Guy Fawkes strikes again

Tim Stein meets a firestarter extraordinaire
Invite Mik Amabilino to your bonfire party (or any party, in fact) and the champagne corks won't be the only things popping. Imagine a 30ft, firework-propelled helicopter landing in your back garden to the rat-tatting sounds of ack-ack devices and Manfred Mann's Starbird soundtrack, or Indians and cavalry officers in mock battle, firing arrows of light at one another across a lake. Or how about an exploding cake?

A pyrotechnician par excellence, 39-year-old Amabilino is, as far as he knows, the only independent show designer and producer of firework displays in the business, though clearly his slogan - Unique Shows For Unique People - indicates it's considerably more than this. After working as a window dresser in a jewellery shop and as an art and craft technician he became hooked on fireworks when his younger brother wrote a school project about them. "Fireworks are a very memorable form of entertainment," he says. "I try to expand people's expectations of them, to make them see things they haven't seen before."

Of his shows, 99 per cent are choreographed to music, with each one "individually tailored to the client's event". Some may include the integration of lighting effects, lasers, fire drawings (burning ropes of a pictorial nature from pounds 250), or they may take the more gentle form of a scene-setting piece such as a swan lantern (from pounds 500) or a giant effigy of a Hindu god. Some clients have been known to spend as much as pounds 30,000 on a single show. But what a show.

As for the other 1 per cent, Amabilino acts as an agent for companies supplying self-starting display packs, designed for those people "who want to light their own match," as he himself puts it. "Of course," he says, "the kits come with full safety instructions and a professional lighting device - not just a match". Costing upwards of pounds 150 and lasting between 15 and 20 minutes, they might contain an assortment of fireworks (roman candles, Catherine wheels, animated skeletons and so on) and, possibly, a piece of lancework - a metal frame on which you can set up a message in coloured lights.

The most popular choices of wording are, not surprisingly, "Happy birthday" or "Happy Xmas" and they can usually be lit in a matter of minutes. The series of tiny linked flares are fused across the top, so one ignition will light them all. "It's a bit like joining the dots," Amabilino explains.

The mere mention of Christmas triggers a flood of ideas. "I could do you some outdoor lancework - reindeers with sleighs, for instance, or a Father Christmas climbing down a chimney..." A real chimney, I ask? "Yes," he says with a laugh, "but it would depend on the roof, where it was, and the size of the stack and so on. As long as it's safe I'm always open to suggestions."

On the other hand, you could always opt for a frothing silver fountain or an appropriately wintry snow storm - outdoor fire displays of a remarkable kind (from pounds 1,000); a glowing canework lantern in the shape of an angel, a crown or a shepherds crook (2ft lanterns from pounds 55); and then there are those exploding cakes...

For pounds 100 or so, and at approximately six weeks notice, a simple pyrotechnical device placed in the centre of a traditional Christmas cake ("a nice old lady we know makes them") could, with the flick of a switch, send a shower of confetti, miniature flags or streamers around the room leaving the room - and, one trusts, the guests - intact. If you wanted to destroy the cake as well, that can be arranged. "Though I'm assuming," Amabilino says, "that you don't want bits of food splattered about the place."

Self-fire display packs (from pounds 135) include a proper lighting device and full safety instructions, providing a 15 to 20 minute show. If you'd like the pack and someone to operate it for you, it will set you back upwards of pounds 210. Available from 2 November. From 6 November you can commission an operated fire show. You will need to give at least two weeks notice, and can expect to pay anything from pounds 1,000 for a individual display choreographed to music. For more information, call Mik Amabilino Pyro Displays on 0181- 445 9001.