5th November


I’m not keen on fireworks – never have been since the November night a rocket, launched horizontally in an Edinburgh street, nearly took my face off. I was a postgraduate student, walking home from the university library after a long day’s research, when there was a flash and something passed about six inches in front of my nose, going at such a rate that the whoosh- ing noise it was making followed a moment later. I was tired but reacted instinctively. Ahead in the gloom two figures raced away up the pavement: I took after them. I must simultaneously have let out a yell, partly of fright, partly of rage. I was in my mid-twenties, and fit, and I began to overhaul them. I was conscious of someone running at my side, another man who had seen what had happened. We said nothing – there was nothing to say – but bore down on the fleeing figures until they were within grabbing distance. We grabbed.

They were kids, eleven or twelve years old. The shock of my narrow escape kicked in and what came out of my mouth was mostly shouting and swearing. One of them clutched a plastic bag, full of fireworks – whether bought or stolen I didn’t care. ‘Aw, no, mister, dinnae take them, I’m sorry, we’ll no dae it again.’ ‘You’re right there,’ I said. The other man searched the second lad and found his pockets crammed with squibs and bangers. We took the lot, told them they were lucky we weren’t calling the police. They were close to tears. We let them go.

‘You all right?’

‘Aye, thanks. Here, I don’t want these. You want them?’

He didn’t, but he took them anyway. Perhaps he saw from my face that the thought of setting them off made me feel sick.

That’s one reason why I don’t much like fireworks. The other is, they bore me. They’re so transient: a brief moment of glory, then gone. Friends say that’s the whole point: fireworks are like butterflies, beautiful in part because of their impermanence.

I can admire a butterfly, recall its loveliness, but the only firework I can clearly recall is the one that nearly blinded me.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music