Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Monday, October 27, 2003

Alight from the dark

God, things have changed since I was li'l. Going into the Post Office just now, I've discovered that the world of fireworks has become, well, militarised. In the display case I helped him build (I passed him up a hammer), Post Office Bloke's got all these parcels the size of a car battery with names like 'Heavy Bomber, tank blast, and, my personal favourite, atom bomb.' There was the Twister, with the warning/tag line '18 shot barrage.' It's definitely a step up from 'emits showers of sparks'.

I just know I'm going to be witnessing quite a lot of these devastating effects. With the rat boys looking for a handy patch of land, you get the strange feeling that my back garden's going to fit the bill. And assuming it's not 3am and they don't burn anyone's face off, why not? Bangs and unexplained flashes are as part of the Autumn tapestry as leaves, frosts and car crashes.

Brother thinks fireworks should be banned, but the liberal in me hates that. True, there's no good reason to let off fireworks, but there's no good reason to do a lot of things. And yes, people misuse fireworks, but a bottle of wine is fairly deadly in the wrong hands. It just seems such an authoritarian, heavy-handed measure; ban fireworks, solve the problem. Lock up heroin addicts, solve the problem. Outlaw vagrancy... Why not make it a crime to misuse fireworks, rather than use them.

Besides, there's something deeply primal about our need to let off explosions at the start of winter. Maybe its the need for sound and light, to repel the silence and darkness of winter. Diwali's all about light, and so's solstice, and it's no wonder Christianity had to adapt to this need too. Perhaps in setting off a firework we're echoing the first moment homo habilus made fire, in his control of nature setting himself apart from the animals he lived among. In lighting the blue touch paper we're striking those first flints, scaring those first mammoths, cooking our first bit of buffalo. Maybe by finding out that fire has been one of man's oldest friends (those fickle dogs knew a good thing when they saw one), rather than something to fear, we find ourselves understanding a little more the mystery of what it means to be a human. Both me staring at a candle flame and the rat boy setting a car alight are just exploring our common humanity in the cold winter night.

Failing that, we just like a good bang. And Atom Bomb is only a tenner.


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