We got a blast out of our billet banger craze

SIX years of the war s pyrotechnics curtailed my generation s experience of fireworks night. These days it seems the health and safety mob are doing a similar job, with traditional community bonfires extinguished by throttling legal requirements. Immedi

SIX years of the war's pyrotechnics curtailed my generation's experience of fireworks night.

These days it seems the health and safety mob are doing a similar job, with traditional community bonfires extinguished by throttling legal requirements.

Immediately before the war I was just old enough to join big brother and his mate Johnny Beavan up the top of our road with their guy, scrounging off the men going home from work. The favoured pitch was outside Bully Winkles, the cornershop.

Hope was that men going in there for fags might brass up with some of their change on the way out.


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Bully's had no objections. They'd already sold us the guy's mask and knew we'd be back for sparklers, rockets and more.

At the other end of our road was the small yard where the greengrocer kept his horse and cart. For years the horse, Punch, had been our grandad's on his coal round.

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When he packed it in he gave Punch to his greengrocer mate, as one who'd look after it.

For old Punch it must have been like a retirement too, pulling a cart laden with caulis, carrots and cabbages instead of sacks of best nutty slack.

The spin-off for us was that the greengrocer gave us enough of Punch's hay and straw to stuff the guy with. A decent-looking guy boosted chances of appreciative ha'pence.

Rather than sat slumping on the pavement, our guy was propped up lifelike in the jigger my brother and Johnny had made. To a six-year-old it was a real Rolls Royce job, with front-wheel drive via attached ropes.

We would (and doubtless did) sneer at others who had to lug their guys in their arms, desperately striving to stop them coming apart.

Big brother and mate deserved top marks for their jigger. Where and how they came by its component parts I've no idea. It had pram wheels at the back and trolley-type ones in front.

These later made for very light steering, as I found out when, on a first go in it I went into the Atcliff's front gate.

Given the limited size of Stamford Road's back gardens, our bonfires couldn't have been the grand affairs they seemed.

They were kept going well by stuff handed over the fence by George and Ivy Phillips on one side, and Bill and Maud Atcliff on the other - my first experience of a community bonfire.

It was also a time when the milkman was temporarily short of returned empties, one being retained for dad to use as a rocket-launcher.

Rockets and the rest I can remember, but not bangers, so I imagine mum put a block on them.

A decade-plus later mums weren't there to restrain their offspring when our RAF National Service billet had a banger craze, around Guy Fawkes' night.

Favourite lark was after lights out when you could lay abed, sneakily light one and send it whizzing along the polished floor to hopefully go off under a snore-pit, to the discomfiture of its occupant.

Daytime dodge was to deposit a lit banger on the floor behind an unsuspecting back, retire, and await the result. It made you jump, of course, but was nothing compared to the racket of the thunder-flashes chucked about on our defence exercises.

Even so, bangers always caused a knee-jerk, scalded cat reaction from one of our billet, Bob Durose, which made him all the more a prime target.

Well after banger supplies were exhausted, lads would creep up behind Bob, hiss like a lit banger, and collapse in fits as he leapt out of his skin.

He got wise to it in due course and would turn on his tormentor and scoff: "All right, all right - hiss, hiss, bang."

Which was what he did on finding Eric close behind him one evening, accompanied by a hissing sound.

But that came not from Eric, but from one last banger he'd belatedly found.

Bob had just finished the "hiss, hiss, bang" put-down when it did that right at his feet, to our collective delight.

Talk about overgrown schoolboys!

That all these years later the original Guy's dastardly plot, health and safety notwithstanding, is still marked would astonish the old miscreant.

But perhaps not quite as much as would his finding to hand plenty of support were he to try doing it again now!

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