REQUIEM FOR FIRECRACKER NIGHT

 

Requiem for Firecracker Night

 

The children of Australia today are sadly deprived. The simple anarchic freedoms of childhood that my generation took for granted are largely denied them and all they are left with for consolation are the dubious joys of the latest Gamedude play console. Diverting to be sure but somehow its kind of sad when ever that form of recreation provides the majority of a kids entertainment. In my hometown of Brisbane, for example, you can’t even build a treehouse anymore without the Lord Mayor sending council workers to tear it down. Its true! It actually happened. The Brisbane City Council tore down some kids cubbyhouse because they were worried about the liability risk.

We live in a litigious age”, nervously declared our creepy Mayor Campbell-Newman, who then tried to fight the public perception that he was some sort of grey suited Grinch by announcing that the destroyed treehouse would be replaced by a Council built, regulation approved, safety compliant structure. Unsurprisingly, the local kids spurned this insult to their engineering skills, and instead were last seen enthusiastically exploring the local underground stormwater drains.

But the opportunities for kids to roam the streets and drains are sadly declining. For one thing your average Australian parent is too paranoid about pedophiles to allow their kids to roam far. After school my daughter generally meets her far flung friends on the Internet. In my day, back when you could build a tree house and the council wouldn’t tear it down, it was different, we met in the neighbourhood where we lived.

Thanks to the benign neglect of my parents generation (something I’ve come to appreciate even more in hindsight) the 50’s,60’s & 70’s in Australia were probably the Golden Age for childhood.

School was cruel and brutal then, but you endured it to get to the parts of the day that mattered. We wandered the suburbs and adjacent bushland at will, our hours packed with unsupervised and irresponsible fun, like squashing coins on the train tracks or

racing home made go-carts down dangerously steep streets, or blowing up the occasional letterbox with a couple of “double-bungers” taped together and a long fuse to give us time to escape.

The local creeks were always worth playing in, especially when they were flooding.

New building sites were unfenced against our predations and supplied materials for our rickety constructions. Also of interest were creepy, old, abandoned buildings, everyone of which in a three suburb radius we had explored thoroughly. We were left largely to our own devices and we grew up independent and resourceful as a result. If some one had an accident and broke an arm it was accepted as part of the price of growing up and no-one called in the lawyers. Yes Australians had a more relaxed attitude then and their children ran wild and free. Today we are a nation of nervous drones, afraid to step out of line or challenge arbitrary authority.

Yes the kids of today are sadly deprived. For one thing, they will never know the sheer, chaotic, joyous, dangerous fun of Firecracker Night.

Of course when I say Firecracker Night I am of course talking about a three week period where people set off crackers at random whenever they felt like it, gradually building up to a crescendo for the night in question. Originally it was held on November 5th but then they moved it to winter when the fire risk was less. It might have now been on the Queens Birthday, but we still burned an effigy of Guy Fawkes. (Ah nothing like a good bonfire! Of course these too are theoretically now banned by our bloodless City Council, but happily this is generally ignored by the good people of Brisbane, and I for one have a good fire in my back yard whenever I damn feel like it. So come and get me copper!) We didn’t really care what the occasion was, what mattered was that they started selling explosives to small children three weeks before.

No-one saw anything wrong with that at the time, god bless them!

Sadly, Fire works in Brisburg today are permitted only at safe, sanitized, predictable, and ultimately deadly dull corporate sponsored public spectacles. The passive crowds, reduced to mere spectators, are herded into Southbank like cattle, there to ooh and ahh dutifully on cue, as firework technicians, white overalled professionals, scurry about in the distance, co-ordinating their sophisticated equipment, while the State demonstrates its military might with a flyover of F111’s with their afterburners on. The “Firework Display” has become a fixture of sterile, stage managed ‘Events’ whose running is taken entirely out of the peoples hands.

Once the Firecracker Night was an informal peoples festival, where each neighborhood had its own bonfire and cluster of families sharing the occasion, the adults gossiping while keeping an eye on the kids running about shrieking. We’d all pool our carefully hoarded fireworks for the occasion. Ah the smell of gunpowder still makes me nostalgic for those nights; the madly spinning Catherine Wheels shooting spirals of sparks, the mad, impossible to predict zig-zagings of the “Jumping Jack”, the tremendous roar of the “double-bunger” that looked like a dynamite stick from the cartoons and set all the dogs barking, the “whistling skyrockets” shooting skywards singing like nightingales, the humble “flowerpots” flaring orange, green & red!

I tell you this, for it is true; There was more genuine joy & excitement from those simple store bought fireworks than in any corporate sponsored pyrotechnics I’ve seen since.

But in our Nanny State Australia 2010, we the ignorant, irresponsible public can’t be trusted with fireworks, we might hurt ourselves.

Friends, the banning of fireworks is another symptom of the Great Grey Plague that afflicts the soul of this country, where we increasingly suffer the rule of killjoy bureaucrats and mean hearted accountants, who seek to control and regulate every aspect of our lives. This is John Howard’s Australia. Kevin Rudd’s Australia. Life-denying, mean spirited, humourless, wowsers, who’d love to legislate the larrikin spirit right out of the Australian psyche.

 

And I ask this; Are we really doing our kids a favour by bringing them up in an environment where they are screened from every slight danger? Should all children’s activities be risk free? Should all the risk, all the excitement of childhood, all the irresponsible but fun activities be banned lest a single accident occur? Should our children be brought up wrapped in cotton wool? Can’t we let a kid take a fall from a tree now and then without someone getting sued?

So bring back Firecracker Night I say! Sure a few letter boxes will be blown up, boys will be boys. So what! The occasional lost finger or eye, or even house burnt down that may result from free access to fireworks is, in my humble opinion, acceptable collateral damage. A small price to pay overall for a such valuable learning experience and the chance to play with fire.

*********************

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Book of the Week

Double Drink Story” by Caitlin Thomas, (1998, Virago press)

Wow, what a bitch! Or such was my initial reaction to reading this book.

Mz. Thomas is the former wife of the late poet Dylan Thomas (or as she refers to him, “that great dripping slice of Welsh cunning.”) and turns the cold, hard eye of a reformed drunkard onto their relationship and his poetry. If you ever wanted to know Dylan Thomas’s every fault and failing as a human being then this is the book for you! And in the interests of justice Caitlin Thomas turns the same merciless eye on herself.

 Their passionate relationship and tumultuous marriage is of course the subject of much poetic myth and literary legend. Indeed, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a movie made, something along the lines of the Henry Miller/Anais Nin literary relationship genre film that Hollywood loves so much. Perhaps there is and I’ve just missed it. At anyrate, I feel that with this book Caitlin Thomas attempts to destroy a few romantic illusions about their great Mythic Lovestory. Their shared alcoholism destroyed any real intimacy. “In many ways Dylan and I were strangers to each other,” she confesses. Not helping matters was the fact that she herself was a “fighting drunk” likely to launch into an attack for no reason at all. Much of their time was spent sponging and scamming from people who felt sorry for them or were impressed by Dylans “gift”.

Her attitude to his poetry was conflicted, to say the least. On one hand she devoutly believed in his “gift”, indeed, without it she wouldn’t have even considered living with him, as she had an alcoholics distorted estimation of her own talents as a dancer,“he would not have been worthy of me.,” she confesses.

On the other hand she felt threatened by his poetry and used to leave the room whenever he read in public. When he read poems to her alone at home she tried to set up mental blocks to keep the words out!

Nonetheless some of his more resonant lines got past her barricades to haunt her to her disgust; “’And Death shall have no dominion…’ Indeed! He could make the biggest lie on earth sound true.”

Yes it takes a great poet to choose a muse who hates their poems.

But to be fair its not an easy role as muse. For one thing there’s the swarms of literary groupies challenging your role as Most-Important-Relationship. She responded with her own string of flirtations and infidelities. All tensions were drowned beneath a sea of alcohol. And so they proceeded to the ultimate denouement, with Dylan’s Death Scene in a New York hospital which ended with Caitlin being restrained in a straight jacket after having hysterics over his unconscious body.

Afterwards, there is the long haul of the rest of her life, decades of alcoholism being followed by decades of a grudging bitter sobriety. I admire the honesty with which she tells us how she resented Dylan dying young, “at the hight of his alcoholic powers” leaving her behind to trudge the long boring road to sobriety. “Dylan always did have all the luck!” she mock-laments. Yet she seems to have found some joy later in her life, and release from some of her demons. I suspect writing this book helped set a few free.

A grim but instructive read. Its given me the idea for a documentry, “Worlds Worst Muses!” Yes, I can hear the introductory voice-over now.. “Poets have always loved their Muses..but what happens when the Muse says, ‘No More!’”

 ***

 

FOR DYLAN THOMAS

Looked in mirrors dark as pitch blood

Dust his blood as black as stout,

Adam owl-wise in his long-johns

Mumbling moths from out ‘ his mouth.

He would walk upon the waters

And the waters turned to wine,

He would dance with Circe, his Caitlin

And she changed his pearls to swine.

Fierce hungover he awakens

Like a priest cock-crowned and shaven,

All his knuckle-bones are carved for skulls

and dice.

Goes wandering for a Wonder,

Scythe across his shoulder

He records the Signs & Saga’s

that he see’s on sturdy parchment, noting;

A murder of crows..

A parliament of owls..

A murmur of drunken radio’s..

A crown of parsley.

****************

The Reverend Hellfire is a practising performance poet and an ordained minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists

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~ by reverendhellfire on June 6, 2010.

One Response to “REQUIEM FOR FIRECRACKER NIGHT”

  1. Firecracker night WAS such fun. There was a park and a creek on the other side of my street. The bonfire (complete with effigy) was built in the park and all the families in the neighbourhood came along. Both adults and kids would set off the fireworks. The adults certainly didn’t stop the kids setting them off. They supervised them, which is all that was needed. No kids got hurt. Although one girl did get chased by a Catherine Wheel! The bit I liked also was the day after, when you’d run around the streets looking for unexploded fireworks, often with fruitful results! And restoking the bonfire coals which were still smoldering, and cooking sausages on them, and sharing them with your friends. So yes, I agree, is is a shame firecracker night is banned, and that such fun community get-togethers are lost, and the wild adventurous childhoods with it.

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