Big bang theory: The annual torment that is Guy Fawkes

by Mike White / 15 October, 2018
Sure. It's fun for you. But what about the neighbours? Photo / Getty Images

Sure. It's fun for you. But what about the neighbours? Photo / Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - editorials

Guy Fawkes might only come around once a year, but the sale of fireworks means noisy nights for weeks after November 5. How about some practical solutions to this perennial pyrotechnic problem?

So, here we go again. Soon, the country’s skies will flash and boom with fireworks as we mark Guy Fawkes night by way of colourful explosions. Long distant from the origin of the occasion, long divorced from its meaning, Guy Fawkes in New Zealand is a custom that survives through sheer spectacle. It’s hard not to like the glittering displays, the arcing luminescence, the festival feeling.

Yet, if you look at virtually every public poll on fireworks, the majority of people want private use banned or restricted in some form. So do the police. So do the Fire Service. So do vets and the SPCA.

It’s because of the injuries, and fires, and utter fear the whole banging shebang causes so many animals. For many, 5 November is an evening of simple fun and excitement. For others, it’s a miserable affair where needless damage is heaped on injury and trauma.

I spend most of Guy Fawkes night hunched beside my dog, trying to comfort him, trying to stop him trembling and shaking. If our friends’ dog is staying, my calming ministrations take place under our bed where he’s scrambled to hide in the darkest corner he can find. And I can cope with that. I understand it’s their problem, my problem, on that night. But it’s never just that night, because it goes on and on and on, till everyone’s arsenals are exhausted.

Fireworks are let off around us night after night, for weeks and months. Down at the beach. Along the road. And up the hill behind us, where a particular idiot lives who likes shooting them down onto the road. It’s not limited to weekends, it’s not limited by weather – it’s random, reverberating and frequently around 2am. One group’s jollity is a neighbourhood’s broken sleep and woken toddlers and fretful animals. Often it’s just a few mighty booms, but that’s all it takes.

It’s not just our suburb. While I was staying with relatives near Nelson one New Year’s, the neighbours shot up the night for hours with endless incendiary glories. Eventually, I resorted to putting the dog in the car, driving 20km out of town to the rubbish-strewn shoulder of a remote road, and trying to nap there. Hell of a night. Happy New Year.

I get that fireworks are cool fun, but what I never get is why those using them seem to have so little consideration for those around them. Probably they don’t realise the exasperation they cause. Possibly they don’t care.

Certainly, the ones who leave spent fireworks scattered along the beach opposite us to be swamped by the tide, or at the nearby dog park, couldn’t care less. The fact it’s illegal to discharge fireworks in public places such as beaches and parks may not occur to them, and Wellington City Council does nothing to advertise or enforce this. (Yet it postponed its Matariki fireworks extravaganza, concerned it would affect a whale in Wellington Harbour.)
But I do sometimes wonder why people trek to these places to let off their fireworks, rather than at their own place. Maybe they live in apartments. Maybe they just don’t want to aggravate their own neighbours.

Over the years, there have been many attempts to ban the private use of fireworks, as most Australian states do. Limiting them to public displays on, say, Guy Fawkes, Matariki, Diwali and Chinese New Year is one solution.

Those who bridle at further restrictions trot out tropes of it being nanny statism, driven by PC wowsers and the fun police. I once met a guy who owned a fireworks factory in Pakistan. When I went to shake his hand, what I gripped was a spongy stump where one of his products had exploded. It was about then I realised fireworks weren’t always fun. (In the past three years, ACC has paid out $454,000 for more than 600 fireworks injuries.)

But if banning fireworks sales is a step too far, then how about restricting private use to just Guy Fawkes night? Just that night. Or a couple of nights. At least that way, those affected can make preparations and reduce the impact. And some of us can spend less time stretched under the bed in the corners where the vacuum cleaner barely reaches, whispering comfort to quivering animals. 


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