient, a reminder of days before electricity, of the importance of community and that is a rare thing. We can turn to our left, our right and see people we know, who can say hello by name, who don't look at you suspiciously or pull their children closer. We can let our kids run around and if they vanish a neighbour tells us where they are, a friend says, 'They're with my kid over there'. Someone comments on the fact that isn't it great that most of the kids in the hamlet are around the same age, that they can grow up together, that they can play together, that they can explore the place they live. It is. It's rare too.
That's the importance of such community events, to remind each other what we could lose if we just all went home and switched on the lights.