Some years ago (quite some years ago) my wife and I were on holiday in Goa, and we had a party for our 10th wedding anniversary. Things got interesting when the fireworks started.
Goan fireworks are designed and made by people who like fireworks, for people who like fireworks, with no concessions to the do-gooders who have emasculated the British industry. Setting them off is not a task for those not stout of heart and firm of purpose; it is virtually a contact sport. We started off with some firecrackers. There are 24 to a block – 3 layers of 8 – with each layer having its own fuse. Forget all that poncey ‘Place upright in damp earth and retire to fallout shelter before igniting by radio control from a distance of at least 800 miles’ crap you get when you follow the Fireworks Code. You don’t even light the blue touchpaper, as there is no blue touchpaper. As you light the fuses there is no lead time; the firecrackers start to detonate immediately, so you learn quickly to get rid of them pronto if you don’t want to end up as I did with powder burns like miniature crop circles in the hairs on your legs.
Having warmed up our running muscles, we felt in fine form to tackle the rockets. Although they came in a box bearing the familiar ‘Standard’ logo, all resemblance ends there. Goan rockets don’t consist simply of a cardboard tube and a stick; the top of the rocket carries a warhead the size of a Victoria plum. This, alas, makes the rocket rather top heavy and a tad unstable in flight (the stick isn’t long enough, really). Navigation problems are compounded by the erratic burn properties of the propellant, which makes some of the early American Atlas missions – those that grenaded as they staggered off the launch pad – look like models of consistency. Sometimes, the rocket motor will lob the entire shooting match to an impressive height. Other times it acts purely as a detonator for the main charge and the whole lot reaches critical mass as you light it, and you stagger back with your ears bleeding and your hair on fire.
The first rocket rose to all of 4 feet, executed a 90 degree turn a cruise missile would be proud of, ran parallel to the beach for about 20 feet, performed another 90 degree turn, and dived to earth over the edge of the beach, exploding with a most satisfactory ‘Bang’. More than could be said for that of the courting couple it unfortunately disturbed – a first time occurrence of coitus interruptus ballisticus. The second rocket limped out of the bottle, churned across the sand for a few yards, turned round, and headed straight back towards us, giving us all a chance to be surprised at how fast even middle aged people can accelerate on soft sand. The third failed to lift off at all, and the fourth crashed into the trees behind the bar. There were 24 rockets and 36 blocks of firecrackers. I’m surprised I’m still alive and have enough fingers to grip a pen.
And please don’t get all preachy with me about H&S issues.