Saturday, 4 November 2017

Fireworks Night 2017 (Alexandra Palace)

Firework Night 2017.

We’d planned to be in Normandy for this years Fête de l’assomption but it wasn’t to be, I missed the fireworks so was determined to see really good ones in London for Guy Fawkes night. My son therefore got tickets for us to go to Alexandra Palace on Friday 3rd November and we weren’t disappointed. We avoided food costs and queues and reminded ourselves of our French experiences by taking little bottles of matin légère milk and natural sausages wrapped in gluten free brioche.

They had used pallets to carefully and professionally build two enormous bonfires, one for Friday, and a second for the repeat event on Saturday. The Friday one had what appeared to be a Roman temple surmounted by a spaceship on top, but I think it was probably meant to be an A for Alexandra on top of a Palace. Maybe they’d put another on the Saturday one next day? It was fascinating watching them light it. They poured flammable liquid around specific areas of the lower parts then four of them entered the fire area with long sticks lighted at one end - presumably the sticks were bound by fabric soaked in something which burned appropriately. They lit the pile in four places, then moved round and lit it again between the little blazes, then moved left again to make 12 and then 16. All perfectly balanced so it wouldn’t fall as it burned. They then lit along the top of some long timber beams and lined them up on opposite sides of the fire, pushing them into what must have been a tunnel underneath with unlit beams, they threw their lighting sticks onto the fire and retired to join the crowd at a safe distance. Soon the most amazing and dramatic swirl of smoke rose from the centre of the fire, completely hiding the top of the pile. Then, suddenly the flames broke through and rose into the enormous plume of smoke. The sky lit up and the heat poured out. We had to move back three or four meters away from our fence side places, as it was simply too hot to stay. It was a phenomenal fire, so carefully orchestrated and controlled, I've never seen one like it or realised there was such an art to fire building. 

Next we watched a bevvy of young women who were inside a giant pumpkin or cauldron on wheels, surmounted by a circus style trapeze which emitted coloured smoke and occasional flames. In turn and in pairs, they stripped to scant costumes and performed on the trapeze. When a pair came off their sisters were ready with warm clothing to wrap around them. Some of the team pushed the structure around the field so others got a view. It must have been very heavy and difficult to move on such rough ground.

Every few minutes bright oval flames jumped into the air from a series of towers. They reminded me of flames from the furnaces of Sheffield steel works when I visited on youth club trips or worked there to earn money in college holidays. 

Eventually the much awaited procession came past led by an enormous Japanese figure surrounded by maidens with parasols in a scene reminiscent of the Mikado. It was followed by several floats which I couldn’t quite see and a marching band of enthusiastic young drummers, who must have been exhausted as the procession had been going for at least an hour before it got to us. Then some more low floats and the biggest float which was a small lorry with a dragons head and tail, it’s belly filled with a rock band and dancers. Bringing up the rear and mounted on the roof of a dark vehicle was a giant metal bird with bright shining eyes and a head which moved from side to side, this animated structure reminded me of the annual procession of lighted boats on the Derwent at Matlock Bath.

Before the procession had passed, the laser show began. Lights of many colours skittering amongst the trees, into the sky and across the front of the parts of the palace building which we could see. From a better vantage point they must have been even more dramatic. 

The young women with the mobile trapeze did another show, with occasional bursts from the lasers and bursts of flame from three nearby towers and the top of their trapeze. Meanwhile the flames of the bonfire continued to dance. 

All of this would have been a very good evenings entertainment , but the best was yet to come. Fireworks from three points shooting into the sky, accompanied by a prerecorded and very varied musical track and at times enhanced by a frenzy of dancing lasers. Twenty  minutes of orgasmic indulgence. Colours, shapes, movement, shells shooting into shells, indescribable. It stopped and then began again from another single source further to the east which added another three or four minutes - less spectacular but very pretty. At the end my son came to find me and I found speech slow to come as I was still enrapt by the experience. Hitherto my best fireworks memory was in Bagnoles de l’ Orne but I think this surpassed it.

We returned to the fire which had continued to burn during the evenings festivities, it was now surrounded by a perfect ring of ash. The people who had lit it climbed up onto the top of Saturday’s pile to enjoy the scene. 

We walked slowly up the hill and sat to talk on a bench. It had been a magical evening. 

Jan Loxley Blount 04/11/17

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