Friday, November 03, 2006

Remember, remember the 5th of November

As everyone knows, the 5th of November is Guy Fawkes' Day aka Firecracker Night, on which the British, with their really twisted sense of humour, celebrate the foiling of the treasonous Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by...blowing up some fireworks.

They're also supposed to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, because being hung, drawn and quartered for treason isn't enough, clearly - you need to be ritually punished for centuries. LET THAT BE A LESSON TO ANYONE THINKING OF BLOWING UP THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT.

Anyway, the 5th of November is clearly more guideline than hard and fast rule, because for more than a week the delightful young people hereabouts have been setting off crackers non-stop in carparks, albeit never after 11pm, bless them and their oddly considerate delinquent ways. (Humorous aside - they were setting off crackers beside the estate's fenced soccer field last week. One of the large and burly soccer players threatened to come out and get them if they threw a cracker on the field, whereupon they said in very offended tones "we would never do that!")

As the Lord Mayor's fireworks show isn't on until tomorrow night, we assumed that the firecracker noises tonight were nothing more than an unusually organised delinquent carpark firecracker display. However, it kept going, and we therefore went around the corner (rugged up in our woollies, because it is FREEZING here) to have a look.

And saw this:

This would be a bonfire of stupendous proportions, for the local Firecracker Night. There were fireworks as well, obviously, given that the noise was what drew us out of the cosy pixieflat in the first place, but we didn't get there in time to get shots of the good ones. No-one seemed to be burning a Guy, but maybe he was all burned up before we got there. There was however a pumpkin on the bonfire, which is what happens when American culture eats everything else I suppose (viz. cranberries in Kew Gardens).

This was all happening in Portobello Green, the so-called "village green" which is a thin park running between Portobello Road and Latimer Road beside the suspended A40 motorway. Which is to say that this freaking huge bonfire and fireworks display were a few metres away from a major arterial road, and I imagine that anyone driving it this evening must have had the living daylights scared out of them.

A few points to note:
* firecrackers are freely available over here, and nobody seems worried about the safety of the 12 year olds playing with them in car parks;
* the above giant bonfire was unfenced and unguarded, and people were just basically hanging around getting singed by it;
* in this country, a sparkler is a perfectly acceptable toy for a toddler.

Basically, we are just now realising that Australia is something of a nanny state, with a hefty "No touching! Ouchies!" approach to anything remotely fun. However, being a citizen of a nanny state makes it very difficult to look at the cute little tradition of Firecracker Night as anything other than an absolute deathtrap. For the same reason I continue to wear my bike helmet whilst cycling, even though I am no longer lawfully obliged to. It does make me wonder though. Do they not have the horrific firecracker accidents over here that we had back home before crackers were banned, or do they just not care provided that everyone remembers the 5th of November? Or is Australia just old fogey land?

Anyway, in future I will have more faith in humanity, and run out to see when I hear firecrackers, instead of swearing quietly at the neighbourhood hoodlums ("chavs"). It felt very English to stand with all the locals and their sparkler-carrying toddlers beside the bonfire, and it was beautifully warm on such a cold night.


1 comment:

Nyssa1968 said...

Applause! But you're obviously not reading the papers here. Every year there are those who suggest firecrackers be banned... but not for the kids. The dogs. Actually, this year was the first time I saw any columnist mention that it might be safer for kids, too, but generally it will be the psychological welfare of the dogs of Britain that may change this tradition.