In between Bonfire nights my usual pyrotechnic fix was fed by the curious Indoor Fireworks box set you could buy. They were a heady collection of sparks, fire, colour and disappointment all rolled into one. Primarily a box of indoor fireworks consisted of three types of firework, a sparkler, a coloured match or an erupting firework that erupted something looking like bird droppings. They were each named in a wonderful way to conjure up magical effects, Secret Surprise (light the match head and it burns green), Naval Signal (light the match head and it burns red), Erupting Lava (light a foil coil and it erupts bird poo). Prairie Fire and Fairy Fern both were basically sparklers if I remember correctly only different colours.
Wow I hear you say, but really what was fun was the fact that you were dicing with danger and as a kid that’s what it was all about. However it did lead on to other antics. From the same shop, a theatrical and joke shop, you could purchase something called flash powder. Primarily used to create on stage flashes its a powder normally ignited using an electrical system, similar to the old fashion flash bang photography. Pretty soon I found a new use for it, enhancing the indoor fireworks.
I found that if you mixed it in with some of the indoor fireworks you could create something rather more dramatic. Trailing a powder trail across a piece of card and onto the secret surprise made an exciting flash fire trail that ended up in a small bonfire coloured green. Combining the Erupting Lava with flash powder and the Fairy Fern really did give you a small lava laden spark spewing volcano. Wow, this was great.
However, pushing the boundaries I moved on. I made small tubes of card sealed at one end, into this I placed flash powder and added blue touch paper which could also be brought freely by a eleven year old. Viola, an instant fountain of sparks, and boy were they powerful. After a bit more experimentation I found constricting the exit point turned it effectively into a banger, adding multiple banger and sparkler sections gave you a very lively show indeed.
I went further and bigger. Pretty soon I could manufacture small jets that burned easily then ferociously, I used them to propel toy dragsters made from Lego as their rubber wheels were freely moved by such force. Eventually I made my tour de force, a veritable showstopper, the Doppler, named after the sound effect and the ringing of your ears followed by nosebleeds you tend to get after letting one off.
It was made in a toilet roll tube, it took a good half a pot of flash powder but also included five rolls of caps, the old type that you used to thread through cap guns and two circles of plastic caps, really loud cap gun ammunition that came with the more upmarket toy guns. Imagine all this packed together in layers, half way down was iron filings to give a sparkly shower effect and it was topped off with six matches and a short touch paper.
There was five of us stood around it as I lit it, needless to say it changed our lives forever. The resulting flash singed our budding facial hair, like a small nuclear device the blast compressed the air waves knocking us off our feet whilst a ten foot high flame shot up and showered us with golden iron filings burning so many little holes in our clothes that we spent months convincing our parents that it was down to moths. The bang, if I can call it a bang as it comprised of hundreds of small explosions almost inverted our eardrums and resulted in a deafness that lasted until my teens. The five of us wandered aimlessly around trying to get our bearings whilst the ‘Doppler’ spewed out its last surprise.
At the bottom I had thoughtfully included ten cigarette bangers, which you may remember almost took my grandads head off months before and five snow storm tablets, again something I had already tried on my ever suffering grandad.
So just as we were coming to terms with the blast it reached the finalie, a boom fest that resulted in the air being filled with little cotton wool style snowflakes as it spewed out fiery triangles that banged and popped in the air around us whilst we choked in the new snowy conditions.
It was the last time I experimented with flash powder, instead I found something less dangerous, a chemistry set.
And that is a different story indeed as I tried to make the best stink bomb ever…