TRIED & TESTED; SPARKS WILL FLY

As no Bonfire Night would be complete without sparklers, our panel sorts out the star turns from the damp squibs
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The Independent Culture
NOTHING SAYS Guy Fawkes Night like a sparkler. Writing your name in frosty sky with a sparkling stick is integral to the Bonfire Night experience, providing great excitement for small children (and some bigger ones, too). Contemporary sparklers come in a wide and bewildering variety, including coloured, crackling and novelty shaped. We sent our testers to sort the fabulous from the fizzlers.

THE PANEL

A panel of testers took the sparklers to Alexandra Palace in north London, for an early Bonfire Night celebration. The testers included adults and children, and a number of curious passers-by. The panel was made up of Stephen Baker, Lorna Reid, Matthew Scott, Louise Docherty, Tania Lenka and Barbara Marks. Our younger testers were Alison Bland (10), David Rees (nine) and our youngest, Rachel Rees (six). Manufacturers warn that children under five should not use sparklers.

THE TEST

In their search for the best sparkler our panel looked for safety, size and brightness of sparkle, ease of lighting, smoke levels, a genuine evocative Bonfire Night smell, colour, novelty, burning time and sound effects. For safety reasons, sparklers should always be used under adult supervision, users are advised to wear gloves and to hold sparklers at arm's length. And even when they have stopped burning, they are still very hot.

COSMIC COLOURED SPARKLERS

40p for 5

"Evil smoke" seemed to be the most memorable thing about the Cosmic coloured sparklers. Testers, choking in a dense cloud, expressed concern that the violent smoke would cause neighbours to call the fire brigade. Indeed, little was seen of the sparklers themselves, including the promised colour novelty. "There was a pale green and a girlie pink, but they were very faint," complained Matthew Scott. Rachel Rees was their one fan and admired the "pretty colours". But the general verdict was "all smoke and not much action".

*** INTERSTELLA VALENTINES SPARKLERS

pounds 2.99 for packet of 3

For sheer novelty value, the heart- shaped sparklers scored a big hit with the testers. However, performance-wise there were some disappointments. Matthew Scott proclaimed that, due to a lack of sparkle, his heart kept fading, which he found disturbing as he could not tell when it had finished. Barbara Marks added that the sparkler was unreliable if lit in the wrong place, and younger testers, Alison Bland and David Rees, were disappointed that the heart shape did not light up all at once. The panel agreed that minimum smoke and a reasonable burning time of one minute were plus points, but the short stick was considered to be a major drawback. Louise Docherty and Alison Bland complained of sparks hitting their hands, and some testers thought that the close proximity of sparks to skin would make them frightening for younger children to hold. "It belongs on a cake or in a cocktail," said Stephen Baker, although he added that "being asked to light up someone's heart from mine was fun!" The overall verdict was that novelty outweighed serious sparkling, but it would be an excellent way to break the ice at a fireworks party.

****INTERSTELLA MONSTER SPARKLERS

95p for packet of 4

Early excitement for these enormous sparklers was slightly dimmed by lighting difficulties. However, after some extensive matchwork the Monsters ignited, to a warm reception. "Definitely worth the wait. My favourite without a doubt," enthused Louise Docherty. Lorna Reid agreed, proclaiming the Monsters' sparkles "perfect". David Rees was pleased with their "golden brightness". Burning for two minutes, the Monsters were praised as being good value for money. "With a little effort, you get a lengthy, satisfying sparkler,"said Matthew Scott. Lorna Reid agreed, and decided that the Monsters had the perfect burning time. Tania Lenka was also impressed by the gentle, sulphurous smell, which she described as "very evocative". A feeling of safety during use was agreed by all to be a positive feature. "It doesn't burn in an aggressive way and it's reassuringly solid and weighty," said Stephen Baker. However, some testers expressed doubts about their suitability for children, on account of the relatively heavy weight.

Minimum smoke and maximum attractiveness put the Interstella Monster Sparklers at the top end of the list, as one of the best in the test.

***BLACK CAT SUPER BRIGHT SPARKLERS

60p

"Could be a bit brighter," said a disappointed Matthew Scott. However, his complaint was in a minority, as most of the testers found the super- bright sparklers to live up to their claim. "They're really bright and look like stars," said Alison Bland, while Rachel Rees thought the Black Cats to be the "sparkliest" and Tania Lenka enthused about their "brilliant golden shapes".

Testers were pleased with a long handle and sturdy sparkler stick. "It doesn't spark on your hands, which is important," said Barbara Marks. Lorna Reid thought the super-brights good value for money and great fun, while Rebecca Peters was delighted with the burn trail left in the sky. "The best for writing your name with," she said.

A pleasant ambience provided by light smoke, reminded Barbara Marks of "sparklers of long ago".

On balance, the panel agreed that these super-bright sparklers were user- friendly, with a satisfying brightness adding to the sense of occasion.

**STANDARD BROCKS JUMBO SPARKLERS

99p

Lasting a monumental three and a half minutes, the Brocks Jumbo Sparklers were felt to be the most cost-effective of the tested sparklers. However, despite a good brightness and a reasonable-sized sparkle, the panel got bored with the Jumbos after a while. Stephen Baker tried to extinguish his sparkler in a bucket of sand, but found that it wouldn't go out, and Tania Lenka complained that the Jumbo sparkler went on well beyond the optimum sparkling time span. To jazz up the Jumbo experience, some testers began lighting their sparklers in several places along the shaft. Though this seemed an exciting way to get them to burn more quickly, it was agreed that this technique was suitable for adults only. No overpowering smoke was noticed, and the smell was described as a "perfect bonfire night memory" by a nostalgic Rebecca Peters.

***** STANDARD SILVER CRACKLING SPARKLERS

99p

Eliciting many "oooohs" and "aaaahs" when lit, the Standard Crackling Sparklers caused much excitement among the testers. Of medium length and inconspicuous appearance, they erupted into a fountain of crackling silver stars, prompting comments of "spectacular" and "wonderful".

"Size isn't everything," said Louise Docherty. "This little sparkler is really smokin', with plenty of crack and lots of light." Barbara Marks agreed: "This is my favourite. The smoke, the sound of crackles - it's all very atmospheric." Younger testers were equally enthusiastic about the sparklers' performance. Alison Bland was a little frightened by the loud noise, but enjoyed the brightness of her sparkle. And Rachel and David Rees both agreed that the crackling sparklers were excellent fun.

Smoke levels were reasonable, with divided opinion from testers on the smell. "Great noise, awful pong," said Lorna Reid, while Matthew Scott breathed in deeply and proclaimed the smoke "a real November the 5th odour". Although the crackling sparklers did not last very long, 45 seconds in total, this was not considered a detrimental point. "They're 45 whole seconds of pure fun," said Lorna Reid, while Stephen Baker pronounced them as very trendy, and "great for young things in Fulham, or wrinklies who want to make an impact".

The clear winner, the Standard Silver Crackling Sparklers got 10 out of 10 across the board from all the testers.

*COSMIC MAXI-MIX SPARKLERS

99p for 4

A lucky dip pack containing red, gold, silver and green sparklers failed to ignite the testers' enthusiasm. A poor overall performance was noted, and none of the panel was impressed by the shape of the sparkles. "They go upwards, not outwards in a cascade. I feel rather cheated," exclaimed Rebecca Peters. A positive vote for sparkler brightness was registered from Lorna Reid, but once again, thick clouds of smoke marred the enjoyment of many of the testers. "That's not frosty, fireworks-evening smoke, it's a house fire!" snorted Rebecca Peters, and Lorna Reid expressed concern at the density of the smoke, and wondered if it might be dangerous for asthmatics.

Some of the panel remarked on the unstable, flexible quality of the sparkler. Lorna Reid was worried about the wobbly handle on her Maxi-Mix, while David Rees did not like the way that the sparkler bent during burning and thought it unsafe.

Despite lighting easily and lasting for more than two minutes, the Maxi- Mix failed to make any friends on the testing panel, with the exception of Rachel Rees, below the smoke line, who thought the colours were very pretty.

***COSMIC MINI SPARKLERS

40p for 5

At just 7in, the Cosmic Minis gave 20 seconds worth of burning time and received a mixed reaction from testers. "It's a bit of a quick thrill," said Tania Lenka, while Stephen Baker proclaimed them "weedy" and hardly worth the effort. Matthew Scott described his Mini Sparkler as "nondescript" and went back to the Inter-stella Monsters in protest.

Yet the miniature sparklers were not without their fans. Lorna Reid liked their pretty goldness, while Louise Docherty thought they would be good for younger children. "They're cute and easy to use," agreed Rebecca Peters.

Smoke was kept to a minimum, and only Tania Lenka expressed a dislike for what she thought was an unpleasant acidic smell. Overall the panel were mildly in favour of the Mini Sparklers, but a general complaint was that they were too short and quick-burning to be their sparkler of choice.

*STANDARD SUPER SPARKLERS, EASY LIGHT

79p for 5

Rebecca Peters felt the Standard Super Easy Light sparklers won the test on convenience, and was happy to see that she could light hers from a single match. However, lighting practicality was overshadowed by poor performance and tiny, boring sparks.

Plus points included a lack of smoke and a long handle to keep sparks away from hands. Some testers were placated by the colour of the sparkles, including Rachel Rees and Alison Bland, who both liked the small, gold stars.

An uneventful sparkler for those who like to concentrate on other things during Guy Fawkes Night.

STOCKISTS

Cosmic Fireworks available from Hamleys, Savacentre and major retail outlets; Standard, Brocks and Black Cat Fireworks available from major retail outlets, including Asda 0113 243 5435, Forbuoys Newsagents 01483 727999, Martin Retail Group newsagents 01277 372916 and Dillons Convenience Stores 01543 363000; Interstella Sparklers from Octavius Hunt, 0117 955 5304. !

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