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This Back's On Fire

by Bernie Rhodes


Has this got to be the worst week of the year?  'Mischief Night' (whatever the fuck that is), 'Trick or Treat', and 'Bommy Night'.  The only worse time, for me, is 'Valentines Day', but that can wait until February's SWINE. Quick, the drawbridge. Well, the first two have come and gone.  It was business as usual around our way - houses and cars splayed with eggs, and 17 year olds, clad in Lacoste and Lowe Alpine, growling 'trick or treat, lad'? One year, I am really going to say, 'er, trick please, my good fellow, if I may be so bold', rather than simply offer them a huge bowl of pick 'n mix type stuff to their disdainful glowers.  

Now comes the business end of Autumn, though, Bonfire night. Couples strolling arm-in-arm to the local fire; rosy cheeked youngsters toasting marshmallows in the ember; a hint of frost in the air; and neighbours inviting each other in for a steaming mug of cocoa. Or perhaps not...One thing that hasn't changed with the passing of time is 5 November.  I suppose there are probably more 'official' and 'organised' displays than there were in our day, but the same sights and sounds are as evident as when you and I, constant reader, would save up the dosh from our paper round, in order to buy a regulation box of 'Standard Fireworks' - those ones that contained the rather quaint strap-line of 'light up the sky'.  

I wonder if they still make them?  If they do, then never mind 'lighting up the sky'. The size of some of these incendiary devices masquerading as a firework should lead them to change their promo to 'blow up half the fuckin' estate'. It's often difficult to discern, in fact, whether it's a firework going off, or a drive-by shooting by some hooded assailants on motorbikes. Why can't kids be content with sparklers and 'bengo' matches, and am I the only person who remembers the latter?  They were, er, matches, but lit up in red and/or green, and lasted for about, ooh, three seconds before they blew out.  They were massive in the Breck Road area when I was a lad, and, if you helped Stigger and them to collect bommy wood, a box of 'bengo' matches was usually the reward.  Or a toke on a loosie, if you had really worked hard.  

It was difficult, in fact, to find sufficient wood to go around, as most of our area was populated by debris ('ollers') and each one contained a fire on bommy night (and, in fairness, throughout the year).  In fact, one could 'tour' around each fire, indiscriminately lobbing stuff on, acknowledging lads who you knew (ie, every fucker), putting minty potatoes in foil in the ash, eating them with a blob of butter, and getting a month off school with acute food poisoning.  Happy days.

The evening on 5 November 1974 is one that I remember with no fondness at all, though.  Me and a few of the lads (current roll call - dead, prison, prison, unknown, Civil Servant, Evangelist) mobbed up after the Tomorrow People, and went to the bommy at the back of the Old Campfield boozer on Heyworth Street .  We moved on from there to Hamilton Road , before some bright spark (ho ho) had the brainwave of us doing the unthinkable; crossing over towards Arkwright Street and Netherfield Road - bandit country around our end.  Seized by the moment, though, and with a feel-good rosy glow on our cheeks from the assorted fires, we trekked across to another gathering down the brew.  

This was a bit moodier, though, with some bigger and older boys orchestrating proceedings. And - blimey - they had girls with them.  One horrible little shit edged towards us - I can remember his weasily kite to this day - and asked us what we were doing, and who were we looking at? Well, we shit our collective kecks, and started to edge away.  Next minute, he was messing with the hood of one of the lads' snorkel parkas.  Bang! He'd only gone and put a fucking banger down his coat.  There was uproar - my mate screamed like a banshee, and we all gave it toes onto Everton Road.

Dragging his coat off, his jumper was a mess, and his back didn't look much better.  We somehow got him back round our way, and his ma found the one house in the street who had a phone.  The ambulance arrived and we all went home for a sleepless night.

If you're interested, his back healed up - after a fashion. It resembled one of those 3-D maps of the nile, or somesuch, with the tributaries raised. Pretty gruesome. I don't recall anybody ever being apprehended, either, but I hope that weasel-face eventually got his comeuppance.  So that was certainly the downside of the celebration of old Guy Fawkes. For the most time, though, it was a good night, and the smell of sulphur lingered in the air for days afterwards.  Rather interestingly, since I started typing this, my nipper has advised me that her and her mates are off to a bommy later, where the headline act is 'Totally BoyBand', with Dane Bowers, Bradley out of S Club (or Steps), someone out of New Kids on the Block, and some other loser (with respect).  Bloody hell, and here's me thinking that times haven't changed that much.  Don't remember 'Our Kid' doing a 'PA' at Scotty Road bommies in '76...  



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