That wild night of fire

Daniel Hutchinson
From The Hutch

The scene of the crime was a gravel parking area. It was chosen carefully, with specific attention to the wind direction. There must be no collateral damage.

Implements include a solid metal plate, a cinder block and a wine barrel. Darkness was the other ingredient needed for the successful completion of this plot.

While the Sun slowly headed towards the horizon, I made a point of being just an average guy – a barbecue for tea, a couple of quiet beers – all pretty normal stuff. Nothing suspicious here folks.

Then 9pm ticked over, the heat drained from the day, and a light, cool breeze moved in from the west. Still warm enough for shorts and a light sweatshirt but crystal clear so the stars filled the whole sky.

My co-conspirators sauntered nonchalantly out into the driveway and huddled around the wine barrel for a quick briefing. We all know our roles. For some it is just to sit and observe. For others it was ‘flick, flick ……. BOOM!’

As we release the first incendiary device into the night sky some of the neighbours’ curtains open. Curious eyes peer from the balconies of the flats to the east. But many remain tightly closed. The community is divided.

Tinny noises sing out as the spent cartridges rain down on the garage roof and the sleepout. Did some of those land on the neighbours? God, I hope not, but the wine barrel is clearly not right so it is moved further to the west to account for the breeze.

The next round is equally as loud and spectacular, only this time the balls of fire are shooting almost directly into the cable that is strung up between the house and the smaller buildings. A teenager watches in horror, but by some miracle his internet connection is spared.

The barrel is shifted again, by which time the breeze has died off completely. Just a few cartridges can be heard returning this time. The spent smoke drifts lazily into the neighbouring flats.

This pattern continues over the next 20 minutes as round after round of noisy, colourful fire shoots into the air. Giggles and jokes, punctuated by serious advice about fireworks safety.

When it’s done, I play the hose onto the roofs of the outbuildings, just in case, and then pack away the evidence. Dave, my kind and long-suffering neighbour, pokes his head out the door to make sure I’m not hosing down an inferno, then disappears back inside.

The cat is safely inside at the far end of the house, under Nana’s old, pink chair, curled up tight as a ball. He’s awake but studiously ignoring any well-meaning queries about his welfare. He doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.

In the light of day, all that is left outside is a big clay pot full of colourful, cardboard tubes, blackened at one end and reeking of gunpowder. The only evidence of a wild night of fire.

Every year a little bit of the love and attention seems to go out of Guy Fawkes celebrations and the guilt pricks a bit deeper. It’s actually a little bit stressful for the person in charge of putting on the show these days. Words like liability and accidental injury play on the mind.

Maybe I’m a shrinking minority, but I do love it – it’s another chance to make memories with family and friends. It’s also completely at odds with today’s safety-first philosophy.

First responders and animal rights groups, and those who just generally don’t like explosives detonated next door, rightly remind us of the risks and pitfalls of this annual folly.

Banning backyard fireworks makes perfect sense, especially to those who deal with the injuries and the property damage.

The significance of the event that sparked all this is largely lost in the mist of time but essentially it celebrates a failed attempt by a group including Guy Fawkes and other persecuted Roman Catholics at the time. They planned to blow up the Protestant King James I, his son and all the lords and members gathered in the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.

It almost succeeded but word leaked out and Guy was caught in the cellar beneath the building with more than a tonne of gunpowder. It could have changed the course of history, but it didn’t. Religious tolerance towards Roman Catholics was set back centuries and the thwarted plot has been celebrated ever since.

The original act was about expressing a right to freedom and damn the consequences. I guess not much has changed, no matter which side of the fence you are on.

Boom!

daniel@thesun.co.nz



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