While my mum tiptoes around the volcanoes, it's been Guy Fawkes' night back in the UK, so the other night we went out to let off rockets.
This was a new experience for me. Firstly because I am, by nature, extremely cautious. I would probably put one of those non-slip mats in the bath if my girlfriend would let me, out of a neurotic terror of falling over and cracking my head open and dying - so obviously I haven't ever let off a firework. On the rare occasions I've help sparklers, it has been with the demeanour of a man holding a radioactive hooded cobra with six-inch fangs.
"It'll be fine," says my friend L, who is not nearly so much of a worrier. He's bought 30 rockets to celebrate his wife's 30th birthday. "We'll just hop over the fence into Stonebridge park, stick them in the ground, light and retire to a safe distance."
I'm eyeing the munitions. 'The love bomb', the climactic pink heart-shaped starburst, is approximately the size of a V2 rocket. If they'd found it in Iraq in 2002, George Bush would have been waving it at the UN five minutes later shouting I-told-you-so.
"Goggles. You have goggles, right? And gloves? Do we need a licence from the DTI? How long is the fuse on this thing?"
"Jesus, it'll be fine! Honestly..."
"But is it supposed to be coming off the stick like that? Seems kind of wobbly."
L has a look. A small plastic flange, whose purpose, we surmise, is to keep the ordnance on target, seems to have snapped. He suggests strapping it to the stick with masking tape. This seems to work fine, from a stability point of view, but suddenly we begin to wonder if it isn't supposed to fly off the stick entirely. Maybe the heat from the rocket is supposed to melt the glue, leaving the pole stuck in the ground? Are we going to be speared by falling javelins of debris as a result of our adhesive hubris? Nobody knows. In the end we decide to remove the tape and just try to make sure it's not pointed anywhere near a major population centre.
The other thing that gives me pause about the whole DIY fireworks thing is that I have always been somewhat of a casual-fireworks killjoy. I like big organized displays, but every year from, oooh, October 1st until February, the estate where I lived until recently is the scene of pyrotechnic mayhem as the ASBO kids get into the spirit of blowing things up. You walk through the gates and your chances of having a Starmine hit you in the eye are pretty good. (This year, before we moved out, it looks like the kids are more interested in setting their vicious killer pit-bulls on each other; although I would not be surprised if tonight one might witness a mournful hound with a Roman Candle stuck in its bum, streaking up St Pancras Way in a shower of sparks.)
Anyway, we clamber over the fence and set up three of the smallest missiles. The spectators retire to a safe distance. L lights the blue touchpaper. At this point, we have no idea how long the fuses are, so it's all kind of tense.
Whoooosh! Bang! OOOOOhhhh!
Damn, that was fun.
In the end we all take turns lighting the fuses and miraculously nobody is killed or maimed. In fact, we elicit OOOOOHS from passing members of the public. I am pretty sure this makes us professional pyrotechnicians, or something.
I may even survive my next bath....