Oh how I loved Bonfire Night when I was a kid. It was one of the highlights of the year. For transatlantic readers let me explain that I'm talking about Guy Fawkes Night - an old English tradition which commemorates the Gunpowder Plot of 1601 when Catholic plotters failed in their attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament along with the new Protestant King - James I. Every November 5th we build bonfires and set off fireworks and we eat parkin cake and toffee apples. Usually there's a "guy" on the bonfire - a dummy man made from old clothes etc - he's meant to represent one of the Catholic plotters - Guido Fawkes.
Even from the age of six or seven I would visit the village shop with my pocket money and come home with extra fireworks to add to my proud collection - penny bangers, roman candles, "Vesuvius" volcanoes, "Jack in A Boxes", jumping jacks, Catherine Wheels and of course, the highlight of any Bonfire night - sky rockets. Nowadays only adults may purchase fireworks from licensed retailers and there's even talk of banning them completely.
Near the "Netto" grocery store I visit most Saturdays, I spotted the Wooseats Discount Fireworks Company. I marched in to be greeted with, "Can I help you sir?". "Yes. I want to buy the biggest rocket you've got left!". He produced an enormous beast of a firework. The stick was a metre long and the main body of the Chinese "Starbuster" rocket was a series of connecting tubes no doubt stuffed full with gunpowder. I staggered out of the shop minus twenty quid (I later told Shirley it was twelve - tee hee!)
Then tonight came. We'd finished our Sunday dinner so I went up our garden where I'd already prepared the launch site - a drainpipe rammed two feet into the soil. I lit the long blue fuse and scarpered back to the house in time to see this mother of a rocket surge straight upwards at a million miles an hour, dwarfing all the other neighbourhood rockets that were only vaguely illuminating the night sky. Then my SOB burst like a huge orange chrysanthemum just below the cloud cover briefly bringing the illusion of daylight back and then it rained purple and silver. I watched while the spent but still white hot rocket plunged back to Earth, praying it wouldn't land on my head. It didn't. But a few feet away on the other side of our garden hedge I heard it embed itself with an almighty thump in next door's lawn. Twenty quid well spent and I'm glad I again marked the night even though there was no bonfire party this year....
"Please do remember, the fifth of November.
Light up the sky with Standard fireworks!"