Talk to kids these days of Catherine Wheels, Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers and they may well think they were three of your school friends but a long time ago they were synonymous with Guy Fawkes night. A celebration of the plot to blow up the British Parliament something I didn’t know at the time and probably something that didn’t really matter either because for us it was just an excuse to blow up letter boxes, stick sky rockets in milk or beer bottles and stand in front of a bonfire for hours with all the other families from the neighbourhood.
In the old orchard estate where I lived there were still plenty of vacant lots in those days and in the weeks leading up to Guy Fawkes night all the kids and most of the dads from the neighbourhood would spend every spare minute dragging whatever the could find into the middle of the lot and building a bonfire that seemed to stretch for yards into the sky. It didn’t matter what you threw on there either as long as it could burn – there’d be old furniture, mattresses and plenty of old car tyres that burnt with thick black acrid smoke. The blacker the better.
The nights would start with a gathering on the corner with the fireworks our fathers had brought home and we’d watch in amazement as the catherine wheels spun and the rockets burst high overhead and when ours were finished it seemed to be a signal for more to begin rising from other parts of the neighbourhood and the show would go on for what seemed like hours.
Do you remember the sound of penny bungers being set off in letter boxes or down drains and for days after the stacato sounds of a strip of tom thumbs being let off in the school toilets.
We were lucky in those days before fun was banned.