If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Bangers and Mash

Guy Fawkes' Night, Bonfire Night, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot Night. I like it, always have. I like the turn in the weather and the darker evenings, which always seem to herald the start of winter. It's what is called in Yorkshire the "back end" (as in the oft-heard cry on the first cold morning of the autumn: "Ey up, it's reet back-endy today"). It's around the time of my birthday, too, so that always gave it an extra feelgood dimension.

For weeks before the big day, we would save up out pocket money and buy whatever fireworks we could afford. This was rarely anything expensive, like rockets, or babyish, like Snowstorms and Golden Rain (although a Snowstorm set off in a telephone box was an awesome sight). What we wanted was bangers, which we could set off in the days before to annoy the grown-ups, or throw at each other in innocent merriment. In them days, like, you could get a banger for 2d (tuppence, two old pence, 0.8p), which was short, slim and purposeful-looking, and came in an orange casing with a blue touchpaper at the end. The Standard Fireworks 'Cannon' was the preferred ordnance.

For a bigger bang and a slightly better effect, you could get threepenny bangers, which were slightly fatter and (I seem to remember) a paler orange colour. But they weren't 50% better, so I avoided them.

When throwing lighted bangers at each other grew tedious (and we approached something like man's estate), a friend who had just had central heating installed in his house, made and sold to us his 'banger guns'. These were a foot length of half-inch copper piping, crimped and hammered over at one end and fastened to a crude wooden pistol grip. A banger, lit and popped into the business end, would make a hell of a noise and travel anything up to fifty yards, although accuracy was poor.

The only other firework that any of us bothered with was the Air Bomb. This was (I think) a shilling, which meant that you couldn't buy many, and to have one was to forego six tuppeny bangers or four threepenny ones, but it was always necessary to have at least one every year. The Air Bomb was a real waste - you lit it, it hissed for a bit, went 'phut', and a bright ball shot out of the top, to a height of about 20ft. But then the ball exploded with the loudest crack you have ever heard. And that was it.

The richer kids used to buy something called an Air Bomb Repeater, whose function you can guess at, but these were an expensive rarity. The great thing to do with Air Bombs was to find the one member of the gang who wasn't allowed out that night, and plant one in his garden pointing at his bedroom window. They used to explode precisely at bedroom window height, almost as if they were designed for it.

We didn't recognise Hallowe'en. A few people had Hallowe'en parties, where they bobbed for apples and told ghost stories in the dark, but they were essentially for cissies. The popularity of Hallowe'en is very recent and is, I think, an American import, along with drum majorettes and hamburgers. What we had, in Yorkshire at least, was Mischief Night. This was always the night before Bonfire Night, and we got up to a lot of semi-sanctioned naughtiness. It was never malicious (at least, not to my knowledge), but we did daft stuff like take people's gates off their houses and pile them in the middle of the road, or go round ringing doorbells, or planting Air Bombs in the gardens of the Fotherington-Thomases of the neighbourhood. That was our version of Trick or Treat - no treats, but the tricks were very satisfying.

(One night, we did the gate thing and then realised, when we were several streets away, that we had targeted a street with a lot of old people. We sneaked back and replaced them. No one ever knew.)

Bonfire Night was usually a family occasion, with fireworks organised by someone's Dad, and food, and duffel coats, and general merriment, but it was a pale and uninteresting follow-up to Mischief Night as far as we were concerned.


  1. You must be a mere youngster Richard.

    I remember when 1d bangers were 'quite loud'; and as you say you'd save your pocket money - 10 bob got you 120 of the blighters.

    Then you'd crack 10 or 20 open to get at the gunpowder.

    Later, your mate would take you to the local library where he'd show you the recipe - charcoal, sulphur & potassium nitrate.

    Then you'd have impromptu chemistry lessons, learning about sodium chlorate & sugar. [Way before the IRA bulk-purchased the former & got it banned.]

    As a birthday treat, a packet of the finer icing sugar went well with potassium chlorate - but boy did it create white smoke during its intense combustion.

    Did you ever try 1/2 filling a Corona bottle with water, adding chunks of calcium carbide, screwing the top back on & then running like buggery?

    Oh the fond memories of those distant Bonfire Nights.

  2. I can remember when you have eighteen pints, go to the pictures, have a woman on the way home, and a bag of chips, and still have change from a threepenny bit :)

    I never got into the explosive chemistry thing - I must have been a very protected and delicate child - although I did have a friend who blew away most of his lawn with a cocoa tin full of chlorate and sugar. We did balance pure potassium on the underneath of the bog seats in school so that the next victim would dislodge it into the water, though. That was fun. For us, not him, of course.

    Fond memories, indeed.

  3. ".....have a woman on the way home, .....and still have change from a threepenny bit"

    Ah! Proof positive that you're not Silvio Berlusconi in disguise - his females cost €10,000 (£8,738) per bang!


    "We did balance pure potassium on the underneath of the bog seats in school so that the next victim would dislodge it into the water, though."


  4. Berlusconi needs to pay more for his pleasures because he is a) uglier, b) older, and c) less charismatic than me. Fact.

    Plus I'm a lot less fussy.

  5. penny bangers in an empty metal dustbin was always fun :-)

  6. Agreed. Sometimes you could even blow the lid off.


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