Saturday, 5 November 2011


Fireworks used only to happen once a year on Guy Fawkes Night and then only in a modest display in the back garden.  These days huge municipal displays light up the sky for any old reason.   There are as many displays as there are ODIs.

For Fantasy Bob 5 November was always Guy Fawkes and he never knew it as Bonfire Night - largely because his family never bothered with the bonfire, they just got straight to the good sparkly whizzy part of the evening. Fantasy Bob well remembers lighting Roman Candles or Mount Vesuvius and scampering across the wet grass of the back garden to a place of refuge.  He was entrusted with the solemn duty of letting off the selection box of Standard squibs from the age of 2 onwards.  For Standard Fireworks dominated the market at that time and their products were Yorkshire made.  Now there is no UK production, and while Standard is still a significant name in the market it no more than a brand name for the Chinese Black Cat company. 

Fawkes being arrested -
 contemporary photograph
Guy Fawkes' name is not even a brand name anymore and is fast receding along with any recall of the murky depths of British religious and constitutional history.  The story of Guy Fawkes and the failed conspiracy to rid England of James the VI and I and replace him with a Catholic monarch has much to interest cricketers.   Celebration of the plot's failure was made a day of national celebration through an Act of Parliament in 1606.  This Act was only repealed in 1859. 

There is no indication that Fawkes played cricket - it would have been remarkable if he had, given that he died 5 years before the first record of the game being played as an adult sport.  But he is described as tall and  powerfully built and being a Yorkshire man (like Standard fireworks) he might well have had something to offer the game, perhaps in the Sidebottom mould.  But it was not to be - he travelled to Spain and fought on their side in the 80 Years War against the Dutch Republic.  He returned to England fell among conspirators and got up to no good.  Cricket could have saved him - but then we wouldn't have had fireworks.

The original Penny Banger -
must not be held in the hand
Things were much more relaxed in FB's younger pyromaniac phase.  He and chums would buy Penny Bangers - or even better Threepenny Cannons - and get up to all kinds of nonsense with them.  These were very basic fireworks - basically gunpowder in a small cardboard tube which would explode with a loud crack.  Fantastic.  The favourite trick was to stick them in a potato light them and toss them in the air or at your chums - when the banger went off there would be mashed potato everywhere.  Bad boys threw them at cats and may even have put them through letter boxes.  But those were very bad boys indeed.  Penny Bangers were outlawed in the UK in 1997.

For the UK is very safety conscious on the firework front. Things are a bit different abroad.  You might think that Austria is a conservative land, famous for mountains, neatness, mountains, order  mellifluous music and more mountains.  You might expect that such a land would exercise some discipline in the firework department.  You would be wrong.  Bigtime.  FB has spent many New Years on the ski slopes there and the Austrians go mad with fireworks.  Everyone lets them off at the same time.  In the street, in the fields, from balconies.  Whoosh bang whizz (in German).  Rockets are held at arm's length - who needs a milk bottle?  FB has seen jolly Austrians roaming the street with a blowtorch in one hand and a bag of Black Cat's best in the other.  And they never had Guy Fawkes.  FB is putting himself in danger again this year - but he will be packing his flak suit along with the ski gear.

World famous Edinburgh displays
FB's years of firework lighting passed off without incident.  He may be fortunate.  One year he was unable to officiate at the annual party offered by his parents in law.  Now father in law unlike FB's parents was a man for a bonfire.  But on this particular evening the material was damp and he was struggling to get it going.  No problem,he thought,  a trip to his garage brought out a canister of petrol which got things going - really going, really really going.  Going to the extent that the neighbours thought that the blitz was being reenacted and called the police.  Two young officers duly turned up.  The door was opened to them at the precise time that one of those new huge 50 shot Black Cat fireworks started its cannonade.  The police officers ducked for cover.  They had never come under armed attack before.  Desperately they radioed for support form the anti-terrorist squad as the fusillade continued.  Father in law was blissfully ignorant of what was happening at the other side of the house as he congratulated himself on getting a good blaze going.  He threw the last drops of petrol on and warmed his hands.  The house remained under observation for several years as a possible terrorist cell.

Take care fireworks are dangerous.  If you are letting any off tonight make sure pets, animals and cricketers are kept safely indoors.

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