Hot off the heels of Hallowe’en comes Bonfire Night. No sooner are the pumpkins rotting in bins than plans are afoot to either go to a display or have a much less impressive one of our own.
I bloody loved Bonfire Night as a boy. I found the run-up so exciting, popping to the shops with Dad to pick a box of Standard Fireworks to light in our back garden. To say I was easily pleased when it came to fireworks is rather an understatement, as these were mainly crap, looking back. Mum and dad knew this, but they humoured me anyway, and I loved wrapping up warm in a big parka, eating a jacket potato while dad would be in charge of lighting duties. Being a bit of an odd kid, I insisted that dad announce the name of every firework beforehand so I knew what to expect. Bit pointless really, as the boxes mainly consisted of ‘traffic lights’, that briefly splutter three colours. Then there were the ones that did exactly the same but in one colour, but had a million different names that sounded really exciting, like ‘sonic boom’ and ‘cascade’. They never lived up to their names. And there were the rockets and Catherine wheels. Now those two were exciting, and we’d always save the latter for the grand finale. We had to, as it was always a lottery as to whether the wheel would be secured properly by dad and would spin off the fencepost, potentially ending the display with him being rushed to hospital. Thankfully that never happened. Incidentally, did you know that Catherine wheels are named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria? I didn’t ever. Apparently, Christian tradition claims that she was condemned to death on an execution wheel, but when she touched it magically flew to pieces. Lucky Cath.
Obviously as I got older, this tradition came to an end, but I do recall finally going to a public display while I was at university at a pub in York. Something went wrong and the whole thing was a disaster, with one rocket narrowly missing my face. I now look at the experience as a metaphor for my time at uni.
After meeting Mummy Cool, we revived the garden fireworks ritual as it’s close to my father-in-law’s birthday. We gather like hillbillies round a bonfire, have a few drinks and laugh at the fact back-garden fireworks are no more exciting than when we were children. In fact, they’re less so, as I’m sure some have been banned since the 80s.
I do miss the public information films that used to be shown on TV growing up, which is a weird thing to admit, as some of them scared me shitless. I could cope with Hale and Pace singing bits of the firework code to ‘Da do ron ron ron’, but the little girl picking up a sparkler off the ground and letting out an ear-splitting scream was terrifying. None were scarier than the blind boy watching other children having fun on November 5thfrom afar. He couldn’t enjoy it anymore because ‘a firework blew up in his face!’, as the narrator coldly stated. At the end of the PIF, him and all the other blinded children were stood silently on a hill together, looking very fed up. Thank you, Central Office of Information, you really did scare the living shit out of a generation.
Now we have children of our own, in a classic case of wanting to outdo your own childhood, we tried displays while Blondie and Red were very young. But one year the pub we went to chose to let all their really noisy ones off at once, which caused Blondie to have a mild nervous breakdown and we fled ASAP. Blondie has always been a cautious, sometimes anxious girl, so it took a few years, but I knew we’d cracked it when, while sat on my shoulders at another display, she whooped and giggled with delight at the flashing colours and loud bangs, and announced to lots of strangers around us that the fireworks sounded like her trumps. She’s not far wrong.
Red is generally braver than Blondie, but not when it comes to noises. She hates being out in the wind, and is scared of handdryers, so this year it’ll just be me and Blondie once more until she’s ready. In a sign that Blondie is fast overtaking me when it comes to bravery, she loved going on the waltzers last year before the display. I didn’t. I hated it and genuinely thought I might have to throw up by the end.
I have to admit to having an ulterior motive when it comes to taking my children to displays though. I don’t want to take over from my dad or father-in-law and be the one to do the lighting in our back garden. I am so clumsy, I still think I could end up like the blind children on the hill. No thanks.