Although the story of Guy Fawkes was drilled into us at school, it was one of those things that really didn’t sink in. If it did, it would have occurred to me that not everyone in the world celebrates Guy Fawkes Day. It would seem that we’re not going to be doing so any longer either.
We celebrate Guy Fawkes here by letting off fireworks. It is a day that brings back millions of happy childhood memories for me. Dad setting fireworks up in buckets of sand on the back lawn while we sat ‘well back’ and watched with mixed fear and excitement while he lit them and then ran off. There would always be a hose ready in case of disaster. There were never any disasters (which would surprise you if you knew my dad). As we got older, we were allowed to write our names in the sky with sparklers. Older still and we were allowed to light the fireworks ourselves. It was Guy Fawkes day in my 12th year that I discovered my inner pyromaniac.
Every kiwi kid is taught to respect fireworks. The lesson doesn’t sink in for some. I guess I’m one of those. I remember at university throwing this firework shaped like a bee into someone’s hostel room. It flew around the room twice and then went straight up his trouser leg. He wasn’t badly hurt, which only served to encourage me. Every year I came up with interesting ways to entertain myself with fireworks. Last year things came to a head when I set one off on the lawn at mum and dad’s place and it fell over and shot onto the deck. It flew into their clothesline and circled around just long enough to burn 5 of dad’s work shirts.
Over the years fireworks have evolved. For most of my childhood you could get a range of things that were nothing more than gunpowder and a fuse. They had no beauty – they just went off with a loud bang. We would bind heaps of them together to make huge bombs. It was sort of a rite of youth. In retrospect, it was just stupid. The government obviously thought so – they banned them a few years back.
Over the last decade the laws have gotten tighter and tighter. The range of fireworks that are available decrease each year, as does the period of time in which you can buy them. Ironically, just about all you can get now are long sticks that shoot flaming balls into the air. Can you imagine anything more fun? They are effectively just guns. Shooting them at trees results in huge balls of sparks lighting up the foliage. It’s just asking for trouble. But then, that’s what makes them so much fun.
We had a particularly entertaining fireworks experience in Mauritius a few years back. We were there for Chinese New Year. There don’t seem to be any restrictions over there (admittedly, we don’t speak their language) so we filled the boot of our rental truck up with enough pyrotechnics to blow the whole country out of the water. What we didn’t know when we set them up in lines along the beach was that the crabs come to the surface at dusk. There are no longer any crabs in Mauritius.
Finally it looks as though the fire department may have won their bid to get the things banned. They want no sales at all to the public – you have to go to organised displays.
While I am bitterly disappointed, I don’t oppose the ban. If it saves the 10 or so kids that get badly burned every year, or means that no one loses their house in fireworks related fires, then it’s got to be a good thing.
Actually, come to think of it, why the hell do we celebrate the fact that some guy burned down parliament in some other country, hundreds of years ago?