Lesley Dolphin takes a nostalgic look at Bonfire Night and tells how to see a spectacular drive-in display at Sotterley Estate near Beccles this November.

Remember, remember. . . I think November is the month that gets me reminiscing most of all – maybe even more so than Christmas – because my dad loved bonfire night and fireworks.

Many of Suffolk’s big displays are cancelled this year which also got me wondering whether more of us will go back to holding family events in our back gardens.

For me, the excitement always started a couple of weeks before November 5, when fireworks started to appear in the shops. Only certain places were licensed to stock them and they were not the `grut ole things’ we have today. They came in small, brightly coloured and exotically shaped packages, with magical names like Star Jet, Cherry Bomb, Crystal Frost, Dragon’s Crown, and Jack In The Box. The main producers were Standard, Pains and Brocks but, for a while, between the 1940s and 1960s, fireworks were made right here in Suffolk by Wizard.

Dad would let me and my brother, David, help choose the selection. It was so exciting peering into the glass cabinet where the fireworks were locked away for safety. We would pick the biggest box Dad could afford but he could never resist buying extra rockets. Several packets of sparklers were also added to our purchases along with Bengal matches. Do you remember those? They were brightly coloured when they were lit – David and I thought they were much more exciting than the sparklers.

On bonfire night itself we all dressed up warmly in our hats, gloves and coats – I’m sure winters were colder then – to go out to see Dad’s display. He spent quite a bit of time preparing a post for the Catherine Wheels – which never spun properly – bottles with sand for the rockets and, of course, a small bonfire.

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The fireworks were kept in the obligatory biscuit tin to keep them safe and only Dad was allowed near them to set them off. We were all drilled in the safety rules about fireworks thanks to the public information broadcasts on television. . . and the annual caution from the BBC’s Blue Peter team.

By today’s standards, our back family’s display was very tame, but for us at the time it was so exciting, and the smell of the gunpowder still transports me back to our garden then.

While many of the big familiar fireworks displays are cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic there is a new one happening that I think could be the way forward for the future. ‘Drive In Fireworks’ will be happening on the Sotterley Estate near Beccles, where special effects expert Edwin Sampkin has come up with a plan. Edwin is founder and technical director of Luminous which in normal times travels the world helping to stage top musical and sporting events and theatrical displays, including pyrotechnics. Lately he set up Hand Cleaner in response to the pandemic, supplying PPE to NHS hospitals and historic royal palace sites like Kensington Palace and The Tower of London.

At Sotterley there will be three displays at 7pm on Friday, November 6, and at 5pm and 8pm on Saturday, November 7. Tickets are booked in advance at explosivesolutions.co.uk and you get a space to park and even food delivered to your car if you wish. You can get out of your car to watch the display as long as you stay within touching distance of your vehicle. It’s an appealing thought that you can stay in your warm, cosy car until the fireworks actually start.

Whatever your plans, stay safe this November.

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