Fireworks - John C. Kirk
Nov. 4th, 2007
01:58 pm - Fireworks
I've been out to a couple of firework displays (on SJA duty) over the last couple of days. On Friday evening I was at Brockwell Park, which is a fairly small event; we spend more time travelling than we do on the actual duty. Still, it's pleasant enough. There was no bonfire there, just fireworks that were set to music, although I think they had some odd choices. Something like the Superman theme works quite well for fireworks, because it's bombastic, whereas I'm not sure who would listen to the ET theme and think "This needs extra explosions!"
I was a team leader at this duty, so I was out on a post with a couple of our younger members. One of them asked why we have seats in football stadiums; this is because of the Hillsborough disaster, although they might be too young to remember that. I said that this happened in 1989: one of them was born in 1989, and the other was born in 1990. Gah, I'm surrounded by children! It's strange to think that there are significant events which they never lived through. Taking another example, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and one of the youngsters said that he'd heard about that in his history classes. History! When I was a kid, the idea of a unified Germany was ridiculously implausible, and everyone was worried about Russia; for them, they've always thought of Germany as just "Germany", not East and West.
Actually, this reminds me of something from the Spider-Girl comic. This is set in an alternate future, where Peter Parker's daughter (May "Mayday" Parker) is a teenager, and she's taken over the family business. There was some debate about whether this was really set in the future, since it seemed to be much the same as the present day. The writer said that if you compared the present day to 15 years ago, not that much had really changed; for instance, there are slight differences in fashion/haircuts, but it's not as if everyone's wearing tinfoil jumpsuits and flying around in jetpacks. I think that's a fair point, but it's interesting to come across situations like this, where there are adults who don't remember the world I grew up in.
Last night I was at Carshalton Park, for their 50th annual display. This is a bigger event, and it has a bonfire as well as the fireworks. There's a huge crater in the middle (courtesy of the Luftwaffe), so the bonfire always goes in there, and even with 20 tons of wooden pallets it doesn't reach the top of the hole, although the flames go quite high once it's lit. The first time I saw it, I felt as if I was in War of the Worlds, going up a hill to look down on a blazing inferno, and feeling the heat of it from quite a distance. They light the bonfire with a long stick (presumably for safety reasons), but I think it would be cooler if they used a flaming arrow, Robin Hood style. (Twang - WHOOMPH!)
On the whole, these events tend to be fairly peaceful, since everyone is just standing around watching a display, so we're mainly there in case something really serious happens (e.g. a rocket going off course into the crowd). Mind you, we did have one urgent query last night: a young guy came dashing over to us, looking quite worried, and said "Can you tell me where the toilets are, please?" So, business as usual, then.
I know that the sale of fireworks is a bit more restricted than it used to be, and if that stops kids letting off rockets in the street then it's probably a good thing. However, I was surprised to hear that sparklers were banned last night. Apparently they can reach 1000 degrees Celsius (according to this article), and an LAS blogger says that they normally have to deal with lots of burnt fingers (source). Still, I always thought they were fun when I was little, trying to write your whole name in the air before the first letter had faded, and I never heard of anyone being hurt, so it's a shame that the younger generation are missing out on that.
Speaking of youngsters, we saw a couple of boys from our Badger unit at the display. (Badgers are the SJA equivalent of Cub Scouts, for 5-10 year olds. Apparently their leader is called "Hedgehog", which amused me; I think "Akela" has a bit more of a ring to it.) Anyway, they were telling us what they knew about Guy Fawkes, so I asked them whether they'd heard the rhyme about that. Apparently not; what do they teach them in these schools? Still, that's easily rectified:
"Remember remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
Er ... something something tumtiddy tum
Should never be forgot"
Irony is a wonderful thing; it turned out that none of the adults present could actually remember the third line. (Doing some digging on the web, I think it's "I see no reason why gunpowder treason", and then "never" becomes "ever" in the final line.)
As a related issue, a German girl came to stay with us when I was at school (my sister's GCSE exchange visitor), and she was curious about the preparations for bonfire night. I realised that it obviously wouldn't be celebrated in Germany, but I knew all the key facts, so I could teach her about it. I started out confidently enough: "Well, about 400 years ago there was a man called Guy Fawkes, and he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. However, he got caught, and he was executed, and, um, now we pretend to burn him to death every year. Yeah, we are quite barbaric, now I come to think about it." It's strange how you can get a new perspective on familiar activities when you come to explain them to an outsider.
There was a guy on the bonfire, although it was just a mannequin with the number 50 painted on the chest, and wasn't really recognisable as any particular figure. I've heard about some bonfires where they have "celebrity guys", e.g. Cherie Blair, but that seems a bit childish to me.
Towards the end of the evening, we went along to a doughnut stand, and the staff there kindly gave us some freebies. They were very nice, and when we were leaving we figured that we ought to say "thank you". However, I was slightly reluctant to go back to the stall, in case they thought that we were scrounging for more, so we just waved from a distance as we went past and called out "Great doughnuts, thanks!" The staff then beckoned us over, and gave us more freebies (the last of their stock), so that worked out nicely. It can be a struggle to lose weight when people keep giving me tasty deep-fried sugary food, but such is life.
Anyway, all in all it's been a good weekend so far. I've generally been having trouble getting to sleep recently (as you may have noticed from the timestamps on my LJ posts), but for the last couple of days I've had to go to bed at a (relatively) reasonable time because I just couldn't keep my eyes open, so I think that spending time in the fresh air is good for me.