It was the start of October. The best month of the year. It was the month when we started collecting for the bonfire on Halloween night. This may seem a bit crazy that a group of boys between the age of 11 - 16 were obliged to organise the local bonfire. But it was the passage way into being an older boy. Someone that was looked up to. When I say “collecting” , it was more a case of stealing. Stealing old tyres and wooden pallets that would make the foundation of the bonfire.
It was a funny one. Normally all the estates had their waring factions of kids but when October came we all came together and joined forces and got on. The aim was to have a better bonfire than the other side of the town.
The bonfire was measured on its :
how many pallets do you have?
And how many tyres?
How high is your centre pole?
The 17 year olds would hand their expertise down to the next boys and so on . Normally to the craziest kid that would do anything for the bonfire. One cold wet Halloween night when they could not light the fire , one lad took off his clothes and set them alight to get the bonfire going. Lone behold this nutter was in charge the year after.
So the basic strategy of collecting for the bonfire was to go out under cover of darkness and rob as many tyres and pallets as we could from wherever we could. Most of these pallets and tyres were junk anyway to hold down hay bales etc. Each person could rob 2 tyres or one pallet so we tended to travel in groups of 8. The lad in charge would often try carry 4 tyres or two pallets while smoking a cigarette. After we collected our haul we needed a place to stash it until the faithful night. Often we stashed ours down the banks of the railway tracks and covered them with branches. This is where it got complicated because the other group from town were actively looking for our stash and we were also in the hunt for theirs. There were ambushes , spies , double agents, and lots of fisty cuffs. I once got a tyre in the bulb.
One night we were in a place called the showgrounds. We heard there was a horse show being held and many pallets were lying idle at the opposite end of the field. It was pitch dark. There was a little car track around the perimeter of the field so we took that route to get to our prize as the field was subdivided into many sections. We stocked up and made our move to exit then all of a sudden we heard a siren.
It was the grounds security racing down the car track. We dropped everything and made a run through the field. There were 8 of us, all running in a line. The nutter leading the way. Then all of a sudden he disappeared. Then the next guy directly in front of me disappeared.
What the ...?
Then something struck me. Just above the chest under the neck . My legs went up in the air and I landed flat on the back. I looked left and could vaguely make out the nutter on his back also. The others all suffered a similar faith clotheslined by the metal wire. The siren were getting closer. We all got up at the same time and kept running. We were running in a line horizontally. After a few metres we were on our back again after another shock clothesline by another fence. If there was a night vision camera there that night it would of made for some watching as 8 kids were getting taken out by wire fences every 15 metres. It was like a hurdle race but we didn’t know where’s the hurdles were. After the 4th time I was taken off my feet, it became like a saving private Ryan montage. The nutter shouting
taking a smaller kid by the back of his jacket and signalling me to a hole in wall. The nutter manned the hole while he made sure there was no one left behind. The last one bawled his way through the hole holding his neck. We were out. The next day we examined our marks from the clothesline’s. It was like we got whipped. One of the younger kids had marks on his neck.
After many nights similar to the above the 31st October finally came around and we would spend the whole day putting up the centre pole which was a tree basically. Then we put the tyres in and built the pallets up .
The bonfire always took place in a green section by the railway track. It had an amphitheater feel and locals could look down on it from around the railway bridge. The nutter would be given the honour of lighting the bonfire by throwing petrol all over it and setting it up. In hindsight he could of been killed because petrol ended up all over him as well. When it lit , the whole place would light up like daylight and we would sit and admire our handy work. Hundreds of locals would come to watch with their little kids also which was nice to see.
The funniest memory I’ve ever had was when we were just about to light the bonfire. One of the girls was bursting for the toilet. I remember her name to this day. It was Jennifer. There were no toilets where we were so one of the lads told Jennifer to just go under the railway bridge as it was pitch dark. Jennifer was in trouble so she hesitantly made her way under the bridge and into the blackness. At this stage there was a big crowd waiting for the bonfire to light. The nutter that year was used to lighting things up so when he made his way down and lit it up and the fire started immediately! Whoosh. The whole place lit up .
And there’s Jennifer in full daylight under the bridge having a poo!
Everyone in our neighbourhood saw Jennifer mid poo. From then on she was called “Jennifer shits” . A terrible nickname I know but she should have known better! We all thought she was off to make a wee.