So, did you have a good Un-Bonfire Night?
It was last night, in case you missed it. Or, alternatively, it could be tomorrow night. The only night it couldn’t possibly be is the 5th November. You see, if Lewis Carroll could have 364 Un-Birthdays in each year, then I don’t see why I can’t have the same amount of Un-Bonfire Nights.
Actually, I’m a bit behind the times with this concept because, of late, the British have taken to the idea of igniting fireworks at every possible juncture, as if we had all been drafted into The Royal Artillery when we weren’t looking. Nowadays any spurious reason for celebration is seen as a good excuse to chuck a couple of tons of ordnance into the air.
It never used to be like this. In my childhood, fireworks were reserved for 5th November (remember?) and were usually not very impressive. Do you recall those little ‘family selection’ boxes that usually contained one Catherine Wheel, two or three Roman Candles, a couple of Jumping Jacks, a Banger or two and a Rocket with some improbable and wildly optimistic name like GIANT STARCHASER. The whole thing would cost about half a week’s pay and would be over and done with inside five minutes. If I sound cynical, I do apologise but I was never a fan of fireworks as a child. I couldn’t stand loud bangs and I tended to think that standing around in the cold, damp, November night waiting for something that cost a fortune to NOT go off (more often than not), was something of a pointless exercise.
Can you imagine the reaction of the Health and Safety gurus if you suggested selling something as monumentally dangerous as a Jumping Jack today? “Well, we thought we would have this firework that, when you ignite it, jumps unpredictably around the feet of the children, making loud bangs at each bounce. The kiddies will love it!” And what about rockets tilting precariously in yesterday’s milk bottle? Or the Catherine Wheel nailed hopefully to next door’s wooden fence, with predictable results (irate neighbour, badly-burnt fence and the attention of the Fire Brigade)?
The most memorable firework display that I can recall, takes me back to 1967. My Aunt and Uncle owned a successful corner shop in Walker Street, Burton, and had just decided to expand by buying the shop that Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings had run for years in Uxbridge Street. My Mum had been given a part-time job serving at this shop and she had to sort out the stock remaining after years of the Rawlings’ tenure. In the midst of all this, she found a box of very ancient fireworks that she gave to me (I can hear the Health and Safety mob’s sharp intake of breath from here!) It was mid-summer and, as we were living at my Grandparents’ house at the time, I guessed that they would not be too happy about an impromptu firework display. Quite what made me take them up to my Auntie Vera and Uncle Jim’s house in Burton Road, I don’t know, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.
I turned up at Auntie Vera’s clutching a paper bag full of odd and unusual fireworks, probably dating from the Dawn of Time. I didn’t have much hope that we would do anything with them because Auntie Vera was a great one for doing things by the rules and, it clearly was not Bonfire Night. Therefore, I was amazed when, as dusk fell, she said “Are we going to try those fireworks then?” Neither of us knew whether any of them would work, or whether they would explode in a shower of dust and debris. Surprisingly, most (they were of the Roman Candle/Golden Rain type) worked really well and we had quite a show.
As I stood there with Auntie Vera watching these ancient fireworks on a warm summer’s evening, both of us studiously not looking to see what the neighbours thought of our antics, I relished our mini-rebellion and celebrated my first Un-Bonfire Night.
There are three collections of Philip's stories, 'Steady Past Your Granny's' and 'Crutches for Ducks' and 'A Kick at the Pantry Door' are available as Kindle e-books at all Amazon sites, along with his first foray into humorous fiction, 'Jambalaya'.