The article below is a piece I wrote as an exercise in nostalgia. I offered it to a number of magazines and newspapers at a date that was far too close to Bonfire Night for it to stand any chance of being published. It's also rather large. Still looking for a good home, perhaps it will spark some pleasant memories for visitors to this website.


Mike Barfield can still remember, remember, his earliest Fifth of November

Do you remember these fireworks? Do you remember their names? Do you recall seeing them whoosh and jump and spin and snap? If you do, then – like me - you are at once both cursed and blessed. Blessed with the happy memory of fireworks long since banished by the tsars of safety. Cursed with the onset of middle age.
I am 46 now but after four decades of fireworks, I can still clearly recall the Banger, the Jumping Jack, the Helicopter and the handheld Roman Candle. These four were the stars of my first ever Bonfire Night. Though in truth there wasn’t a bonfire, and it wasn’t much of a night either. More like an early evening.
I was so young – no older than four or five – that I’m confident that Mum would have had me in bed by seven-thirty at the latest, tucked up under the blankets with a hot water bottle and a brief scan of Teddy Bear Annual or Pippin Comic. (Baby Moonbean was my favourite, You had to search for him hiding in other character’s stories. Can you find him in this one?)
I can still feel the excitement of that first Bonfire Night. I had been waiting all afternoon to hear my father’s tread on the slabs that lead down the side of our house, past the kitchen window and onto the tiny patio at the back of our small suburban Leicester semi.

Me outside the backdoor of 57 Guilford Drive with Hammy the imaginatively-named hamster. 
I knew that he would be bringing home a box of fireworks. What I didn’t know was that I would never forget that night. Nor did I know that it would instil in me a love of the whole smelly, expensive, dangerous, pet-scaring, pensioner-stressing, Pope-intolerant, ozone-depleting nocturnal celebration of sulphur and saltpetre that persists to this day.
It is handy for youngsters that Guy Fawkes, Catesby, Wright and the rest chose November to perpetrate their fiendish plot. The nights draw-in conveniently early in November, darkness descends at an infant-friendly hour.  If that historic 1605 State Opening of Parliament had been in June, say, my Mum’s strict rules about bedtimes would have delayed my first experience of fireworks by a good five or more years.
After tea (most likely Linnell’s meat-paste sandwiches until the fateful day Mum found a big brass staple lurking in one of their tubs), I spent my time rushing between the bay window in my parent’s bedroom and the windows of my own bedroom overlooking the back of the house and all our neighbours’ gardens.
Mum and Dad’s room afforded a long look down Guilford Drive, almost to its junction with Roehampton Drive. (For reasons unknown, many of the roads on our estate were named after places in Surrey. In our own particular case the planners clearly weren’t that familiar with the correct spelling of Guil
Round this corner my father would appear every weekday at about 5-30pm, having got off the L6 or L8 bus from Leicester city centre a stop early, thereby avoiding the cost of a whole new fare stage.
He was a tallish, lean figure with a purposeful, striding walk that rose to a frantic pace if he was in a temper. In his mid-length gabardine raincoat he cut a distinctive silhouette but not one that would be easy to spot in the darkness of that late autumn afternoon.
Peering past the condensation on my bedroom window at the back of the house. I had already seen distant rockets flare and flop on the horizon. I had also watched the flickering lights of neighbouring families making sorties with torches into the gloom of their back gardens - checking on buckets of earth and the sad piles of sticks that passed for bonfires in such small enclosed spaces.
This must have proved unusually engrossing as I have no memory at all of spotting Dad making his way up Guilford Drive. I don’t even remember if he got to have his tea before we let off the fireworks.
I do remember the selection box he had brought home with him though. It was tiny. Miniscule. In all probability the absolute bottom of the range. However, it did contain the four fireworks I have drawn from memory at the top of this account. The four fireworks that inspired my lifelong love of everything to do with Bonfire Night.
Oh, and Dad had bought some Bengal matches too.
Again, these may need some explaining to anyone under thirty years of age. I’m not sure if they have actually been banned but I have not seen their like for many years now.
Bengal matches looked like ordinary matches with thyroid trouble. They were the same length as household matches but with a swollen black shank that gave them the shape of miniature Indian clubs. The smooth rounded tip of each match was either red or green indicating the shade of the big fat flame they produced when ignited. You got about a dozen in a box and they were great.
Struck against the side of the box they immediately burst into life like Lilliputian distress flares, producing both illumination and thick choking smoke in equal measures.  Playing with matches has never been such fun.
Which I guess is why you don’t see them any more.       
I like to think that Dad used them to light all the fireworks that were in that tiny box. This is wishful thinking on my part, as I can’t actually remember. But I bet he never used that stupid taper thing. No one has ever got those to work. That’s what makes them so safe, I suppose.
Anyway, I well remember the weather. It was cold, with a mist in the air. There were plants in pots scattered round the patio. And I reckon my big brother Tim must have been there, only I can’t actually recall that. However, I do remember my Mum going indoors after the Jumping Jack had terrified her by springing erratically around the patio.
From then on she watched proceedings from inside the house, her head a dark silhouette against the square yellow window of the kitchen door.
unlit Jumping Jack was a thing of wonder. It looked like some blue-tongued snake or a badly-coiled firehose or some arthouse take on the Cumberland sausage.
lit Jumping Jack, meanwhile, was a thing of thunder. Mixed with long periods of silent inactivity.
For the most part the Jumping Jack simply lay flat on the slabs outside the French windows, tempting you to come closer, to see if it was still alive. As you approached, it would then vault into the air, crackling and banging. Following that, another dormant spell. Then more shenanigans. Jumping jacks were about as predictable as wallabies on crack.
Which I guess is why they banned them.

It's Baby Moonbeam!

The Banger – as you might expect - fizzed and then, er, banged. Loudly. This was back in the days before they began restricting the amount of explosive allowed inside them.
It was great. I loved it. I’ve loved bangers ever since that night.
And little did I know at that moment quite how many bangers I would actually go on to buy and ignite during my teenage years. Easily hundreds.
I broke them open and used the powder inside to make genies – the great billowing explosions you get in pantomimes. I glued them upside down them to balsawood sticks and turned them into serviceable mini-rockets. I weighted them with wire and exploded them at the bottom of the water-butt like depth-charges.. I threw them into rivers after a count of five. I made long running trails with the gunpowder. And I tied them into bundles and lit them all at once. All of this without injury of any kind. Oh yes. I had great fun with bangers.
Which I guess is why they banned them.
The handheld Roman Candle that shot molten fire into people’s faces? Well, it’s all too easy to see why they banned that. It was rubbish. An exciting idea, poorly realised.

The handle was a small beaver-tail of thin plastic that barely supported a thin cardboard tube filled with burning chemicals. Held in the hand at a jaunty angle it indolently puffed a succession of glowing fireballs up into the air and down the front of your duffle-coat. Three was about the most it managed. Pathetic.
I can’t imagine that Dad let either myself or my brother hold it. And the only reason I mourn its passing is that I suspect you now have to travel to some slightly scary country like Bolivia or France to find such an irresponsible item in a family box of fireworks.
But how I miss the Helicopter. Even its appearance was full of promise. It looked like a roll of sweets to which someone had glued a flat strap of card painted with RAF roundels. In fact, it looked more like a plane than a helicopter. Until you lit the fuse.
I can distinctly remember Dad placing it flat on a large slab at the edge of our small square lawn and lighting the blue touchpaper. We then stood behind the clanky metal dustbin and watched as it fizzed, sparked and suddenly lofted into the air with a screech.
I still don’t quite understand how it managed to get airborne. Something to do with the way it spun round, I suppose. But even now I can see it rising skywards, all of about eight feet high, and landing delicately on the coal shed roof.
When I went to bed that night, with a head full of stars and eyes as wide as flying saucers, I could look down on the spent Helicopter from my bedroom window. The circular burn marks on the slab were still there at Christmas. It was brilliant.
Of course, I’m sure there were other fireworks we had that night too. Even in a box as tiny as that. A penny rocket or two. A Vesuvius perhaps. A Mine of Serpents maybe. Possibly even a Witch’s Cauldron. But I have no recollection of any fireworks other than those four and the Bengal matches.
All of which have now long been banned.  But not before they – and my Dad - did me a favour and passed on the magic of Bonfire Night. They lit my blue touchpaper. Which is why this year I shall once again be forking out a fortune for a few minutes of joy and beauty. As well as spending days making an elaborate guy just for the brief pleasure of burning it to ashes.
I’m passing the magic onto
my kids. Before someone bans it.
Well, that’s my excuse, anyway...
The Barfield family guy of 2006.

Don't try this at home.