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REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE ……. FOURTEENTH OF JULY

This year we were in France for Bastille Day. It went on for a week in Burgundy. Because it fell on a Thursday people took the opportunity to party on the days before, during and after. We went to four different firework displays and three BBQs - culminating in a sheep-roast (méchoui) beside Lac du Crescent in The Morvan Natural Park and one of the best displays we’d ever seen.
We understand that the small hamlet of Lauret hosts this event each year. Nothing could be less commercial. Nowhere could be more difficult to park. About 2000 of us made it though. We swam in the lake, ate sheep and chips, and watched the sun go down over the hills. The fireworks were set off from three rafts in the middle of the lake. It was enchanting.

“The fireworks were set off from three rafts in the middle of the lake. It was enchanting.”

Every tiny commune seemed to be at it this year - terrific displays that would be the pride of most cities in England. We ooohed and aaahed our way around the Morvan – stumbling in the pitch dark mostly. Where we were staying, the local display was beside a pond. The intention was good. Pond = fireworks reflected in water. Except, owing to the heatwave and drought, the pond resembled the Bog of Eternal Stench with a succulent bloom of green algae making any reflection impossible.
On the Saturday we drove to Auxerre – a grand old city on the River Yonne - to watch fireworks properly reflected and presented – along with thousands of others.

Why did Guy Fawkes choose November? How many people have shivered their way through Bonfire Night in England? How many, wet to the bone, have given small children pea-and-ham soup and Parkin, and told them what a wonderful time they’re having? As if anyone could have a wonderful time in November. Outdoors after dark. In England.

The French fireworks did cause me a moment’s pause, however. Burning ‘Guys’ may be gruesome, but we were remembering the storming of the Bastille – and with every bang and cheer we were celebrating Madame Guillotine and the deaths of hundreds of aristos. I looked around me at our French neighbours, but as far as I could see, no-one was knitting.

“the firework displays would give a composer and live musicians a wonderful opportunity. Now that would be something sensible to do with a bit of EU budget.”

It set me thinking. Why can’t we Europeans just Do Fireworks? Why do we have to celebrate some carnage or another? Fireworks are so thrilling – and could be even better if communes, and councils started to commission contemporary composers to write purpose-built music. What Handel did was great – and continues to go down well year in, year out in England. But isn’t it time to be a bit more adventurous and try something new? That was the only thing that was disappointing about the French displays too. The music. Badly scratched records of Jean-Michel Jarre recorded on to cassette tape and played through someone’s aunty’s cast-off cassette player circa 1970. Most firework displays that week were about 15 minutes long – and would give a composer and live musicians a wonderful opportunity. Now that would be something sensible to do with a bit of EU budget.

But I have to say, as a post script, I’d sooner be spending my time beside a lake, in France, in July, than corralled in a municipal park in England, in November, to watch fireworks.

© Ken Oxley

Ken Oxley and his wife Cheryl have been going to France on holiday for many years. They have a particular fondness for the Celtic music festivals throughout the summer in Burgundy. Ken plays the accordion himself and is a caller for his local Ceilidh band in England. They hope to retire to France in the future.