02 November, 2006

...and retire

Fireworks have been going off round here for weeks. They've also been going off after well past 11pm, which I thought was now an official curfew. Or at least it was last year, in the wake of government legislation.

Living where I do, however, and being sufficiently far away from ground level to avoid the danger of having a live rocket posted through my letterbox, the fusilage of bangs and crashes doesn't bother me that much. It happens in far away places of which I know little.

It was a different story in Liverpool, though; so much so that one year I went to the trouble of taping up my letterbox so as to avoid any unwelcome deliveries.

Admittedly that was when I was living in a rough area where gangs of what used to be called townies, later chavs, and latterly hoodies, would roam and glare at you with impunity. But even when I moved to a more refined neighbourhood I wasn't entirely free from gunpowder-related chicanery. One year a firework display being held by a nearby local company was so loud it cracked one of my living room windows. Worse, the local company was the one I worked for.

Earlier in my time as a resident of Liverpool I used to attend the grand municipal fireworks display down at the Albert Dock. I went with an old school friend who'd recently moved to the city and her boyfriend, both of whom worked selflessly to get me out and about the place (it was just after I'd left university and was living alone for the first time).

Yet though epic and suitably emotional, these occasions always left me feeling rather at a loss at how to respond. Should I whoop and yell and scream along with certain members of the crowd - or coo and ahhhh with others? What, in other words, was the correct way to respond at such a mass participatory event?

Things were much easier when I was younger, as is true of most things. Then you had no self-awareness or reticence about shouting and shrieking like a demented boiling kettle when exposed to the impact of some colourful sights and sounds.

Our family used to shell out on a few measly fireworks to let off in the back garden. I was always fascinated by the tortuous and arcane instructions ("light the blue touch paper and retire"), and equally terrified by the likelihood of a dud suddenly coming back to life the morning after.

We lived near a university who used to put on a free display every year, and these were exciting events as well, especially as all I had to do was stand by our upstairs landing window and see the results just as clearly as were I out in the cold and the crowd.

Later the university started charging you to attend, and then connived to move the entire display to a point where residents could no longer watch it for free. This all happened once I'd gone to Liverpool, but I still resented the way such changes were introduced almost for the sake of it. And to appease the local paper, of course, who had long railed against the supposed "lack of order" embodied by the cavalcade.

I miss the thrill of getting to watch such events, but I miss the memory of them even more. The older I get, the more the recollection of such occasions grows blurred and bleary, and the accompany sensory echoes fade and die.


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