Remembering when Bonfire Night wasn’t a week-long noise nuisance

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guy Fawkes’ Night – or Bonfire Night, if your prefer.

As a child it was something of a non-event in that my parents instead gave me extra pocket money rather than investing in stuff which quite literally went up in smoke.

Thus, from the late Seventies to the mid-Eighties my younger brother Matt and I could be found on the evening of November 5 sitting on the ottoman and staring up at the sky through the bay window in mum and dad’s bedroom.

We watched for free the fireworks being let off from neighbour’s gardens and the distant bonfires.

The explosions may have been smaller and quieter but in truth I was frightened to death of sparklers and preferred to spend any money I had on toy soldiers or Panini stickers.

Back then, of course, Bonfire Night wasn’t the week-long noise nuisance it is now and so November 5 was rather special.

People didn’t tend to let off fireworks at weddings, for Diwali or the Chinese New Year or, indeed, store in their shed enough explosives for their New Year’s Eve celebrations to take out a Challenger tank.

These days anyone with a pet dog, like yours truly, will be seriously considering sedating them for several days in order to minimise the stress caused by the modern-day equivalent of The Blitz.

I recall small community bonfires such as one I attended at Smallthorne WMC but genuinely had no concept that events such as Betley Bonfire attracted thousands of people every year.

What had begun at Betley Court Farm in the 1950s as annual thank you from the farmer to his customers had, by the late Seventies, become a huge money-spinner for local charities attracting upwards of 12,000 people – depending on the weather.

Around that time Stoke-on-Trent’s first council-run bonfire and fireworks display was being staged at Fenton Recreation Ground – as part of a concerted attempt by local authorities to help reduce the number of casualties in backyards and on waste ground.

Meanwhile, the Government was bombarding us with public information adverts on telly which scarred a generation.

Many will remember the one, presumably narrated by Harry Enfield’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner, which started with the words: “There’s a child who’s life has changed in the last year…”

It went on to tell how the boy in question, whose face was obscured, couldn’t play football or cross the road unaided and wouldn’t be able to enjoy Bonfire Night because someone had thrown a firework at him.

Find it on the internet – I guarantee you it’s sure to bring back the nightmares from your childhood.

These days my children are old enough to stay up and appreciate November 5 – and I always make sure I reiterate the origins of this peculiarly British celebration. That is that we celebrate the foiling of a plot by a terrorist to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King.

Or, depending on your view of life, the capture of “the last man to enter Parliament with honourable intentions.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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Why are we allowed to waste our money on fireworks?

I think, that at 39, I am officially old. It’s not the increasing prevalence of grey hairs which makes me feel this way.
No. It is my intolerance for people having fun in relation to one of our great British traditions.
I simply cannot get my head around our fascination with fireworks and the fact that ordinary people are able to get their hands on enough ordnance to, er, blow up the Houses of Parliament.
I have no problem with Guy Fawkes’ Night, bonfires or the peculiar notion of marking a terrorist attack which almost wiped out the government and killed our King.
It’s just the manner of the celebrations which leaves me scratching my head.
It’s not even as if the British firework industry is key to our economy. It only generates about £20 million a year.
So could someone explain to me why middle-aged blokes are allowed to leave supermarkets carrying armfuls of explosives?
It is all I can do to stop myself saying: “Mate. That must have cost you fifty quid and, if you don’t maim yourself in the process, they’ll be gone in five minutes.”
In a country where the gun laws are among the tightest in the world we are perfectly happy for untrained oiks to let off shedloads of fireworks in their back garden.
Inevitably some of these are handled by the inept, those under-the-influence and the underage – leading to an annual spike in injuries and fatalities.
But nobody seems to care.
I guess part of my incredulity stems from a childhood bereft of domestic firework parties.
Only once did my dad put on a fireworks display – when he went halves with Mr Macdonald over the road.
I would have been nine or 10 and, apart from the novelty of holding a sparkler for the first time, I recall spending the evening mithered to death that my dad was going to blow himself up.
I blame this on a project we did at Holden Lane First and Middle School on the firework code and those terrifying Seventies firework safety adverts on the telly.
You remember: One ended with the words: “Make sure your child doesn’t start November 6th like this…” and a picture of a little girl with third degree burns.
As it turned out, the Tideswell firework display was all over in about half an hour and everyone agreed it was something of a damp squib.
After that, each November 5 was the same. My brother and I were given extra pocket money and we sat looking out of the bay window in mum and dad’s room watching everyone else’s fireworks.
I can honestly say I never felt like I missed out and I could never understand the waste of money.
Basically, if you want see some fireworks on Bonfire Night then stand outside your front door between 6pm and 11pm and you can enjoy everyone else’s for free.
Why would you spend £30, £40 or even £50 or more on your own fireworks?
If anyone wants to see money go up in smoke I suggest they set fire to their wallets. It’s less noisy.
Of course, there are other well-documented downfalls to the availability of fireworks for domestic use.
Every night for the two weeks leading up to November 5 we have to listen to random explosions.
This isn’t much fun if you have pets. Watching your dog hide behind the sofa, in wardrobes and even in the bath in a vain attempt to escape the incessant barrage is pitiful.
Even New Year’s Eve has become a firework fest – with people waiting until the stroke of midnight to ruin the night of anyone with young children.
On Saturday night I took my two, now aged five and seven, with their friends to a free, 20-minute display in a local park.
They enjoyed the show, the excitement of being out in the dark and munched a chocolate-covered apple on a stick. Job done.
These days there are so many professionally-run, safe bonfires and firework displays for families to enjoy – many of which are free or in aid of charity – that I don’t understand why anyone would go it alone. Or, indeed, why they are allowed to.