As a kid, growing up in south London in the sixties, around this time of year I often balanced the preference of being hanged, drawn and quartered with that of root canal treatment.
Our firework displays, in early November, would be held near the garages at the back of our Balham flats; the oo-ing and ah-ing would be interspersed with offerings of home-made toffee from a “responsible” adult who clearly moonlighted as the local dental nurse.
Guy Fawkes obviously never witnessed a firework display and I wonder whether he’d have been proud of his eponymous day being celebrated by people succeeding where he spectacularly failed on that fateful November evening in 1605?
Toffee was introduced into Western diets around the turn of the 19th Century, just before the time the cost of dental crowns surged.
1868 was the year of the last public execution in this country and coincided with the advent of Starbucks and Pret, thus occupying people during their lunch breaks in the absence of a hanging.
So, when you’re next in line for your convenience lunch, spare a thought for the man who inspired sparklers, bangers and Roman Candles and think: “it could be worse, the avocados might have run out, but at least I’ve not been chopped into four pieces and my penis is still intact!”
Next time you’re ordering rocket, make sure there’s no blue touch paper attached!
These days, fireworks are in evidence seemingly every weekend from the middle of July until actual Bonfire Night. This was never the case when I was growing up in the Sixties. Were Paines or Standard fireworks so expensive back then that buying them was so prohibitive?
In the Economist newspaper they show inflation by way of what a McDonald’s Big Mac costs across the globe. Perhaps they could introduce the cost of a Brocks’ Roman Candle?
I do recall writing my name with a sparkler for (seemingly for an hour) for sixpence. The massive battery with a flame on the end my Nan used to light the gas with was my sparkler replacement during the non-firework season. Sadly, not as spectacular as a sparkler, except the time my Nan inadvertently left the gas on and I nearly set Balham alight causing a fire reminiscent to that of the Crystal Palace one in 1936.
In our flats families would club together to contribute a few fireworks for us kids to enjoy round the back of the garages in my Balham block of flats. My overriding memory was not that of the firework display or a rogue Katherine Wheel coming off a garage wall and heading (as if programmed) towards the Head Porter, who nobody liked, but that of home-made toffee supplied by one of the mums. Looking back, we didn’t have the selection or an ostensibly endless supply of fireworks that seem in abundance these days. It’s not because we couldn’t afford it, it’s just that all our savings were used up paying dentist’s bills!