by Caitlin Moran: reprinted from the Times 31/10/20
The bangs make them more exciting? Yes, but so would cocaine.
There are several things that we think of as “totally normal” that, did they not already exist, we would never invent now. Pudding, for instance. Pudding is berserk. You eat a whole meal of meat, and then another whole meal of cake? That’s too much. Why not keep going and have a third meal of ham, and then a fourth of beans? You’re already being ludicrous. No one would invent “Second Lunch: Cake” now. It’s a mad remnant of the past. Likewise, ties. They’re basically a chest pelmet, to cover up the buttons on your shirt. What mad, prudish era did we have to live through when buttons needed a petticoat to cover them? And why are we still doing it? And so it is with fireworks. Or, more specifically, the BANG in fireworks. We’re currently at the beginning of Fireworks Season – these days, it starts around Halloween, continues over both weekends around Bonfire Night and then redoubles at Diwali and New Year’s Eve.
As has been pointed out for many, many years, Fireworks Season is a nightmarish time for people with dogs, small children and those who were in the military or have PTSD. And no wonder – at any time between sundown and 1am, any night of Fireworks Season can suddenly erupt into what sounds like the Valentine’s Day Massacre or a small war. Last year, our dog was so scared that she would climb up inside my jumper and stay there all evening, shaking uncontrollably and crying actual dog tears. In the end, I had to hold my hands over her ears and sing to her. No dog wants that.
In a way, it’s weird we’re not all freaked out by fireworks: after all, there are no other instances in life where hearing a series of loud explosions is good. Unless you’re a former gold prospector with a very specific backstory about dynamiting Last Chance Gulch in 1879 and subsequently finding the mother lode, whenever humans hear a “BANG!” it tends to mean “visits to A&E”, “dealing with a lot of rubble” and “wondering where your leg has gone”. It never bodes well.
'Last year, our dog was so scared that she would climb up inside my jumper and stay there all evening, shaking uncontrollably and crying actual dog tears. In the end, I had to hold my hands over her ears and sing to her. No dog wants that.'
Why, in 2020, do fireworks still have a “bang”? We wouldn’t invent them like that now. If someone had only just devised a way to light up the sky with vast, phosphorescent chrysanthemums, everyone would be like, “Cor, this is gorgeous! You have turned the heavens into a celestial city of ecstatic sparks! Well done, you, Edward Firework!” But if Edward Firework then went on to explain that this transcendent manmade aurora borealis came with the mandatory accompaniment of, essentially, the first 23 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, everyone would be like, “No. Just… don’t. Why ruin it?” And indeed, why? Making beautiful fireworks go “bang” is genuinely demented – like inventing fairy lights that scream, or balloon animals that emit a low, tortured groan of, “I’m dying.”
No other beautiful, visual thing we’ve invented is accompanied by abhorrent noises: the Louvre doesn’t insist the Mona Lisa be displayed in a room that permanently plays We Like to Party! by Vengaboys; Sissinghurst doesn’t have a resident banshee in a gazebo; St Paul’s doesn’t repeatedly retch. I’m trying to work through every possible reason to keep the BANG in fireworks, but it’s proving pretty easy to dismiss them all. “People might not notice the fireworks are going off if they’re not accompanied by a BANG!” Just… pointing could work? Also: THE SKY IS “The bang makes it more exciting!” Yes, but so would cocaine, and we don’t include that in the box. Those who would like a bang are more than welcome to pop on their headphones and download the audio of chimney stacks being demolished, or people dynamiting dead whales on beaches. It could be like silent disco. Or, here’s an idea, instead of a bang you could have something genuinely exciting, like John Lennon screaming Twist and Shout, Kate Bush singing Wow, or Han Solo shouting, “Hit it, Chewie!” And presumably it would be cheaper to make fireworks that didn’t have a cannon attached, which highlights the class element to this. Basically, the only way to let off noisy fireworks without massively inconveniencing hundreds of other people and their pets is if you live on a vast estate and can pay your butler to take your dogs somewhere quiet for the night. For everyone else – with neighbours, a social conscience and a limited budget – much cheaper, silent fireworks are A Thing That Needs Inventing As Soon As Possible.
As things stand, however, I’m bracing myself to spend the next two weeks with a cockapoo up my jumper, to whom I will sing that perennial Prince classic about Fireworks Season: When Dogs Cry.