A fifth to remember

Saturday 5th November 2011

SNOW Storm, Mine of Serpents, Cannon and Thundercrash: you’d save pocket money for weeks, spend half-term collecting wood; if you didn’t have a buggy or old pram, you carried the guy, but its wellies kept falling off; please don’t let it rain.

For years it was in the field by the doctor’s house. I was good pals with his son. Gang of us built it; rising like a temple. Not much cardboard then and no skips on the street, but we made do. And there’d always be a mattress, chucked up there by many hands.

Grown-ups took over on the big night, mind, with rubber-cased torches and hammered-in pipe-lengths for the rockets. Sparklers were for babies. We’d get down close, poking toffee apple sticks into the furnace, using them to light jumping crackers, to lob behind sisters.

A couple of times, though, it was in our garden.

Darkness can’t come soon enough; bobble hats, cut-off mittens; Mum feeds the bellies, Dad the flames. Blue touch-papers he dares to light with the glowing end of his cigarette: how magnificent he is, how puissant.

Roman Candles and Golden Rains on the wall by the rockery, but the dangerous showpieces – the larger Catherine Wheels, a few Jack-in-a-Box’s, the sky rockets – are up by the fire, for much later. We tuck into crisps and ginger snaps. You juggle jacket potatoes from gloved hand to gloved hand until they cool a little.

It was probably a Traffic Light that did it; or a Jet Scream or High Ball; one of those that ends with a whoosh and then a fire-ball ascends, this time to scoot along the garage roof, watched by all eyes, and fall, with appalling accuracy, from eave to table, by the fire, where waits the fireworks box, its lid cocked slightly open, like a dislodged tile, and…

Boom, bang, whizz, fizzle, screech!

I run. We all do, to the sanctuary of steps and the light of open doors. Not quite the London blitz, but feels like it.

Glancing back, I see my father, in the orange flame-light, casting water from a bucket over the exploding works of fire.

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