Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Fireworks night

Like Peter and an awful lot of British folk, I'm still mystified by Halloween and trick or treat and the only celebration at this time of year I looked forward to, as a youngster, was the 5th November fireworks night, or Guy Fawke's night. After Christmas and birthdays, this was one of the biggest highlights of the year for children in the UK.

It seems the tradition is dying which is a shame, and it really was for kids only (although adults lit the fireworks, obviously!), but in my first year as an undergraduate, and if memory serves, able to buy fireworks legally for the first time in my life, I and a couple of friends decided to hold our own Guy Fawke's firework display and bring back a British tradition in a cold and muddy field in the middle of Preston, so probably surrounded by plenty of onlookers.

We bought several small rockets and other miscellanea but saved up enough money between us to buy the biggest rocket in the shop. It was huge and came with special instructions on how to launch it as a milk bottle wouldn't have been enough.

We were all science students so we knew better and came up with a solution as we didn't have the right material. I can't remember what it was now but I do remember we were fairly confident it would work, but not confident enough to at least fire off all the other rockets first.

Everything was going well, the police hadn't arrived yet, and all we had left was the monster rocket, so we set it up and I lit the fuse and we all retreated, nay, ran, to a "safe" distance. This rocket + stick was about 5-feet tall so we were a little nervous about what would happen next.

All I can say is that I haven't lit another firework since then. This thing took quite a while to actually get going, but after 20 seconds or so it looked like a space shuttle launch, at least initially. In a breathtaking shower of sparks the rocket remained rooted to the ground and started tipping over - straight towards where we were taking cover (which was in the middle of a field). Before we could even think of running it overcame gravity and launched itself straight over our heads, probably missing us by a couple of feet, leaving burning hot cinders on our clothes and in our hair.

I don't think it ever got more than ten feet above the ground, but it flew and was an astounding sight. About 100 yards away it ran out of puff and landed in the only bush within sight and then things were quiet for the next couple of seconds. We all looked at each other and were about to say "run!" when the bush exploded in a way I simply can't describe, it was beyond spectacular. I just hope there was no couple necking there that evening.

If I recall, the UK law concerning fireworks was changed the next year...

Picture credit:


Lou Minatti said...

For a spectacular and very dangerous rocket you don't need a permit, you just need a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke and a packet of Mentos candy. See:

I wanted to do this with my Scouts, but there is a liability issue. :-)

Tom said...

Sometimes I feel so naive trying to understand America without having grown up here. I know what a diet coke is but have no idea what mentos candy is - I'll look it up, don't worry!

As for dangerous stuff, when I was in the 6th form at school (age 17-18) my two best friends took a little dry ice (CO2) home from a physics class to try and make some soda. It was in the best interests of science and experimentation, but they didn't tell anyone about it. They put a pea-sized amount of dry ice in a glass bottle filled with water and shook it.

The next day we wondered why they weren't in class. Both were in hospital, one of them with quite serious head/eye injuries and it took a while to remove the glass splinters from one of her eyes.

Fortunately they both survived and one of them is now a very well respected research scientist!

I'll look at the youtube link tomorrow, can't do it from home I'm afraid.