Bonfire Night? It drives me crackers

In my humble opinion, once you've seen one fireworks display you've seen them all

Dom Joly
Sunday 09 November 2014 01:00

With Halloween over, I could pack away my enormo-pumpkin head for another year. I was preparing to lie back down on the sofa until Christmas when I was informed that we were now to get ready for Bonfire Night. As a party pooper I am as excited by Bonfire Night as I am by the thought of local urchins running an extortion racket on my doorstep. In my humble opinion, once you've seen one fireworks display you've seen them all.

I always hope that the march of progress will one day turn its attention to fireworks and that something new will turn up. Unfortunately, it appears that we can put a man on the moon but not invent a new firework.

I have however, been to three memorable fireworks displays in my life.

The first was just after the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. I was covering the games for this very newspaper and had left the ceremony early so that I could make it across the Chinese capital to the star-studded after-party. This was a pointless move as the Beijing traffic came to a standstill when everybody got out of their cars to watch the fireworks. It felt like the cumulative explosive power used in the Second World War was unleashed over 20 minutes into the China sky. It was awe-inspiring, vaguely frightening and entirely fitting for the nation that invented the bloody things in the first place.

My second was a slightly homemade affair. As a 10-year-old I had managed to purchase quite the collection of rockets and bangers – the concept of health and safety was not widely known in Lebanon in the late Seventies. Up in the pine forests behind our house I rendezvoused with my Lebanese friend Jojo, who also had an impressive stash of his own. We spent an hour setting the things off.

When we'd finished, about 10 per cent of our armoury had not gone off. It was then that I had a splendid idea. I made a large pile of pine needles, put the duds on top of said pile and lit a fire. About seven minutes later, the entire side of the mountain was ablaze and I was running home to explain why I had started a major forest fire.

My third and final memorable display was not really fireworks. Once the Lebanese Civil War started, the locals didn't have time to muck about with amateur explosives. From our balcony we would look down over Beirut and watch fires and explosions all over the Lebanese capital. A particular favourite was tracer fire. Militiamen realised that tracer bullets fired into the air made pretty, snaking red lines in the night sky. They needed little excuse – a holiday, a birthday, a minor victory would call for endless bursts. You could watch the rounds intertwine hypnotically in the air before starting to dip and then fall back into the madness below. The next morning, local newspapers would have a list of people killed by falling ordnance. As I mentioned before, health and safety never really took off with the Lebanese.

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