The great thing about having a school friend who’s father owned your local sweet and toy shop was of course the samples that your friend could liberate from his fathers shop before you all went to school every morning.
I never liberated anything from Micks dad’s shop, didn’t have to because Mick did all the liberating himself and unselfishly shared it all out as we waited at the bus stop.
And there would always be something stuffed in our pockets by Micks mum as we waited in the kitchen for him to finish his breakfast, for such a small kid he always had to eat the most enormous breakfasts, we just had toast and tea and then off to school, Mick sat down to platefuls of cooked breakfast – every day, every frikkin day, and porridge in the winter too – his mother would not let him leave the house until he’d eaten every last scrap and we’d stand in their small kitchen nudging him, telling him to hurry up because we’d already missed four buses and if we missed the next one then we’d definitely be late. He’d finish his plateful, take a slice of bread and wipe the plate with it, lick his knife clean, then finally stand and declare “Lets go”, but not before his also petite mother had stuffed some sweets in our pockets as reward for waiting for him, I don’t know what the master plan was Mrs G but all those breakfasts didn’t make him grow any taller, not one inch above 5’6″.
Come christmas he’d know what what we were getting for christmas long before we did for our mothers would order our stuff from his dad in the shop, the year we were mad on Speedway he told me in October that I was getting Ivan Mauger’s Speedway book for christmas, he knew what the Corgi car “special” would be that christmas by August of each year and our mothers would order them from his dad and then he’d tell us that she had, and he knew which selection boxes were ours, the ones that were stacked up on a shelf at the back of the shop, the “special order” ones, “Thats your’s” he’d point out, “You’ve got a Cadbury’s one and the medium Rowntrees one” and I swear that sometimes he nicked some of the chocolate out of our selection boxes before they were delivered too.
But the lead up to bonfire night was the most advantageous time to have a mate who’s dad owned the local sweet and toy shop for his dad would clear out a space in the basement storeroom, put in a glass cabinet down there and lay out his firework stock for us kids to peruse every night on our way home from school, “I’m getting that one” they’d all say, “I’m having the big box” and “That rocket is mine already…”
You had to be 12 to buy fireworks, 14 to buy bangers, it mattered not to us for Mr G would sell anything to us as long as we promised not to tell anyone who asked where we’d bought our vast stocks of high explosive. In the weeks leading up to bonfire night, from the very first day that he laid out his firework stock we’d all walk the three miles home from school to save 3d bus fare each and spend that stipend on bangers.
Fancy fireworks were never of interest to us, rockets-smockets, who needs fireworks that sparkle and dazzle, fancy colourful bursting star type fireworks were for girls, all we wanted for our arsenal was bangers and the occasional jumping cracker to throw under someone’s feet.
By the time mischief night came around we would each have, at the very least, one hundred bangers, maybe even more, no wonder Mr G never asked too many questions of our age, the weeks leading up to bonfire night probably paid for their family holiday every year.
Sneaking out of the house on mischief night each laden with more explosive than a modern day suicide bomber we’d congregate under a lamp post in a street away from any of our own, a street where the street busy body wouldn’t recognise us from behind twitching curtains and we’d take our sheath knives (yes, all kids carried knives then, its just that we didn’t stab each other with them, well, not often anyway) and carefully cut away the top of several bangers making a small pile of gunpowder on the pavement.
A match would be produced and all would stand back apart from the unfortunate one who’s turn it was to light this particular “genie” as they were succinctly called – think of the flash and “poof” of smoke that heralds the genie on stage in every pantomime.
Holding one hand across your face you’d reach out to the black pile of powder with the other, lighted match quivering and if you managed to light the pile of gunpoweder and get your hand out of the way all in one movement you could pat yourself on the back and nominate someone else to do the next one, if not, well, you nursed a burned hand for the rest of the night.
After several genies and several large black burned patches on pavements under lamp posts we’d resort to lighting the bangers and throwing them at each other in strict contravention of The Firework Code of course but when did young boys ever do exactly what they were told ?
There would always be a competition to see who could hold a fizzing banger the longest before it exploded and tales of other boys who had done the same and lost whole hands were told before the competition started, “My mum knows one kid who died by holding a banger for too long” and frankly I can still believe those tales of woe for bangers when I was a kid were proper high explosives, none of your namby pamby weakened fizz-and-a-pop that you got as we grew older and certainly not banned completely like they are now.
One year I held a fizzing banger for what seemed like years, mesmerised by the fact that any second now it was going to explode and remove many fingers until finally I reached back over my head to throw it across the street at Stuart Ackroyd – it exploded right next to my right ear.
I have to say it was probably the loudest thing I have ever heard in this assorted life, didn’t kill me as my mother promised it would, didn’t even hurt me at all, all it did was leave me with impressive powder marks across the right side of my face and leave me completely deaf on that side for about three weeks.