The most important thing for Kim and I to remember today (November 5) is to empty the bath. It remains half full or thereabouts for much of the week and sometimes longer, depending on how infrequently either of us actually take the plunge. But it is absolutely essential that on this one day of the year one of us pulls the plug.
It wasn’t always a priority. Indeed I think it true to report that for most of my life baths, either full or empty, were the last things on my mind come November 5.
That date, a Friday this year, has always enjoyed a particular resonance within the Futrell household as it was my father’s birthday. While we all take pity on those with birthdays on December 25 for having their one big day subsumed by a much greater and significant event November 5 was all the excuse anyone needed to go big time on gunpowder displays. We could see neighbouring bonfires from my bedroom window and brother weren’t they pathetic. I’ve smoked cigars that gave off more heat than those bonfires. As for fireworks, as a rule just those bargain basement mixed assortment boxes you bought in the sweet shop comprising a couple of Catherine wheels, some crackerjacks, maybe a Roman candle if you were lucky and rockets that would be lucky to make it beyond the garden fence.
That wasn’t for us. Dad would be collecting firewood for weeks stacking it into a giant pyramid at the bottom of the garden upon what was called the compost heap. With trees and fences on two sides, a leaning pyracantha on another and the greenhouse located at the other (ideal for keeping the fireworks away from the flames) it had the feel of secret grotto the flickering orange glow reflected in the glass.
Dad didn’t skimp when it came to the fireworks either. He got things off to a spectacular star with the biggest Catherine wheel in the shop. It comprised a wooden frame with two tubes of gunpowder at either end with hole in the middle where dad fastened it to a fence post with a nail the size of a finger. There were bangers and sparklers and firecrackers and air bombs that had to be plugged securely into the soil that hurled something invisible and explosive and very loud into the adjoining garden, and rockets launched from copper tubes fixed into the handle of a garden shovel spraying the night sky with golden tinsel.
Mother produced trays of roasted chipolatas and bacon rolls on sticks and there were jacket potatoes wrapped in silver foil in the embers around the edge of the fire.
The tradition was maintained for years after father’s death only dwindling with significance when Kim came on to the scene with a succession of dogs, Karla, Fozzie Bear and Tashi Delek non of whom appreciated unforeseen explosions just feet away. To make matters worse many Londoners didn’t stick to the November 5 only rule, especially of the big day was in the middle of the week. That meant fireworks and explosions and strange fizzing sounds for a week or longer either side of the fifth.
Asta was different – at first at least. I well remember while living in Islington, and her just five months old, walking out with her on Highbury Fields whereupon the still early November autumnal tranquility was shattered by the succession of the sort of explosive fireworks you’d expect to illuminate The Thames on New Year’s Eve – not a day or two before Firework Night in an otherwise quiet residential area. Asta? She didn’t bat a furry eyelid. Infact, I don’t recall her showing any reaction whatsoever. Whereas I nearly keeled over with cardiac arrest. I think that was the moment my hair started falling out and I never wanted to see another firework as long as I lived. Meanwhile Little Asta was home bound, tail erect and a bounce in her trot.
Domestic firework displays are few and far between today. A combination of health and safety, political correctness, shops restricting who they sell fireworks to and of course Covid-19 mean more of us look to local councils to light the blue touch paper. On the bright side we now get fewer household displays although conversely it means those we do have are bigger and much noisier. Like the council one here three years ago. With The Camel aglow Kim shouted if I’d seen Asta? She had to shout because to deaden the impact of the display we had Exile On Main St quite loud on the deck. I yelled back, no idea.
Turning down The Rolling Stones in order to hear each other we became aware of a splashing sound somewhere in the distance.
“The bath,” shrieked Kim on her way through the living room door. Sure enough, it was Asta. Up to her tummy in freezing cold dirty bath water, shaking and sending a spray all over the room. It wasn’t a complete surprise. She’d jumped into an empty bath in our last place in Duke Street; once on Bonfire Night and another time when someone was using a chainsaw a few doors away. But that was before Kim’s mission to save the planet by saving bathwater. I often wonder what was worse for our pup? The temperature of the water or the explosions outside?
I think I’d better stop here – and empty the bath lest I forget.