Tag Archives: Standard Fireworks

Bonfire Night! A warning from history…

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Bonfire night was always a major celebration in our family and our back garden was the  location for the annual festivities.

In the 1960’s the family bonfire party was the norm and the back garden was the venue. In all honestly we kids used to be purchasing and letting off fireworks from the time they became available in the local shops in late September. We’d go to different shops, often away from the Reso so that our firework purchasing would not draw the suspicion of the local shopkeepers. We would club together to extend our purchases from a single banger to a box of ten, and there would inevitably be disputes about who had contributed most, and who would decide where and when we would let off the fireworks.

On the Reso there were some houses which had a covered entry between the houses. We used to gather to light fireworks in such entries because the sound and awe of the bangers going off in such confined spaces was spectacular. The game was to stand next to the exploding firework and only then run and hide as the local house dwellers came storming out to investigate the deafening explosion. It was sometimes difficult to think coherently and run when you had been so close to the explosion and you could only hear the jabber of your friends as a high-pitched yet muffled rumble.

My mam was probably the most dangerous person I knew around fireworks. On the one occasion when my dad was working an afternoon shift and would not be home until at least 10.30, she took charge of the proceedings. It was mayhem!

The rocket which was designed to commence the proceedings was too large for the milk bottle in which it was placed. My brother and I pointed out the danger, but mam thought we were questioning her ability and waved aside our warnings.  As she lit the outsized rocket, sure enough the milk bottle fell over. Luckily, on the rough furrowed soil that my dad prepared at the end of the vegetable growing season, it fell facing into a neighbours garden. Had it fallen the other way it would have shot straight through our back room window and exploded on the dining table. As it was, it managed to penetrate the chain link fence and was caught miraculously in a large bra, injudiciously left on the line by our neighbour. Caught and held firm in the bra, the firework worked itself to a crescendo. Mam immediately urged everyone in, and suspended proceedings until she was sure the neighbours were not going to come out and complain. I was the only one who stayed out to see the rocket explode, closer to the ground than intended. In a crescendo of red and green stars one bosom of the bra was turned into a colander.

To her credit when both Ruby, the neighbour, and my mam were in the garden the next morning sorting washing for the line, she feigned innocence, being dumbfounded by the damage to the bra… ‘bloody kids, eh!’ were her words of commiseration to Ruby and her air ventilated left bosomed bra..

After a 15 minute hiatus, my mam reconvened the firework party and things started to approach normality. A succession of Roman Candles and a Vesuvius were successfully lit and we ooh’ed and aah’ed at their wonderful showers of colour and volcanic lava spurting.

My mam, emboldened by these successes, now proceeded to prepare a Catherine Wheel. Again we gave her wise advise to attach it to the washing line post, but she insisted it would look better pinned to the recently painted shed door.  She picked up a handily placed half brick and proceeded to hammer the Catherine wheel into the door.  It was clear what was going to happen and assuredly it did. Mam lit the holy firework and retreated as fast as her furry boots would allow her. The Catherine Wheel spluttered into life, but effectively nailed securely to the door, refused to turn, and instead expended its fiery fury down the paintwork of the door, burning a neat vertical line in the paint, which given the furious temperatures, continued to burn after the firework had expended its sparkling contents.

My mam was crestfallen that the Catherine Wheel had not performed as desired and immediately advanced on the door to pin a second wheel below the first. This time she summoned me into the house to  bring a small hammer from my dad’s toolkit. She tacked the pin very carefully this time, ensuring that the firework was able to spin freely. Like a surgeon, she handed the hammer back to me and instructed me to retreat as she lit this second firework.

She was delighted when this Catherine Wheel spun flawlessly, showering sparks in silver circles at a faster and faster pace until all the gunpowder was expended and a burning disk was all that remained. In the darkness and with our eyes overwhelmed by the sparky, mesmerising display, we could not see the full damage to the shed door.

My mam’s efforts had burned a large exclamation mark into the door, which would form the basis of a family argument the following day, in which, for my part, I repeated my advice of the night, which had been to use the washing line post for the Catherine Wheels, my dad nodded in agreement, and my mam gave me a withering look.

On the eve of the seventies, the popularity of the family garden firework display declined. This was in part due to the sheer volume of accidents which inundated hospital accident and emergency wards each Bonfire Night. It might also have been a signal of the weakening of family ties. either way, it seemed the future belonged to large organised displays. Ironically, at the first organised display I can remember taking place, on the promenade, a fireman was tragically killed by a massive firework detonating prematurely.

The organised displays comprise massive expenditure on spectacular fireworks, but the children are now passive onlookers, rather than active participants in the events of the night. As I was never hurt by fireworks, other than the odd burn, and temporary loss of hearing. I don’t feel so keenly the demand to control fireworks as those who were more grievously burned.

The pictures were taken last week at the annual Southwell Rugby Club display.

 

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The Reso: A place in time

 

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Copyright: Rhyl Town Council

 

It started as a homage to childhood really, my childhood, growing up on the Reso council estate in the seaside town of Rhyl in the nineteen sixties.

It was a time when my most serious concerns were, in seasonal order, would it snow when forty of my family made their way to the Fun Fair on Easter Monday, would the temperature in Rhyl outdoor baths ever top 55F, would I be picked for the annual Gwynfryn Avenue 150 a side football match against Rhydwen Drive and where was I going to find the two shillings a day needed to feed my autumnal firework habit.

 

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It quickly turned into something else.

In a feat of memory that seems to rival the Rain Man, I seem to have stored forensic detail of my childhood which others have forgotten……

… the starched feel of the antimacassars in our Welsh chapel-going neighbours’ front room where I sat playing with the snow dome bought on a Sunday school visit to Llandudno

… the metallic clunk of the stamping machine in the railway station on which you could print out rude messages of sixteen letter lengths, on which, I, at the age of eight, managed “Bum. titty bum bu” because I miscalculated the spaces and the punctuation

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Not my copyright – Unknown Photo

…the intensely warm glow of a family Christmas tea at my Nain’s when twenty of my cousins would gather around the extended table to savour meats and pickles of cosmic variety and Corona lime and dandelion and burdock pop which was as flat as a witches’ tit, all the time sweating from the ship’s boiler room fire that my Nain had stoked up in the grate, inches behind me. 

…the wisdom of my mother, who reassured me that the reason we didn’t have chocolate biscuits in our house was because “I’d only eat them…”  an explanation that kept me happy until I was thirteen, and began wondering what else you’d do with biscuits!

…the twenty minute rule of my dad, which he reassured us, was more than enough time to have the immersion heater on for our weekly bath (whether we needed it or not!) in advance of watching the Beatles appearing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium

It seemed that my childhood was in fact everyone else’s childhood. Deeply rooted in that sixties decade when, despite the threat of world mutually assured destruction and random violence from the likes of Steve Caroli on the estate, everything seemed possible.

Many lived the same dream, and many today wished they had.

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A Reso Bonfire Night!

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Bonfire Night was a favourite night of the year as before large organised displays,it was always  family affair i the back of our garden. Counsins, uncles and aunties all attended and if we had a visitor staying, they joined in, like the redoubtable Jock Morrison who was managing the shopfitting of Marks and Spencers and was staying from his home in Glasgow. He contributed a large box of fireworks to the proceedings like the one above.

You couldn’t beat Standard Fireworks back in the day. Their box artwork was the stuff of legends and the fireworks seldom disappointed.

It would be agony for all the family to gather, and I used to sit on the top of our brick and concrete shed to see the fireworks of other families as a prelude to our own. We also had to wait for all the dad’s to finish work, come home, wash and change from their work clothes.

There was always a surplus gabardine mackintosh for the guy and a pillow case was filled with straw from the rabbit hutch to form a face. Being a strong socialist household, the guy was always pictured as a Tory politician. I can just remember  Sir Alec Douglas Home and Ted Heath crackling away.

Before the fire was started my mum and aunties would prepare the evening’s food. Potatoes were placed in the oven to bake, there was a heady smell of sausages grilling  and onions frying and a massive pan of tomato soup to which my mum added some milk and pepper. The finger rolls covered both the hot dogs and the dunking bread for the soup which was served in a pair of last Christmas’ paper drinking cups. Two paper cups ensured that we didn’t burn ourselves with the steaming soup. I remember them having a blue Dresden type design which seemed unsuitable for Christmas or Bonfire night, but that didn’t matter because they were serviceable enough, and would go to waste otherwise.

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The adults, usually my dad, lit the fireworks and there was a chain of command of us children along whom was passed each firework. This stretched the proceedings out to cover for the lack of fireworks but also gave each child time to contemplate the coming delights. We knew the Standard Firework range intimately and could tell what each firework would entail.

The box of Standard Fireworks illustrated was available in the early sixties. By the end of the decade, several of them had been banned as being too dangerous for public use. Examples of such fireworks included the Jumping Jack ( my brother Graham’s favourite ). This was effectively a ribbon of gunpowder filled paper pleated together with cotton such that each pleat would explode individually and propel the jumping jack in whatever direction it chose. These caused mayhem in the garden as us children tried to anticipate the next direction of travel.  It was an errant jumping jack which led to the fireworks being kept in the shed and distributed to my father one at a time as in a previous year a jumping jack landed in a small box of fireworks carelessly left on the ground and managed to ignite them all simultaneously. The display was intense but short-lived.

There was a story that a Jumping Jack had landed down one of my distant auntie’s fur-lined boot and had continued to explode – doing untold burn damage to her leg. Perhaps it was a story told to keep us from buying the Jumping Jack as a loose firework in the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night.

The Aeroplane featured above, was also to be banned. This looked a fairly innocuous firework of diminutive size and with a short cardboard wing with RAF roundels on it. When lit it spun into the air and flew at random angles at tremendous speed until all the gunpowder was used up. Auntie Doreen had once hid herself in the outside toilet when this firework was announced, only to find the errant Aeroplane taking off, leaving the confines of the garden and returning in a flight of increasingly obtuse angles until it entered the outside toilet in the small gap at the bottom of the wooden door. Auntie Doreen always stayed indoors to watch the fireworks after that, waving serenely, like the queen as we oohed and aahed in the cold air of the garden.

The cone-shaped fireworks went by names like Hell’s volcano or Vesuvius and burned with an angry intensity , often producing a fierce display of lava which flowed down the sides. As quickly as they started, they fizzled out, leaving just the molten lava glowing in the night air.

The Roman Candles were sedate fireworks that occasionally changed colour from red to yellow to green, which was not unlike the similar traffic lights. However, we tended to prefer the fireworks which projected fireballs into the air with noisy abandon.

The most enigmatic firework was always the Catherine Wheel. The white circular firework was meant to be pinned securely to a wooden post allowing it to rotate freely and with increasing speed as the gunpowder expended itself. It was an unpredictable cove and one year it would stay still and simply consume itself, another it would fall from the post and convulse on the ground. Probably the best Catherine Wheel display was that provided by my mother when my dad was delayed by being on the late shift. It span freely and for an extended period before being consumed in flames. Unfortunately my mum had pinned it to the shed door and it had removed and burned a neat spiral into the paintwork. I remember thinking it was not me for once who had done something so daft!

The ground firew0rks were usually punctuated with rockets of ever greater girth. The sixpenny ones were often fired in volleys from a succession of milk bottles, half buried in the soil which had held the peas and beans in the summer. The formal part of the display always concluded with the launch of the largest five shilling rocket and we all cheered as it exploded with a resounding roar.

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The fun was not over though, my dad would pass me a rake and I was told to spread out the embers of the bonfire so that it could be used to finish off the baked potatoes. As the adults made their way back into the house to open the party sevens of Watney’s Red Barrel, or to sample a Snowball or two or a Cherry B, the elder members of my cousins abandoned the rake and went fire-walking through the embers in our wellies – daring each other to see who could withstand the glutinous heat which was melting our rubber boots.

Soup, hot dogs and baked potatoes finished, there just remained the cavalcade of sparklers. We were all lined up and given a giant sparkler and processed one by one to the gas stove to light it and then our of the door and into the garden to dance and scream making neon versions of our names and rude words which were burnt into our retinas and remain there to this day. Invariably, one child would get burned by a sparkler – usually by holding it in an ungloved hand or returning to the dying sparkler to see how hot it still was rather than dunking it in the bucket of sand provided for safety.

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Bonfire Night often ended on a bit of a damp squib, not least for the person burnt that year but the real agony was that it would be a year before we would gather again for such an illuminating spectacle!

 

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Living the Reso!

For those of you for whom the Reso was especially redolent, or perhaps those who know it personally, you can now own your own part of it to complement the book… (I sound like an advert for the latest offering from the London Mint there!)

Working with Universal Wear, a Rhyl-based company, all the front covers will be made available on mugs for you to while away a few minutes of tea or coffee drinking in rampant nostalgia. The first cover is now available with the others to follow!

Incidentally, for all those who have been racking their brain to work out what the front cover of The Reso reminds them of, it is based on the box art of the £5 box of Standard Fireworks from the 1960s. (“Light up the sky with Standard Fireworks” might bring back some happy memories of those times.)

To order your mug, please contact Universal Wear directly:
www.universalwear.co.uk
Tel: 01745 354379

Reso mugs

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The Reso: Genesis of the cover image

When the final manuscript for the Res was finished in February 2007, thoughts turned to the cover.

I knew I wanted something iconic of my childhood which was also vibrantly colourful. The solution was obvious and I’d even mentioned it in the text – the box art of the £5 box of Standard Fireworks.

At a time when most, and certainly our family had small garden displays and a bonfire, every contributed fireworks to the display. I’m ashamed to say that I assiduously courted a lad whose dad worked away, but had more money than us. He therefore had access to a £5 box from the Standard range.

The artwork of the Huddersfield based company was as vivid as a migraine and graphically foretold what the enclosed fireworks, enticingly named things like Banshee, Little Demon, Vesuvius, Golden Rain and Silver Streak would create in the night sky…

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The Reso - A Sixties Childhood

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