Bonfire Night – Part 2

The Garw Valley Heritage Society are proud to present a story by Roy Davies, remembering his early days in the Garw.

In the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, we are printing one part per week.

The following is an account of the author’s boyhood in the Garw Valley when gangs of boys collected anything and everything months in advance to build their bonfires for November 5th.

Part 2, The Collection

There weren’t many articles and materials that could be burnt which remained inside people’s homes and gardens in the weeks leading up to bonfire night. Up and down the valley groups of boys – and some girls – scoured the mountainside tips for anything which would burn and which could be manhandled to the open space at the top of their street. In the weeks since they had been back at school they had knocked all the doors in that area of the valley begging ‘anything for the bomfire?’ and like some army of ants they had carried off in sacks or on their backs the materials people had decided could finally be disposed of.

Over the years they had had several real treasures. One year it was a whole settee that Mrs Jones wanted to burn for shame’s sake. Another time it was a roll of oilcloth that had covered Mrs Thomas’ living room and the cocoanut matting that had lain on top of it for years. With the end of the war Mrs. Thomas had decided to ‘go in for’ a real carpet.

They had manhandled old chairs, bedsteads, broken wardrobes and wickerwork tallboys up the gravelled street, over the mountain path and into the shed for previous fires. Once inside the shed the chairs had become objects of status, bagged by certain of the boys while they sat out the long evenings of waiting and guarding as the nights got darker and the winds got stronger. But inside the shed, wrapped up in cardboard or nestling in sackfuls of long dry ferns, there was no cold and no discomfort as they told stories and described to each other what they would do to anyone who came to pinch their collection. While they were in the shed they were all guards. Boys of thirteen were leaders and boys of eight the followers, but they were all guards invested by darkness and secure warmth with the knowledge that if the anticipated raid did come they would not be the first to run away.

“I’m not scared of Morpho,” came a voice from the darkness.

“Nor me,” said another, his voice muffled by cardboard and straw as if he were speaking from a tunnel. “Nor Spikey neither”. And there was more rustling as the speaker burrowed further down into the layers of fern at the back of the shed away from the door.

They lay there in the dark with their own visions of Slavo, Jacko, Morpho and the twins and the secret dread of what would happen to them all if the Topenders, led by Spikey, came for them silent and quick out of the black valley night.

“A boy in school told me the Topenders broke into their shed and took all their wood and a big mattress,” a voice said quietly. Spikey banged one of them in the mouth and made him bleed.”

“That Morpho is worse than Spikey.” said another. “He twists your arm right up behind your back and pulls your hair. The voice came in short, scared, breaths from the corner near the door the speaker had been told to guard with his life.

“But I ‘eard they are just as willing to hit you in the guts and sometimes in the face too and then spit in your gob,” said the boy who was by now so completely covered by ferns that his voice was far away and quite indistinct.

“I don’ care who comes,” said the boy who first demanded quiet. “As long as they fight fair with fists and no kicking.”

“I wish we could get back at them somehow,” said the timid boy from the bottom of his paper castle. They’re always pushing us around, just cos we’re smaller. They’re just big bullies and they ought to pick on somebody their own size. I wish we could get them back.

To be continued….

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