Cracker night – Why we do Guy Fawkes better in the UK

Sandy  

I’ve been a little quiet of late. Apart from that whole global pandemic issue messing with life plans, I’ve been busy behind the scenes working on a revamped website. But tonight’s noisy fireworks for Guy Fawkes night brought back all the childhood memories and I couldn’t miss an opportunity for a quick post.

Guy Fawkes Night

Tonight was Guy Fawkes night here in the UK (used to be Cracker Night in Australia). When we first moved here back in 2014, we lived in a detached Victorian Bungalow (to Aussies that means a nice big old house in the suburbs).  And while I’d love to say the house (all three storeys of it) were just for our family, it wasn’t. It was split into four flats. In its day it would have been a grand old place with the servant(s) living on the upper floor, but in 2014 that roof space, complete with sloping ceilings and rooflights (I’ll get to those in a minute…) was home to a small extended family of Scotts. 

Image of frosty London roof and windows flush with roof slope
A (frosty) room with a rooflight view (Ealing, December 2014)

Unbeknown to us, fireworks are legal in the UK. Had I known that, I might have moved here sooner! And when I say legal…I mean anyone can buy them! Not just the government for New Year’s Eve. Amazing.

If you’ve ever wondered why Sydney does fireworks in such a big way for New Year’s Eve, well for one thing it’s summer in oz so everyone is outside in full holiday mode; and second…no one else is allowed to buy fireworks. (Oh and we also have a great city around the harbour that makes it all really Instagram ready too…yeah, I’m looking at you Melbourne.).  So basically the government has a monopoly on fireworks. Oh, and the little country town shows also have pretty good fireworks.  But that’s it.

An Aussie childhood

The funny thing is that I am actually old enough to (just) remember the last ever cracker night in Australia – I guess it was for Guy Fawkes night but I’ve no idea. I don’t know what night, or even what year it was but we lived in Berowra in the northern suburbs of Sydney and our neighbours had a couple of fireworks to set off. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old I think? The firecrackers were nothing like the brits have here though – it was a couple of pinwheels stuck to a gum tree from memory…but I thought it was magical! (and even then was scared the tree would catch fire and we’d all die….)

But then as teenager my friends and I would do a bit of DIY (massive, massive safety alert here people…do not try this at home!!!). Before a camping trip or bonfire on a mate’s farm (we’d left Sydney and lived in the country by now), we’d buy a load of sparklers from Coles and Woolies and spend an afternoon sitting around an old can, scrunching off all the ‘sparkle dust’ from those wire sticks.

And that is why we don’t have fireworks in Australia now children…

As I type this, I realise that it really does sound as boring as it seems. But we’d have JJJ on the radio and then that night we’d ‘light er up’! Sometimes, we’d put a slit in a tennis ball, put a bit of sparkle dust in that too and it lit up like a fan for about all of 5 seconds. Oh how we did love it. But that was it. That was the extent of our fireworks (and thinking about it I now I do wonder that we didn’t start any bushfires!?)

In fact funny story…once we were camped a long way away down by a local creek and we spent all afternoon filling one of these tins with sparkle dust. It was a big tin and it must have been about half full I think. It was going to go up realllllly well!

Only problem is that we forgot to leave one sparkler as the wick. My friend’s brother volunteered and dropped the match in only to have sparkle firework go BOOM in his face and about 10foot up in the air, almost setting alight the camp and the tree we were under, and losing his eyebrows in the process…..he was absolutely fine, but hmmm…now i am understanding why fireworks are banned in Australia. (*slaps forehead*)

So back to the UK…

Here, it’s sooooo wet all the time that nothing is going to start any bushfires so it’s a bit of a free for all. So that means that on Guy Fawkes Night, New Years Eve, Diwali, kid’s birthday party, well….for any reason… you can set off fireworks in your back garden.

And we aren’t talking standard quarter acre blocks here like the Sydney burbs…we’re talking gardens of terrace rows reminicent more of say Redfern or Surry Hills!

Forget bushfires…we’re talking house fires here! Eeek! And we’re not talking sparklers in tennis balls either – these are proper 20metres in the air BOOM type real deal crackers. It’s great! (not so great for the animals of course so I do feel bad)… but I love it!

I think the first night we saw firecrackers at that house in Ealing it was a neighbours birthday party. We all rushed to the windows to see what was going on and there were six little Scott’s with their heads popped out of these rooflights looking around at the fireworks and marveling at all the good things that Britain had to offer. We had arrived in the promised land!

New Years in Ealing 2014/15

See those rooflights, are actually windows that are flush with the pitch of the roof. Our flat was literally in the attic roof space of that big old Victorian house. Often the servants were put in the attic space, which would have been great as I tell you now that they had the best views (except they worked from dusk till dawn so probably never had a moment to enjoy the view!). Here, space is such a premium that these attics are converted to flats. In oz, that roof space is somewhere for the snakes and spiders to live so that (in theory) they stay out of the rest of the house. But that flat had low pitched roof ceilings…so it was perfect for a bunch of shorties like us Scott’s. But most importantly that house had simply the best views for fireworks.

And that New Years Eve it was amazing. There was a little Scott head popped out of every available window braving the freezing cold of a winters night. All around us everyone lit fireworks. The popping and cracking went literally for miles (or kilometres…) around – everywhere that we could see from our amazing rooftop view there were sparkles and a contant rumble of fireworks for about 10minutes. To be honest…it made me think of just how scary the war would have been! It was a sight I will never forget. Which is just as well because our new place, although lovely, looks directly into the flats over the High Street shops and totally blocks out everything but a view of the railway line.

New Year’s 2014/15 (Ealing, London)
Is it the end?

There is talk of banning them here. And I get it. My forays into being a fireworks specialist as a teenager could have gone a lot worse than lost eyebrows. And I have heard the tales of what Dad got up to as a kid. I’ve also heard some idiots here have even put fireworks through letterboxes (letterboxes here are in the front doors and not out by the street!) here on Guy Fawkes night.

It’s just that sort of daft tomfoolery, that spoils things for the rest of us…just like people in this pandemic I guess!? Play safe everyone. Be cool.

And just so that you can all enjoy the bliss of an Aussie cracker night and a glimpse into my childhood…let me share with you the ode to fireworks – ‘Cracker Night’ by John Williamson (no…not the classical guitarist guy…the other one…)
Enjoy.

ps. This morning I awoke to this sad news – a stray rocket set fire to some peoples houses! Seems it’s always a busy night for the hard-working firies after all.

Lyrics

Teary eyes at the window,

Where did Mum and Dad go?

I wish someone would hurry up and come and get me,Gee I’m scared

The cat shot through, She saw the light and fled.

Cracker night was a real big deal, when I was a little kid

They started lettin’ them off after tea

I ran inside and hid

And all the dogs from everywhere were underneath me bed.
We all went down in our dressing gowns to see the big bonfire

Wide eyes watched the straw man burn on a mile-high pile of tires

Hot as hell, big black smell and red hot rings of wire.
Sky rockets zinging,

Catherine wheels spinning,

What a flamin’ evening,

Fire trucks were screaming

Smoky haze hangin’ round for days

And Grandma’s ears were ringing.
Every night after school draggin’ bits of wood,

Boxes and branches and rotten old fences,

And mattresses were good.We even scrounged a vinyl lounge

And anything we could
Little Guy Fawkes’s and letter boxes

Blown all out of shape

Light the wick and back off quick,

And make the big escape

Cackin’ ourselves and rippin’ my shirt

Scrambling through the gate
Sky rockets zinging

Catherine wheels spinning

What a flamin’ evening

Fire trucks were screaming

Smoky haze hangin’ round for days

And Grandma’s ears were ringing.
A house burnt down on the edge of town

We all took off with Pa

This thing whizzed across the road

And nearly hit our car

A bang and spark lit up the park

And everyone went Ah! Ah! Ah!
Cracker night was a real big deal,

When I was a little kid,

It seems like only yesterday

Tucked away in bed

Dreams of schemes and double bunger

Daring things we did