The big bang: advice on fireworks

If you don't want to spend bonfire night in a massive crowd, it doesn't have to be a damp squib. Isabel Lloyd reveals how to stage your own pyrotechnic party
Click to follow
The Independent Online

What to buy The Reverend Ron Lancaster, managing director of Kimbolton, the UK's only manufacturer of large fireworks, and pyrotechnist behind the VE Day and Hong Kong handover celebrations For a well-balanced display, you need a combination of the three main types of firework. These are fountains, which sit on the ground throwing out sparks to the height of the average person; Roman candles, which eject bursts of stars in the air; and rockets, which shoot up high and let off big bangs or whistles. Buy enough of each type to keep ringing the changes during a 20-minute display - any longer and the audience will get restless, particularly in damp November weather (it's such a pity Guy Fawkes didn't make his attempt in September).

What to buy The Reverend Ron Lancaster, managing director of Kimbolton, the UK's only manufacturer of large fireworks, and pyrotechnist behind the VE Day and Hong Kong handover celebrations For a well-balanced display, you need a combination of the three main types of firework. These are fountains, which sit on the ground throwing out sparks to the height of the average person; Roman candles, which eject bursts of stars in the air; and rockets, which shoot up high and let off big bangs or whistles. Buy enough of each type to keep ringing the changes during a 20-minute display - any longer and the audience will get restless, particularly in damp November weather (it's such a pity Guy Fawkes didn't make his attempt in September).

The fireworks that you can buy in the UK fall into two categories. Category 2 (the kind you buy in £20 boxes) are suitable for smaller gardens. If you have the space, Category 3 fireworks, which you generally have to buy direct from importers and manufacturers, are bigger and more fun. Category 3 also includes "cakes": combinations of Roman candles that you light with a single fuse and that can last for up to three minutes. Whatever the category, the general rule is the bigger the firework, the more spectacular.

You'll want to start the display with smaller fireworks; the Chinese manufacturers are very good at these. Then build up in size as you go along, ending up with my personal favourites, the very big rockets. If you can get your hands on them, the huge German rockets are undoubtedly the best - though, to avoid annoying the neighbours, you'll need to let noisy stuff like that off at the end, and not prolong it too much. Kimbolton fireworks, tel 08700 762538 How to get that 'ooh' effect Syd Howard, master pyrotechnist responsible for the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony and London's 2001 New Year celebrations As far as fireworks go, after safety, the first consideration is the place you're letting them off. Take a look at your surroundings, then use them to emphasise the display.

Ideally, you will have some kind of a backdrop or stage against which to show them off. In a garden, this is likely to be trees, which can be a big help: not only do the leaves reflect the light, but their size gives the show an extra dimension. For instance, I did one display in Australia by a creek surrounded by big white eucalyptuses. We lined the creek with green flares that shot up between the trees: the smoke between them and the reflections in the water created a wonderful effect. You could do something similar by setting off Roman candles between garden trees, or putting a row of fountains by the edge of a pond or swimming pool.

If you intend your party to last a couple of hours, consider dividing your display into small sections. Start with a bit of a bang to get people on their toes, then have about five minutes of one kind of firework - fountains, say. Take a break and serve some food before doing another five or 10 minutes of a different variety. Fire off as many at once as you can afford, and try to choreograph colour - while most Chinese fireworks are red and green, they do some great blues these days - ask your supplier for advice and plan accordingly.

Your finale needs to be full-on, with as much noise and colour as you can manage (though personally I prefer colour over noise). The simplest way to get the maximum "ooh" effect at this point is to buy a "cake" from importers such as Standard/Black Cat (01484 640640), Cosmic (01283 520771) and Impact (01202 548884). My favourite is a 36-shot Chinese-made firework called The Poisonous Spider - with loads of colour, bangs and whizzes, it's what we Aussies call a top item...

What to cook Simon Hopkinson, chef, restaurateur and 'The Independent' Magazine'sfood writer When it comes to Fireworks Night, I'm a real traditionalist. My family comes from the north of England, and we always ate the traditional northern food on 5 November: baked potatoes, parkin and great lumps of black-treacle toffee. It's a combination you still can't beat.

Start by serving the baked potatoes. Choose smaller spuds; for a crisp skin, rub with oil and salt, then bake for an hour to an hour-and-a-half in a very hot oven - don't wrap them in foil or the outsides go soggy. Serve hot with butter and - if you've got lots of money - caviare (at the moment, a 200g of Osietra caviare should set you back about £200).

Follow the potatoes up with squares of parkin. This is a local delicacy: a kind of gingerbread cake made with oatmeal, molasses and beef dripping that was traditionally eaten at Celtic and Christian autumn festivals, but is now particularly associated with 5 November. You could make some a few days in advance, then store it in an airtight container to let the flavour improve - or you could do what I do and just buy it from the local baker.

Finish with treacle toffee: fast-boil molasses, brown sugar, butter and water until it reaches setting point (when you drop a dollop into a cup of cold water, it sets hard). Pour into a greased tin, leave to cool, then break into chunks for the children (and adults) to suck on.

How to stay safe John Woodhead, spokesmanfor the British Pyrotechnists Association and ex-directorin charge of displays atStandard Fireworks Safety issues are much the same whether you're doing a large public display or a private party in your back garden - the difference is only really one of scale.

First, you need to buy fireworks that suit the size of your garden - ask your retailer for advice (and do go to a shop you know and trust, rather than one of those overnight operations that open up in October and close on 6 November). It goes without saying that the fireworks themselves should all conform to the British Safety standard; BS7114.

Make sure you have a decent-sized area to light the fireworks in, and another for spectators that's a safe distance away. Mark this off with a rope and make sure nobody but the firework operator crosses this line.

Do all your preparations in daylight. Read the instructions on all your fireworks, so that you're clear what you'll be doing with them. Fill one bucket with water, and another with soft earth or sand for pushing fireworks into; flat-bottomed fireworks will need to stand on a level board. If you're going to use catherine wheels (which are much better than they used to be), bang a big stake into the ground, and then make sure the wheel is spinning properly. Have a decent torch ready, and a metal box with a lid for keeping the fireworks in.

On the evening itself, make sure you're wearing sensible, non-flammable clothing, with gloves and eye-protection if you want it. And don't tuck your trousers into your wellies - sparks can get down inside your boots and cause you trouble. The new Chinese fuses are more difficult to light than the old blue touch-paper - but don't resort to cigarette lighters or matches, use a wax taper or a specialist lighter.

Probably the most dangerous items, in terms of injuries caused, are sparklers - children poke them in each other's eyes or grab the hot ends when they've gone out, while grown-ups tend to light them in handfuls, with catastrophic results. So make sure that there is a designated "sparkler area" with one person in charge; all children should wear gloves, only one sparkler should be lit at a time, and "dead" sparklers should be put straight into a bucket of water.

Finally, watch the weather. If you're having a bonfire (which of course you'll light with domestic firelighters, NOT flammable liquid), allow for wind when you're deciding where to put it. Remember that while fireworks will still go off in the rain, rockets tend to turn into the wind, and angle them accordingly before lighting them. And if this weekend's weather is just too awful - save your fireworks for New Year's Eve instead!

Comments