Thursday, 7 November 2013

Thank you for the firework display, Chiswick Business Park - and to all the people who create these splendid events

Years ago, we used to attend the an annual council fireworks display at Ravenscourt Park, but it started becoming a bit scuzzy, and there was always horrible amateurish "entertainment" to be endured before the main event. Then, when we were members of a local Health Club about a decade ago, we used to go to their fabulously ritzy members-only display, synchronised to a rather gay soundtrack. After we gave up our membership (we worked out it was costing us about £50 a visit) we went and stood with the local peasants to watch the event through the railings surrounding the club - the view was pretty good, but I felt like some Victorian urchin with his nose pressed up against a sweet-shop window.

Two or three years ago we took a Thames river trip from Chiswick which was supposed to end in a spectacular official fireworks display at Westminster. But there was a bit of a breeze, so Elf 'n' Safety intervened and the event was cancelled (bastards!). For a few years, ever since our son became too cool to "do" fireworks, we've contented ourselves with watching the displays across London from our top-floor windows - actually, an excellent vantage point, as we can see for miles east and west. But it didn't provide the sort of immersive child-like joy that having multi-coloured chrysanthemums of evanescent glory exploding right above your head does. 

So yesterday evening me and Mrs. G got on our bikes and scooted down to the local business park - an enormous thing featuring twelve office blocks, shops, bars and restaurants, and a dirty big space right in the middle (no doubt described as a plaza) - which has taken to putting on a mammoth annual Guy Fawkes display which we've only ever seen from our house. It was fun joining the crowds of locals streaming towards the event. It was packed, but the crowd was extremely well-behaved and friendly and we managed to find a spot on some grass opposite the building from the top of which the fireworks were to be launched. 

About ten minutes late, an excessively perky disembodied American female voice welcomed us all, and the revels commenced. I don't have the talent to describe the marvels we witnessed. The only writer who has been able to do so convincingly (in my experience) was Jocelyn Brooke, whose beautifully-written trilogy of post-war reminisces, The Orchid Trilogychronicles his obsession with wild orchids and fireworks (and, to be frank, butch young men). 

Before reading Brooke on the subject some thirty years ago, I hadn't paid much attention
to fireworks since childhood Fifth of November parties held in friends' back gardens. I particularly enjoyed the one where the very first firework lit - a Mount Vesuvius, as I recall - set fire to the old suitcase housing every other firework. The whole display lasted for less than 90 seconds as rockets, catherine wheels and bangers fizzed and boomed across a neatly-manicured lawn and we all dived for cover: bloody good fun, though! I remember another do where an occasional member of The Yardbirds took to holding rockets in his hand, lighting them, twirling them around above his head, and letting go at the instant the fuse reached the gunpowder.  Then one of the kids in our school year lost three fingers making homemade fireworks. After that, one's interest waned...

...until I got married and we produced a son. There's nothing like having children for providing an excuse to re-experience, in the guise of duty, the pleasures of childhood. Now, of course, firework displays are inconceivably, ridiculously, fabulously more impressive and sophisticated than they used to be - but, in my case, despite the gloss and professionalism, they've lost none of their power to create wonder in the beholder: they genuinely make me gasp and ooh and aah as I stand gazing up in open-mouthed admiration. They can also make me laugh with delight - as they did last night when the sky was suddenly full of red heart-shaped fire (how do they do that?). As for that effect where the firmament is suddenly filled with multiple overlaid clouds of stippled gold that look as if it they've been painstakingly created  by some cosmic pointilliste painter - well, it's breath-taking.

I know businesses tend to lay this sort of free communal event on to boost commerce and to keep the natives happy - but I don't care. There must have been over a thousand of us there last night - probably more - and we all went home happy. And thank goodness it was held on 5th November and not on the night of that foreign import, Halloween - to which I've no particular objection, apart from the fact that it's starting to overshadow a great British tradition. 


  1. Check Mr Google, but I reckon Halloween was a Scottish, Scando export to the US. It was a major celebration in 1960s Inverness but unknown to me in Surrey from where we had moved at this time.

    1. I've had a chat with Mr G - and he confirms what you say: "Today's Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity." Apparently it began to die out in Britain after the introduction of Guy Fawkes Night - but the Scots held on (and celebrated both, mainly because the latter offered an excuse for anti-Catholic revelry). I suspect it's reintroduction here in recent years is all to do with American films. I'm happy for British children to dress up and have fun - I just wish there was room for flat-capped urchins asking "A penny for the Guy, Mister" as well.