Big Bang the­ory.

North & South - - North & South - Mike White


Soon, the coun­try’s skies will flash and boom with fire­works as we mark Guy Fawkes night by way of colour­ful ex­plo­sions. Long dis­tant from the ori­gin of the oc­ca­sion, long di­vorced from its mean­ing, Guy Fawkes in New Zealand is a cus­tom that sur­vives through sheer spec­ta­cle. It’s hard not to like the glit­ter­ing dis­plays, the arc­ing lu­mi­nes­cence, the fes­ti­val feel­ing.

Yet, if you look at vir­tu­ally ev­ery pub­lic poll on fire­works, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple want pri­vate use banned or re­stricted in some form. So do the po­lice. So do the Fire Ser­vice. So do vets and the SPCA.

It’s be­cause of the in­juries, and fires, and ut­ter fear the whole bang­ing she­bang causes so many an­i­mals. For many, 5 Novem­ber is an evening of sim­ple fun and ex­cite­ment. For oth­ers, it’s a mis­er­able af­fair where need­less dam­age is heaped on in­jury and trauma.

I spend most of Guy Fawkes night hunched be­side my dog, try­ing to com­fort him, try­ing to stop him trem­bling and shak­ing. If our friends’ dog is stay­ing, my calm­ing min­is­tra­tions take place un­der our bed where he’s scrab­bled to hide in the dark­est corner he can find. And I can cope with that. I un­der­stand it’s their prob­lem, my prob­lem, on that night. But it’s never just that night, be­cause it goes on and on and on, till every­one’s ar­se­nals are ex­hausted.

Fire­works are let off around us night af­ter night, for weeks and months. Down at the beach. Along the road. And up the hill be­hind us, where a par­tic­u­lar id­iot lives who likes shoot­ing them down onto the road. It’s not lim­ited to week­ends, it’s not lim­ited by weather – it’s ran­dom, re­ver­ber­at­ing and fre­quently around 2am. One group’s jol­lity is a neigh­bour­hood’s bro­ken sleep and wo­ken tod­dlers and fret­ful an­i­mals. Of­ten it’s just a few mighty booms, but that’s all it takes.

It’s not just our sub­urb. While I was stay­ing with rel­a­tives near Nel­son one New Year’s, the neigh­bours shot up the night for hours with end­less in­cen­di­ary glo­ries. Even­tu­ally I re­sorted to putting the dog in the car, driv­ing 20km out of town to the rub­bish-strewn shoul­der of a re­mote road, and try­ing to nap there. Hell of a night. Happy New Year.

I get that fire­works are cool fun, but what I never get is why those us­ing them seem to have so lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion for those around them. Prob­a­bly they don’t re­alise the ex­as­per­a­tion they cause. Pos­si­bly they don’t care.

Cer­tainly the ones who leave spent fire­works scat­tered along the beach op­po­site us to be swamped by the tide, or at the nearby dog park, couldn’t care less. The fact it’s il­le­gal to dis­charge fire­works in pub­lic places such as beaches and parks may not oc­cur to them, and Welling­ton City Coun­cil does noth­ing to ad­ver­tise or en­force this. (Yet it post­poned its Matariki fire­works ex­trav­a­ganza, con­cerned it would af­fect a whale in Welling­ton Har­bour.)

But I do some­times won­der why peo­ple trek to these places to let off their fire­works, rather than at their own place. Maybe they live in apart­ments. Maybe they just don’t want to ag­gra­vate their own neigh­bours.

Over the years, there have been many at­tempts to ban the pri­vate use of fire­works, as most Aus­tralian states do. Lim­it­ing them to pub­lic dis­plays on, say, Guy Fawkes, Matariki, Di­wali and Chi­nese New Year is one so­lu­tion.

Those who bri­dle at fur­ther re­stric­tions trot out tropes of it be­ing nanny statism, driven by PC wowsers and the fun po­lice. I once met a guy who owned a fire­works fac­tory in Pak­istan. When I went to shake his hand, what I gripped was a spongy stump where one of his prod­ucts had ex­ploded. It was about then I re­alised fire­works weren’t al­ways fun. (In the past three years, ACC has paid out $454,000 for more than 600 fire­works in­juries.)

But if ban­ning fire­works sales is a step too far, then how about re­strict­ing pri­vate use to just Guy Fawkes night? Just that night. Or a cou­ple of nights. At least that way, those af­fected can make prepa­ra­tions and re­duce the im­pact. And some of us can spend less time stretched un­der the bed in the cor­ners where the vac­uum cleaner barely reaches, whis­per­ing com­fort to quiv­er­ing an­i­mals. +

“Even­tu­ally I re­sorted to putting the dog in the car, driv­ing 20km out of town to the rub­bish­strewn shoul­der of a re­mote road, and try­ing to nap there.”

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