(An extract from The Cluttering Discombobulator)
1974 November – I remember
And then there was the time Dad threw a firework party.
In those days and where we lived, Hallowe’en wasn’t much of a thing. If you wanted sweets pretty much for nothing, you waited till Christmas when you could go carol singing or, on 5th November, you made an effigy out of newspaper and old clothes and trailed round the houses demanding ‘a penny for the guy’. At the end of the day, the guy would be put on top of a bonfire and set alight. Any vague sensitivities I might have had about the facts behind the tradition (I was that kind of child) were put aside for the sake of hard cash. Such was quite possibly the reality about the real Guy Fawkes’s fate too. We preferred actual sweets but even a penny wasn’t to be sniffed at since you could still get a quarter of sherbet from the post-office shop for about 10p. Or maybe you couldn’t. It’s a long time ago.
This was the year when Mum handed over with suspicious dexterity, Dad’s most disreputable jumper and trousers to dress the guy. We made the guy a head out of a paper bag and were disappointed that Mum wouldn’t hand over one of Dad’s hats. But Mum was wise. Dad would have spotted the hat whereas he couldn’t be sure about the clothes.
The good thing about bonfire night is that it’s in November. By the time we were hoisting the guy onto the bonfire, it was dark. Dad, squinting at its attire with a slight frown, dismissed the thought that his own wife could be so duplicitous as to sacrifice his favourite tramp dressing-up outfit. Shaking the idea out of his head, he turned to plan the firework display.
The guests were, as far as I recall, Dad’s colleagues from the office. What they made of the ascent to our road, with its double hair-pin bend I’ve no idea. So, it was November and it was dark and spitting with rain. The bonfire blazed, consuming the guy in Dad’s oldest clothes. Jane and I wrote our names in the air with sparklers.
We all stood around in the damp cold watching Dad and a friend light fireworks.
Every time Dad lit the blue touch-paper, we tensed in case nothing happened. Then there was a soft fzz, a brief silence followed by a gentle sizzle and a few sparks which turned into a roar and cascade of colour: Roman candles, flares and fountains spat golds and reds and greens in every direction.
Then the rockets, fired into the starless night, higher than the roofs, higher than the mountain, exploding above our heads and cascading in shreds of silver and gold, spiralling down and down and melting into nothing.
‘Last but not least, the Catherine wheel!’ said Dad. He nailed it to a fence post and lit the paper. But by now the spitting rain had passed through a bad tempered drizzle and was starting to drench into everyone’s clothes.
‘Inside the garage!’ said Dad.
The garage was huge. There was room for two cars but it had never housed any or at least none of ours because there was no room. It was full of clutter – half of it was a heavy duty version of indoors without the books.
Dad nailed the Catherine Wheel to a random piece of wood and positioned it upright using the vice on his workbench.
He relit the fuse.
Again, there was the fzz and the pause and then with the fury of a small dragon who’s trapped his tail in a revolving door, the Catherine Wheel started to spin and spit sparks. For a couple of minutes, it lit up the open mouthed faces of the watchers. It lit up the lawnmower and the garden tools and the plant pots and the empty jars. It lit up bicycles, roller skates, the discarded doll’s pram and Mum’s 1950s ice-skates and snow shoes. It lit up the lathe, a straw archery butt, some old packing cases with newspaper in, the half finished wooden-dolls-house, the half-finished doll’s cradle, the cat basket and the abandoned ant farm.
Then the garage filled with thick, black smoke.
Coughing and scrambling, the blinded guests helped each other outside into the early stages of a downpour.
‘It’s fine,’ called Dad, ‘it’s gone out now!’
‘The thing about Robert,’ choked out one of his colleagues, ‘he’s either mad or a genius.’
‘He might be both,’ coughed the other, ‘but either way, he’s unforgettable.’
This is an extract from my book ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator‘ an amalgam of things that really happened (including this) and things that might have in my father’s imagination.