Fireworks lit - now stand well back

Feature pix

Feature pix - Credit: Archant

Like all proper human beings, I am somewhat obsessed with fire.

A scene from a previous fireworks display at Heveningham Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher/Library

A scene from a previous fireworks display at Heveningham Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher/Library - Credit: Nick Butcher

I grew up with an open fire in the house (in a grate - we may have lived in Old Costessey, but we weren't heathens), we had regular bonfires in our garden, I was unnaturally obsessed with fireworks and I've always hoarded enough candles to keep me illuminated throughout a 10-year blackout.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I am the chief fire-starter in the household.

I can hold forth on logs and their various merits for longer than is strictly decent, my poker work is a sight to behold, there is always a layer of coal dust under my fingernails in winter and I can fashion a newspaper into kindling faster than a toupee can fly in a hurricane.

I blame it all on my formative years – those fires at home, a stint as a shop assistant at Head in the Clouds where I could vent my obsession with candles and incense thanks to a generous staff discount and the Paganistic Bonfire Night celebrations in my village.


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Fireworks night in Costessey was a rite of passage, where boys became men, girls became women and everyone became coated in a thick blanket of ash.

The flaming remains of cheap fireworks would regularly plummet into the audience, Catherine wheels would inevitably fall off their posts and career towards the crowd like messengers from hell and there would be always cause to reach for the fire extinguisher.

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To be hit by a flaming firework was a badge of honour. You didn't feel like you'd been to an amateur display hosted by kindly locals with wind-up torches unless your fringe was singed off or you'd melted your hands into claws with a sparkler.

In fact in those days, we lit sparklers direct from the bonfire because it wasn't cordoned off or replaced by a television screen of flames in a nod to health and safety – you'd be looking at a 10-stretch for that kind of behaviour these days.

By far the most dangerous thing about bonfire night, however, were the burgers.

Bearing only a passing resemblance to meat, or indeed any organic matter whatsoever, they single-handedly justified my decision to turn vegetarian.

Time has taught me that there's not too much you can do to ruin a baked potato, although to give the Costessey catering team credit, they really tried.

Way back then, November nights were colder than a tin toilet seat on the shady side of an iceberg and if it hadn't been for the bonfire, entire Costessey dynasties would have been lost to hypothermia.

Because I want you to get the very most out of firework displays this week, I have compiled a handy list of things you should know about our fiery skyrocket friends, none of which are useful or will prevent injury. So on that note, don't revisit a lit firework, readers, and don't eat one, either.

Things You Need to Know About Fireworks:

-The first fireworks were probably made in China, around 2,000 years ago. One story says that a cook invented them by accident when he happened to mix potassium nitrate with charcoal and sulphur – one can only imagine what a delicious meal he was in the middle of preparing.

-Initially, fireworks were popular because of the loud sound they made and the fear they produced. Ironically, it is a love of this very same phenomenon that last year resulted in dozens of Asbos being handed out to teenage firework fans for whom 'bonfire night' is an elastic concept which involves several weeks of October and the entire of November.

-The word for firework in Japanese – hanabi – means 'fire flower'. The Japanese are amazing: they have words that we'd kill for – they have a word for men who have combovers which translates as 'barcode men' because the separate strands of hair spread over a scalp look like a barcode and a word that means 'dessert stomach' which means being full when it comes to savoury food but still able to accommodate pudding. Neither of these words has anything to do with fireworks.

-The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1485 – whether they continued in the royal bedchamber on Henry's wedding night is a matter that accompanied wife Duchess Margaret Beaufort of Suffolk to her grave.

-The oldest and most-respected firework firm in Britain was based in Swaffham. Brock's began life in the early 1700s and went on to provide the spectacular displays at the glittering Crystal Palace, but fizzled out in 1988 when the company was bought out by Standard Fireworks.

-Three sparklers burning together generates the same heat as a blowtorch, although your children are unlikely to run while holding a blowtorch or attempt to pick one up by the hot end and if they do, Darwin has a theory about them.

-Blue fireworks are rarely used in large quantities because they cost so much to produce. Their colour comes from copper, which is expensive, while cheaper fireworks are coloured by easier-to-source elements such as calcium (orange), sodium (yellow), aluminium (white) and iron (gold). You came to my page for entertainment and I crept up on you with SCIENCE.

-Peony, chrysanthemum, dahlia, willow, palm, ring, spider, horsetail and rain are all technical terms for the effects certain fireworks create in the sky. 'Oooh!' and 'Aaah!' are the technical terms used by onlookers to describe every single one of them.

-Fireworks factory employees who work in the shell-manufacturing areas of plants are banned from wearing shell suits in case their synthetic clothing produces sparks that lead to the entire operation going up in smoke (and showers of glitter). This, Alanis Morissette, is ironic.

-Never be seduced by your love of fireworks to buy the indoor variety, even if it is raining outside and your love of shell suits prevents you from purchasing 'real' fireworks. Unless you are likely to be entranced by the pyrotechnic equivalent of watching a dog foul a public highway, you are bound to be disappointed.

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