Originally published in the local Resident’s Association magazine in Poole, 2006
Remember, remember the 28th October to 12th November
In 2005 they started on the 28th, three days before Halloween, built to a crescendo on the 31st then lapsed into spurts and odd bangs until the 4th. Then they started up in earnest for three days, the peak being the extremely loud explosions which started at 11.48 p.m. on the 5th (you notice the time when you’re woken suddenly and fall out of bed), though the odd bangers at 2 a.m. on the 6th were annoying too. It was hard to tell any difference between Saturday the 5th and Sunday the 6th, but then the parties died down slowly over the week. The finale was Saturday 12th with a small local set of explosions around 9 p.m., followed by a distant display (probably at Sandbanks) at five to one in the morning.
I’m as keen as anyone on fireworks displays. I know my Vesuvius from my Catherine Wheel, not that I ever managed to get the latter to spin. I watched the Millenium fireworks at midnight on Bournemouth beach, I love Disney firework displays and the Bournemouth and Poole 10 p.m. displays in the summer. I’m the first to light the blue touch paper when kids are about and have the singed eyebrows and scarred hands to prove it.
When I was a lad (and you could buy a car, go on holiday, get blind drunk every night for two weeks and still be left with change from half a crown), firework night was the 5th November. There were exceptions. If it rained heavily, the next day took over. If the 5th fell on Thursday, you’d expect Friday bonfires. If it were on Sunday, most people shifted the fireworks back to Saturday, with a few straggling on to Monday. I should explain that way back then, Sunday was held to have a special quality which rendered it unsuitable for violent noises. People could shut up their pets pretty secure in the knowledge of when the explosions were going to take place.
It has spread out, first over a week then over a fortnight. An American version of Halloween is fast replacing Guy Fawkes Night, but the British fireworks night is getting combined with it on the 31st October. Mostly, if you don’t have pets, the time spread isn’t a huge problem, especially when the display takes place at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m when most people have bonfire parties for kids. I still think that 11.48 p.m. start was totally unjustified, but at least on the 5th November I realized quickly enough that Blair hadn’t persuaded Bush to bomb Poole.
But what about mid-July? Or mid-August? Most years there are three or four summer parties which include fireworks at midnight. One house has a 2 a.m. firework display on a Saturday night (or rather Sunday morning), at least once a year. I don’t have pets, but I’ve comforted small children screaming in terror as explosions and stars suddenly burst outside their bedroom windows. What kind of person decides to wake up everyone within a mile radius? Not with an unplanned and suddenly noisy party, but with a pre-planned firework display at 2 a.m.? They woke six adults and two small children in our house alone. The midnight ones are pretty thoughtless, but I can see some people thinking that’s an outside limit … but where do the five to one and 2 a.m. ones come from? Don’t the guests feel guilty? Don’t any of them remonstrate with their hosts?
Anyway, there’s legislation now coming into place which should ban private firework displays out of season (i.e. around the November 5th period and December 31st). Not that anyone will ever be prosecuted. Who’s going to get dressed and drive around at 2 a.m. seeking the source, then getting extra witnesses? And a £30 rocket is a damp squib compared to the stuff that’s going up in these displays. I’d say £1000 was at the conservative end of the cost of them. And they might get fined £100. It’s another unenforceable law, to be filed with high-speed cycling on the prom, not letting your dog foul the pavement and not dropping litter. If you woke up an entire council estate you might get an ASBO, but in the leafier parts of Poole, house owners, like developers, don’t get ASBOs.