The pips went off this morning, followed by the seven o’clock news.
We listened blearily in bed, as the level voice of Corrie Corfield listed the events of the evening before. We all know what happened, don’t get me wrong. We all watched puppets dance on Buckingham Palace as Suggs sang on the roof. We rated every act, and every royal facial expression. We all feel as if we just live in a very large village indeed.
But we like to hear the newsreader tell us all over again, from the beginning to this end, like a nice story. This is what happened first, this is what happened next, and they all lived happily every after by lighting a great big beacon.
I toyed with going to out nearest beacon lighting.I didn’t: but I read the daunting instruction manual.
What a British publication. Terse, to the point, written in the tone which built an empire: covering construction of a beacon, health and safety, history, event organisation, the whole caboodle. If you did the whole beacon thing properly, your bonfire beacon would be 30 feet away from buildings, the emergency services would all know about it, the landowner would know all about it and the site would be left behind, re-turfed and tidy, ship-shape and Bristol fashion.
There was a strict hierarchy for lighting them, of course. This is Britain, after all and our feudal past has a habit of tapping us on the shoulder at the oddest of times.
At 10pm the first to light were the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Beacons.
Hot on their heels, at an impressive 10:01, were the The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution along with farms, Stately Homes and Private Estates, English Heritage and the National Trust.
The capitals are the organisers’, not mine.
At 10:10, the forces pitched in: the Marine Society and Sea Cadets, Air Training Corps, Army Cadets and Combined Cadet Forces, along with the Scout Association, Girl Guiding UK and Boys Brigade.
At 10:12 all the beacons on Hadrian’s Wall were lit. Once, it was done with Roman soldiers: these days it’s the remit of Hadrians Wall Heritage Ltd.
Then we got down to the humble municipal beacons. The fires lit by the clerks, the committees, the town mayors and suchlike.
Religion came next, at 10:20. It was when the church tower beacons were lit.
At 10:24 the charities, organisations and individuals finally got their moment. That included the Rotary Club and Lions, but also wild cards like the Caravan Club. And of course, the Freemasons.
10:29 saw the beacons on our four great peaks: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Mount Snowdon and Slieve Donard. Each linked to a national charity. And finally, at 10:30pm, the Queen herself.
It was too late for me though: I didn’t fancy traipsing out to a nearby village to watch a church tower beacon lit. Churches and battlements had a different beacon: these lacked the romance of the bonfire, being fuelled by two gas cylinders and started with a spanner. They cost £299 plus tax. The kids were asleep, and Phil was tired. We gave it a miss.
This morning as we lay in bed listening to the news of the lighting of the beacons, the BBC called it a relay.
“It wasn’t a relay,” I said. “It wasn’t fires lit as soon as you see the last beacon, like a message, or anything.”
A short silence ensued as we thought about that.
“I lit a beacon,” said Phil sleepily.
“Oh?” I enquired.
“Well, ” Phil qualified, “I lit the grill. But it was my contribution to the whole thing.”
I envisaged Phil saluting.
“I’m sure,” I said,after reflection, “That the Queen would be gratified by your public-spirited contribution.”