On bonfire night it rained. It started to spit when Anna and I went to buy jumpers to keep us warm for the evening around the fire (they wouldn’t keep out the wet). A large group of people were excited about the venture to the Isis tavern in Iffley: a long walk into the wooded area, along the river, and then the pub with its bonfire, sparklers, mulled wine, and live music. It was spitting as we left (umbrellas and raincoats on). The rain increased. We were soaked. I like being wet or dirty when it’s an outing or a story to tell later so I was quite happy by the dampness, the wet feet, the plastered hair, the wind, the splashing buses, the grim gargoyles gurgling above us, everything. It was like captaining a ship in a fine gale: a brisk trot headed south for the river, all in shipshape and thoroughly soaked.
On the Magdalen Bridge half of our number went back. Yes, they abandoned the drenched woods, the lit river, and the bonfire on the fifth of November for another evening at the college bar. Because it was raining. (I’m revoking their English cards.) Onward six intrepid travelers down the Iffley road, through quiet streets, interrupted by bangs! from sporadic hardcore fireworks enthusiasts. The clouds were so low that they reflected the city lights into the water – a clouded surface on which the ducks swam happily, uncaring of the hour or the wet weather. A puddled path. The smell of wood?
The rain was coming down so hard at this point that a bonfire – the main draw – could not be depended upon. But we got to the Isis, and surely enough there was a bonfire - a pile of large embers superficially flaming, but a bonfire nevertheless. The inside was horrendously packed (visitors sadly misunderstanding the queue system) and the mulled wine ran out three times, but eventually we had our drinks and stood under the marquee and around the fire, dripping, sizzling, sparklers in hand, and victorious. Later, in the room where the music was playing, listening to some man sing Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in falsetto (video here for the uninitiated, like me), knowing we’d have to go back outside into the unstopping rain, not knowing how much like an eel I looked (as Inman says in Cold Mountain: Ah’m wetter than a feesh. I cain’t get much wetter), happiness.
(Picture actually of Isis from the other side of the Thames. We were round the back)