As kids, we'd chant: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November: gunpowder, treason and plot,” and collect "A penny for the guy" - which, in truth, meant a penny (or maybe something more) with which to buy FIREWORKS!!
I love fireworks. Always have. Always will.
I remember a particular 5th November when I was, maybe, four years old and, due to a bad asthma attack, was not allowed to go out into the garden in case I inhaled the bonfire-smoky, cordite-laden air.
So I had to stay indoors and stood, nose to kitchen window-pane, listening for every whiz, pop and bang, and watching wide-eyed as dazzling blazes of light sprang up into the night sky above roof-top and chimney-pot and then fell as shimmering cascades of stars…
There was real romance about fireworks… The garishly coloured posters of the various manufacturers - Astra, Pains, Brock, Wessex and Standard whose TV sing-song jingle I can still recall word for word, note for note: “Please to remember the Fifth of November; Light up the sky with Standard Fireworks!”
Then there were those brightly printed boxes, their contents wrapped in tissue paper - green, pink, blue and purple - and with names that conjured such wondrous imaginings, promised such magical enchantments…
There were the classics, of course, the Catherine Wheel (named after the fate of that most unfortunate saint), the Jack-in-the-Box and the Roman Candle but the real delights were those that remained a tantalising mystery until the moment when one "lit the blue touch paper and retired"…
Many of these names were inspired by flight and even aerial warfare: ‘Helicopter’, ‘Aeroplane’, ‘Spitfire’ and ‘Air Bomb’; and, from the 1950s onwards, ‘Skyrocket’, ‘Flying Saucer’, ‘Star Ship’ and ‘Retro Jet’.
Other fireworks, not surprisingly, took names with astronomical connotations: ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Golden Orion’, ‘Aurora’, ‘Meteor’, ‘Halley’s Comet’, ‘Star Stream’ and the stunningly-sounding ‘Galactic Thunderstorm’!
Storms were often present in the firework box - among them Snowstorms, Sandstorms and Tropical Storms - together with such other meteorological fantasies as the ‘Polar Whirlwind’.
Precious metals and gemstones were liberally scattered through any decent selection: ‘Silver Rain’ and ‘Golden Splendour’, ‘Diamond Cascade’ and ‘Emerald Casket’, although it was comparatively rare to find a much-to-be-desired ‘Koh-i-noor’…
There were fireworks with horticultural associations: ‘Chrysanthemum Fountain’, ‘Marigold Spray’ and ‘Shamrock Shooter’; and the animal kingdom was also represented with Flamingos and Fireflies, Screech Owls, Vampire Bats, Hornets’ Nests, Humming Spiders, Butterfly Twinklers and what would probably be Indiana Jones least-favourite firework - the ‘Mine of Serpents’!
The world’s natural wonders provided suitable monikers for such items as the ‘Coloured Niagara’, the ‘Everest Cone’ and assorted volcanoes including ‘Mount Vesuvius’, ‘Mount Etna’ and ‘Stromboli’.
But by far the most enthralling names sprang out of the worlds of fantasy and fable: ‘Harlequin’, ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Banshee’; ‘Fairy Fountain’, ‘Elfin Spurs’, ‘Goblin Forge Fire’, ‘Dragon’s Tooth’, ‘Crackling Cauldron’ and ‘Hydra-Headed Comet’. There was even a biblical reference casually thrown in (although, of course, one should never throw fireworks themselves!) in the form of a Moses-style ‘Burning Bush’.
Fireworks are now no longer a fabulous treat to be savoured on just one night of the year, but whilst they are now heard exploding pretty much any old time, those of us who grew up in the years of post-war austerity will always associate them with this day, November 5th, and will have fond memories of praying that it wouldn’t rain and, (if it didn’t) of standing in the cold, twirling sparklers, jumping at three-penny bangers, waiting to see exactly what a ‘Whirligig’ would look like when it started to whirl and “Ooh-ing” and “Ah-ing” as Golden Zodiacs erupted and Amber Electrolytes, Hot Rods, Radium Dazzlers and Blazing Wigwams revealed their various bedazzlements.
But how we would have loved one of those really exotic fireworks which were only ever seen on the manufacturer’s posters, but were never stocked by our local toyshop or newsagent - fireworks such as ‘Devil Amongst the Tailors’ described as “juggling balls of fire followed by an explosion of wriggling serpents”!
Who wouldn’t want to light the touch paper of one of those?
[Images from the highly-nostalgic Firework Museum.]