The bangers that didn’t bang. More snap, crackle and pop. The sparkler that dad lit and mum held – with fear in her face – as the sulphur burned. Dad lighting rockets in milk bottles and the bonfire in the corner of the garden burning bright. With slabs of parkin and treacle toffee. How we loved treacle toffee. Stuck together, stuck to your teeth, stuck to your hands and stuck in your heart. Me and our Alan. Watching dad lighting the selection box of fireworks. One by one. Some good, some bad, some fantastic. Eyes wide open. Fireworks blowing up. Then we watched the colours as the rockets exploded. Reached for the sky, some of them did. Reached for the fucking sky. Bottles of ginger beer to wash down the baked potatoes. Baked in the oven and thrown on the fire at the end. Not that we knew that then. But they were beautiful. And finally toffee apples to end the night.
Then when we were older we’d build bonfires and raid other bonfires. Pinch their good stuff. Try and set it alight. Keeping guard for hours. Until Brian the bully appeared and then we ran and hid. Brian could throw bricks hundreds and hundreds of yards and he’d throw bangers at us but we’d re-emerge unscathed. Looking around corners. On our toes. To the local shop for our own bangers to put in concrete pipes and through people’s letterboxes. Breaking them open and making shazams. To impress the girls. To impress our mates. To fuck about. Idiots, that’s what we were.
Bonfire night and the tall, majestic fire burning even brighter. Centre pole, old tyres. Tyres from tractors or articulated lorries. They were the best. Robbed from the tip. Asbestos roofing thrown on to get the party started. Then light the asbestos and throw it through the air. Rockets inside drainpipes and some loon would have robbed some railway detonators from the local rail depot. Drop a brick on one of those and it was louder than any banger. Stood around watching the tomfoolery. In our Crombie overcoats thinking we were the business. Little pricks dressed as old city gents. Cherry reds shining bright. Matching hanky in the top pocket. Red rose badge on the pocket. Rolled umbrella or a newfangled automatic thing with the point sharpened. To match the comb in our pockets. Sharp as a knife or so we thought. Good nights. Really good nights.
Tonight’s a good night. Me and Janet are going over to Ally Pally. The People’s Palace to watch the fireworks. The whole of Muswell Hill’s going over to the Pally. North London’s going over to the Pally. It’s an institution over this way. Along the Broadway and across the park. Kids smiling. The people going to the People’s Palace like they always have. But tonight feels good: Wrapped up against the chill on this starry, starry night. Bubble coat and suedes. Football scarf around my neck. Janet in her posh winter coat and her Burberry scarf and her smile. Her wonderful innocent, soothing smile. As she locks her car and then checks it again. Like they are going to rob a bloody Citroen 2CV. Then back to the car to put her boots on. For fuck sake make your mind up, girl. But… But I forgive her because she’s my friend. The girl that loves Tom Waits more than anything in the world takes my arm and kisses me on the cheek and we join the throng on the Broadway. Smiling at the kids with their sparklers and everybody’s happy nowadays.
Then we are stood on the hillside looking over north east London. Then looking up to the sky and these fireworks go higher than anything I have ever seen. This is no snap, crackle and pop as the huge crowd ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and screams and I look across at the faces and I am back in our garden. Mum, dad, our Alan and me. Reaching for the sky. Reaching for the fucking sky. Thinking of Alan. On that ship looking at the sky. Watching the gunfire coming in. Lighting up the sky. Before the hit and the cold, cold ocean. Looking up. Reaching for the sky.
I’m lost for the moment. Janet wipes the tear from my eye with her hanky and a rocket heads for the moon. Then it whooshes and crashes and spreads out and it soars again. Then the loudest bang. Then silence. Absolute silence. Then applause. It’s over for another year.
We walk across the park and drop in The John Baird. It is packed but Janet flashes that smile, is served in a moment and we sit by the fire. I nestle my Guinness. She sips her Baileys. And I say, ‘You enjoy it, mate?’
‘Loved it, Rich.’
‘Reached for the sky some of those fireworks, didn’t they Jan?’
‘Yeah, reached for the fucking sky, Rich.’