Guy Fawkes night 2016 arrived with a bang, taking Glasgow in a firestorm of pyrotechnics erupting from every corner of the city. Organised firework events boasted the bigger displays, one of the largest annually hosted on the Glasgow Green, drawing hundreds of onlookers to join in ooh-ing and ahh-ing in the bone-chilling November air.
But graduate school is a foreboding opponent to scheduled inclusion of organised or in any way pre-planned fun, and things of this nature generally tend to escape my notice from time to time. Permitting oneself to celebrate unnecessarily in an environment geared towards the studious immersion in literature and research writing calls for dedication and excellent time management, and there is an element of guilt associated with frivolity. For this reason, the celebration of Halloween 2016 in the United Kingdom was a quiet, adult affair inclusive of two episodes of X-Files before passing out, and a selection of British candy aimed at indulging American traditions which prompts thoughts of “oh… they tried, how sweet”… but really, with the current state of the American political system, I get my horror fix every time I read the news (a tired joke this season, but all-the-more accurate when observed at a great distance).
Celebrations of this nature can be difficult to manage concurrently with serious academic responsibility. Per my experience with the seasonal American cousin, Halloween, When Guy Fawkes night arrived, I figured I could just opt-out in favour of my responsibilities — particularly considering I had already been running around the city all day. But it was not to be.
Moments after returning to my flat — located far enough from all major fireworks events where their sonic booms could not possibly have been a detriment to my research — it started.
Boom. Boom, fizz, crack. Whistle, BOOM. Fizz, hiss, crackle, crackle. BOOM.
Out of the windows, I could see the flashing, colorful lights in blue and red and green and yellow reflecting on the sides of the buildings next to mine, I could feel the red bricks framing the sill shivering in synchronicity with these dramatic flares and all their sounds. Flashes came from everywhere — in every size and colour and form. The explosions rocking my building were a show for a neighbour’s building, whose fireworks I could see clearly from mine. From every direction, fireworks exploded as if to place stars in the black sky — to the left and to the right, from behind and across the not-so-distant River Clyde overlooked by my lower Dumbarton flat. The people in the street below walked among these events as though it were a virtual reality with no hurry to rush to their source or to gain entrance to an official fireworks display. They stood at the bus stop, watching peacefully, not a one worried for being late for a prior engagement, not a one worried for missing a closer perspective on the show. Simply engaged in the encircling show, presenting a faithful belief that the fireworks would again be seen, and that enjoyment of the show — as a part of it — was a singularly more important task than to photograph it exclusively, or to have a “better” view.
The official fireworks events had to have been lovely. But I’m rather glad I missed them in favour of the sight of a wee child in warm white tights and a beautiful blue wool coat crossing the street with her mother, pointing at the bright lights flashing and seeing the mother smile as she scooped the daughter for a better look (and probably to expedite the street-crossing process).
For a few moments, it was like living in a wonderland: a crazy, ridiculous, mildly disrespectful, joyous utopia of a wonderland where detachment from the realities which plague us is a necessary and integral component not just to the culture here but to the well-understood importance of satisfaction with life in general. It seemed as though at every prior moment in my life where there had been fireworks, there had been something else on my mind. Here, those concerns had no place (for now).
So I did my homework later.
Glasgow, Scotland does not give the option to ‘opt-out’ of any cultural event. There is no magic button you can press to be excluded from activities, nothing you can do to seclude yourself in a quiet corner so as to better comprehend the writings you’re mulling over. There is a camaraderie of debauchery and celebration associated with tonight which knows no bounds: everyone is a participant in cultural events in this city simply because those cultural events reach every corner of the populous in spirit and in practice. Glasgow is the crazy friend who pulls you from your flat when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the future and all of your unanswered questions, urging you to escape into some frivolous madness and somehow manages to find it in every corner of the world they happen upon — or force their way into.
It lives through the spirit of the participation of the people, and thereby, it embodies the existence of every person you have ever known to have drawn out from within you a true love for life and for living. It is the fighting until four in the morning to be followed at seven by laughter and play-fighting and collapsing in an exhausted heap before realizing that the impending night will call for the repetition of these events, and that you are doomed to never again sleep the same because you have fallen in love in every sense of the phrase, and there is no cure.
The phrase “People make Glasgow” is a popular identifier for the friendly, inclusive nature of the cultural climate here — and people really do make it a wonderful experience due to their unique individuality and a sociological demographic which cultivates polite, peaceful coexistence. The individuality of those people is responsible for the nature of the city: finding the darkest corners of the city and transforming them into a crazy, wonderful, insane, fun, immersive, excellent learning experience. People really do make Glasgow.
If you’re in Glasgow, you are Glasgow.