A closer inspection reveals that, rather than migrants or medieval pillagers, these are the children of the city, getting set for their single favourite thing of the year, the Hallowe’en bonfire.
The skirmish parties consist of two or three boys in groups. One of each group is dragging a wooden palette on the road behind him. Bear in mind that the roads are essentially closed to traffic while these troops march by – the rules of the road do not apply to them.
Behind the skirmish parties, as it inevitably must, comes the heavy artillery. In this case, it’s some sort of trolley piled high with palettes, while the striplings dance attendance around it. This is the centerpiece of the action, the motherlode of the Ceremony of Fire that is to come.
And bringing up the rear, then, were bicycled outriders, for once too pre-occupied to do wheelies, each signaling to the others where the army had marched on ahead.
The entire army is almost entirely made up of schoolboys, none of whom is old enough to shave. There was one girl, a George among the Julians and Dicks. Perhaps more of the fairer sex will come out after dark, once the ceremony has begun.
The boys are nearly all dressed in tracksuits, certainly the ubiquitous grey (off-white?) tracksuit bottoms, but some are wearing labourers’s gloves. More are wearing yellow or orange high-viz vests.
The high-viz vests are initially a mystery until you remember that these are only children. They’re wearing high-viz vests because they’re playing at being grown-ups. Grown-ups wear high-viz vests, therefore the children shall wear high-viz vests, and wear labouring gloves to show that they’re hard.
It’s all very winsome, until you remember that tonight they will build a bonfire that’s three or four times bigger than themselves, light it and then lose all control of what happens next.
The thing could topple over and burn them. The wind could rise, blow a piece of the bonfire where it’s not supposed to be and set part of the city ablaze. They have no idea of the consequences and, being children, can’t have an idea. How could they? They’re too young to understand. Childhood is about Now. Consequences live in a land beyond the edge of that innocent world.
The children’s parents, however, should be a little more aware of consequences. They should reflect deeply about how they’re raising their kids, just as society should think deeply about the annual toleration extended to Hallowe’en bonfires. It’ll be too late when something – or someone – is burned to the ground.