Ah fireworks. My old friends. Your whizz pop bangery is a source of sparkly delight to me. I regress whenever I see you.
More specifically I return to a memory where dear old dad nearly died, and I nearly died laughing.
Now near death experiences are not usually a laughing matter in my family, but since it was near death, not actual death, and no dads were permanently harmed in the making of this memory, I forgive myself absolutely for my response on the night.
Bargain box of fireworks purchased. Knitwear donned. Flashlights at the ready. Me and my sister Clare set out the fireworks with military precision. Grouping them together in little like-minded clusters, being careful to give Dad room to move between them, as he carefully lit them. One. By. One.
We gather together. Mum stays behind the conservatory door. Safely and warmly. Me and Clare, just outside on the step, all the better to smell the char in the air. The minor fireworks are great, colourful, crackling in the air. Dad has a little trouble coaxing the Catherine Wheel into life, but he gets it going in the end, and is only mildly disappointing. But no matter. Because here comes the finale. Here come the ROCKETS.
Now at this point, maybe I remembered the rattle in the box as I chucked it to the side, but more likely I didn’t even bother to check what vital piece of equipment was left behind. Besides those big rockets, with their big wooden sticks went into the ground relatively easily. Of course, we fitted them in nice and snug so they stood up straight and were easy to light. Thinking of Dad.
So he stumbles and fumbles around at the end of the garden, the flashlight bobbing around, the odd, stray swearword drifting down to us as he tries and fails to light the first rocket. Several matches down, the fuse bristles into life. Dad retreats to a safe distance. He thinks.
Just before the bang, with the rocket not moving anywhere (being so safely stuck into the ground) maybe I heard Dad say, “You remembered the plastic holder?” – the little plastic holder, the holder that you planted in the ground, the one that loosely held the rocket’s wooden stick, so that when ignited it could fly up into the air with ease and explode high in the sky. The holder that was rattling around in an otherwise empty box. On the ground. Forgotten.
The rocket erupted into action, and like a heat-seeking missile headed straight for Dad. Very clearly, I remember his face illuminated in a red glow, frozen in terror as the rocket advanced towards him. It tracked him, followed him round the bottom of the garden as he danced about madly, trying to get out of its way.
It ended up in a tree, whilst I was doubled up, painfully laughing, having just seen Dad lit in flashes by the firework as it flew towards him. Mum was safely behind the door, silently laughing. When she finishes, she pops her head out of the door, the memory of a laugh still in her voice as she asks “You ok John?”
We’ve not had fireworks in the garden again since. In fact, I can’t even sneak a sparkler past the front door.
This year, for safety and sanity’s sake, me and dear old Dad visited Stoke Park in Guildford for their annual firework fiesta on Bonfire Night. It was brilliant, and bright and fantastically impressive. All rockets exploded high up in the sky about our heads. As they should.
After the fireworks fizzled out, I wandered around the fun fair. There were queues for hot dogs and deep, sticky mud underfoot. But the kids of Guildford looked like they were having fun.
I hope you had a fantastic Bonfire Night, ate burgers, watched rockets explode in the sky and spent it laughing with your family.