Monday, November 06, 2006

Cracker night

Surrender, surrender, the Fifth of November
The whizzes, the bangs and the sparkle
I see no reason why Firework Season
Should be such a big debacle.

Bonfire Night is my least favourite night of the year, closely followed by Valentines’ Night and that annual agonising display of torture known as Children In Need Night. I know Scotland Yard hasn’t done much to be proud of in recent times but do we really need to be celebrating the arrest of Britain’s first terror bomber 401 years later?

The prospect of attending a house party where slightly tipsy blokes stagger about the garden in the dark trying to read the instructions on the back of a flimsy chinese explosive-filled tube with a lighter leaves me cold. Organised displays are not much better.

My parents arranged a large Village Bonfire in the disused quarry every year. The fireworks would be stored in wooden crates in our shop, the one we used as a playroom, for weeks beforehand. I knew not to go anywhere near them or else I would die. Instead I would return to the shop door 2 or 3 times every minute to check I couldn’t detect smoke or signs of smouldering. I was a bundle of neuroses whenever Nana lit a cigarette lest a stray spark jumped across 3 rooms and set the whole lot off.

One morning, Dad and a bunch of his friends, all people I had known all my life, loaded the cargo-container-sized boxes onto the back of his truck and a tractor-trailer from Wells’ farm. I knew nor cared not where they went but I would relax only once the threat of them had left.

Later, Nana would wrap us in bobble hats and itchy scarves and walk us up the hill to a lively scene on the windy Lincolnshire Wold Top. I liked the smell of the jacket potatoes and soup that my Mum and some of the other ladies stirred. Everybody I knew was there, stamping their feet on the clodden earth, dry ice breath preceding every greeting. Dad’s truck and the tractors were parked up, with leads running from them to the lights. I couldn’t see any sign of the drivers.

There were some scaffolding towers across the field that I hadn’t noticed before. Figures were moving about in the dark beneath them. A scarecrow perched on our old settee, the one that Meggie the dog had slept on, above a mound of wooden junk. A figure was walking towards it. I recognised Dad immediately. He stopped when he got to the edge of the towering heap. I watched as he threw water from an oil can he was carrying all around the base. He took out a box of matches, the sort that Nana used to light her smelly fags and lent forward.

I started screaming as soon as I realised what was happening. The flames were already licking up the scarecrow’s leg and it was only a matter of seconds before they engulfed Dad. He couldn’t hear me over the roar of the fire and the silly laughter of the crowd. I tried to run to him but Grandad held my hand tightly. He stepped away. I screamed louder as he turned to walk away from me, back towards the strange towers. I wanted him to come and take me home, to safety. Sparks flew, borne on the keen wind. I couldn’t see the firework crates but I feared they might be close enough to catch alight.

The first explosion stunned me. It came from the direction that I had last seen Dad. No-one could have survived it. It was closely followed by another of equally devastating magnitude. I was hysterical, uncontrollable. I was trying to make them understand that my Daddy might be lying injured, needing me, or more likely an ambulance as I was led away, sobbing to Old Mr Wells’ Austin Allegra. I sucked jerkily on a proffered humbug which seemed to have a calming effect after 20 minutes or so, helped by the radio which drowned out the deafening blitzkreig taking place over the car. Mr Wells offered me another just to be on the safe side. I was almost starting to breathe again when something struck the car roof. It was a rocket fallen from the sky. Surely now we would be incinerated alive.

I don’t recall ever journeying with Old Mr Wells again after that short, rapid descent down the hill to the High Street but he always gave me a sweet whenever he saw me over the next few years, only now they were always Gobstoppers.


Blogger homo escapeons said...

Holy Wickerman!
What a great story. I envisioned the entire story through your inner child's was so vividly retold.
That would have been a fantastic ceremony to a child and I loved how you added all of your angst about your cute.

Great idea storing the 'TNT' in the playroom for a couple of weeks..HAHAHA..gee what could possibly go wrong with that idea?

2:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm breathless!

2:12 am  
Blogger andrea said...

No wonder! That was incredibly vivid, CP. As for my childhood, I remember the annual Hallowe'en fireworks display as the interminable end of an exhausting night of intense excitement, cold, discomfort (costume) and confusion. But this year is the first year I have decided that I officially hate all fireworks and wish their perpetrators dead.

At 9:30 last night I let my dog out for his final pee and some bozo with leftover firecrackers nearby sent him over the fence and into the night in terror. He is terrified of fireworks, spends most of the fireworks seasons under a chair, shaking and panting uncontrollably, but this time he got away. I drove around in a downpour for two hours looking for him. Finally gave up, went to bed and waited all night for the phone to ring (our phone number is on his collar) while I struggled in and out of my ski boot (night splint for my foot) to check out front every two hours. I finally gave up all pretence of sleep and got up at 5:00. He arrived home at 6:00, wet, exhausted and *so* happy to be home. I was never so happy to see a dog in my life.

I should be posting over on my blog, not on your comments, don'tcha think?

3:47 am  
Blogger Frontier Editor said...


What a juxtaposition. I remember my first Guy Fawkes night. Nowhere near as terrifying as yours, but it was in the middle of a demobbed RAF station runway and a pile of debris and kindling that seemed as tall as St. Michael's Mount. A pitch-black night, and I stared for what seemed hours at a Guy Fawkes made of a flightsuit and a Mae West that went BOOMMM as the heat cooked off the CO2 cartridge.

It was pretty tribal.

3:52 am  
Blogger kj said...

cherry pie and andrea: i love you both! two great stories for the price of one post...

cp--it sounds like your were scared ****less. i would have been too.


5:06 am  
Blogger Stegbeetle said...

With you all the way on this one C.P.
I wonder just how many adult neuroses have been caused by fireworks as a child?

7:51 am  
Blogger Dave said...

Hope this weekend hasn't been too traumatic for you then. I stayed in and kept the curtains closed - you could have come round here, and shared a gobstopper.

7:54 am  
Blogger Ces said...

Cherry Pie, you should start thinking about writing a novel. You are a great story teller. I read every word you wrote and could see everything. What an experience!

10:33 am  
Anonymous cream said...

Great anecdote, Cherrybabe!

11:20 am  
Blogger ziggi said...

you are a great narrator - such a shame you had such an experience because (good) fireworks are great and there's nothing better than a roaring fire and excuse to burn his old suit!

1:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have my sympathy. If Guy Fawkes was one night I could tolerate it but it goes on for weeks.

Valentines Day is great IF !!

As for Children in Need, I wonder how many of them donate normally? but the chance of there name on the telly.....

2:37 pm  
Blogger Mise said...

Poor Cherry .... you've probably got an equally hair-raising story about Santa ...Fireworks were illegal (for obvious reasons)and continue to be strictly licenced in Ireland we only ever managed to get a few bangers to frighten old ladies and dogs ..we were cruel little savages then!

5:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully told Cherrypie!

I know I hated them when I was younger and I'm not much of a fan today. For that matter, most kids I know are terrified of the damned things - it makes you wonder why people still bother

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JK. Rowling watch out. ?
Another wonderful told story, gripping to last word, awaiting next instalment

10:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have some scary memories of Guy Fawkes Night, too. Like the family who had their crackers in a little cardboard school bag.On the knees of their little boy.In his little pram.Yes, someone's mis-tossed banger landed in it. It was the biggest bloody catherine wheel ever.People thought it was a guy and cheered and whooped. My father realised what had happened and flung himself onto the spinning pram.The child lived, but probably still has burn scars on his face.And as for animal terror...!
That said, I've seen some "pretty" ones.Just glad they don't celebrate the day in Australia (summertime, so too dangerous for fires)Oops! I've hogged your blog! Sorry, but thanks for the jolt.

9:52 pm  

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