What does the 5th November mean? Well, here in my village it means a huge and seemingly never ending fusillade of thunderclaps, noise bombs, stun bangers…. and two terrified dogs plus one slightly bewildered one (Pip isn’t bright enough to be afraid). It means screaming rockets, whining Catherine wheels, lightning flashes, explosions, whole firing squads of air bombs…. it’s a very silly way to waste a lot of money and to send too many people to A&E departments.
I am not a fan.
And what’s it ‘celebrating‘ anyway? Ostensibly it’s a celebration that the gunpowder plot against the Houses of Parliament, way back in 1605 was foiled. It was scheme by a group of Catholics, including a bloke called Babington, to sabotage Parliament and assassinate the Queen (Elizabeth I) . Now, I’m all for sabotage generally, but a few casks of dynamite under the great edifice of Westminster? Hardly going to do more than aggravate a few rats. And anyway, I feel a certain sympathy because I once owned the house that had been built by the Babington family and when he was arrested and executed the house was confiscated from the remaining family members. I don’t know if the guilty Babington ever visited the house I later owned but it’s nice to think that he might have, and maybe he enjoyed the lovely Derbyshire air, sat at the hearth and dozed, before losing his head.
I have a story about fireworks, are you sitting comfortably? When my Mam was very ill we lived in Northern Ireland, and the Army agreed to fly her in a hospital plane back to England to die. But her children couldn’t travel with her – the plane was like a flying intensive care unit- so two aunties came over to take my brother and me back to England by boat. When we arrived in Lancashire, I suppose wanting to make us feel better about everything, in the way that grown-ups did in those days, we were given ten shillings. Now, ten shillings was a fortune! Unbelievable! It was like £20 now! We were stunned. My brother Peter, was a very unhappy lad, an angry young man. He was 13 and I was nearly 8. And he loved whizz-bangs. He told me that we had been given this money for fireworks only. I was upset because there were so many other things we could have done with it, like dolls and stuff… and I have never ever liked bloomin’ fireworks… but “Aunty Nellie said it’s just for fireworks.”
Peter told me that by happy happenstance there was a huge glorious big box of fireworks for sale in Woolworths, and it was exactly ten shillings! Exactly! Almost like it was meant to be.
And of course, Peter was in charge so…. on 5th November we were going to have a fabulous, fabulous time.
Mammy was in bed in the front room, exhausted after the journey, my Aunty Nellie was with her, so it was just Peter and me and a few of the local kids in the back yard, with a box of matches and the biggest most thrilling box of fireworks you have ever seen. Black and gold with red lettering, a picture of a really evil looking Guy Fawkes…. Peter was wild with excitement. He did all the right things… set up stakes for the rockets and the Catherine wheels… had us all at a good distance… warned us all severely about not moving from our designated spots… and then he lit the first rocket. I think he probably lit two or three fireworks, as we “Ooohed’ and Aaahed”.
13 years old and very very important, orchestrating the show of all shows.
And then a match burnt down too far, scorching his fingers…. he dropped it … and it landed right in the middle of the big glorious box of fireworks.
Crash, whizz, bang, spin, wheee, zzzoooom!
All hell broke loose. Thunderclaps deafened us, screams of panic, rockets lit up the tiny yard… too bright to see, silhouettes strobing, the world gone mad, screaming missiles rising ten foot and nosediving down to the cobbles, sparks and smells and …. Terrified, blinded, deafened, stumbling, pushing, panicking…. We scattered… I ran back indoors followed by Peter, now screaming with terror…. we slammed the door and stood there, while the world outside exploded into a thousand colours… and we couldn’t see any of it. Weeping, snotty, coughing.
And since then, quite frankly, fireworks haven’t improved their reputation. When our daughter was about 7 we took her to Markeaton Park in Derby for the usual magnificent firework display, for a lovely evening out and hot dogs etc… all safely distanced from the hot stuff. We were watching the rockets and making all the right appreciative noises, her little expectant face turned up to the sky… and a spark from a rocket went in her eye.
So. Fireworks? You can stick ’em!