October 3 2005

The firework season’s upon us, blast it. The first bangers of the autumn rattled across the common like grenades the other night sending the dog diving for cover.
At Milford, we’re used to the racket from Shugborough’s organised orchestral pyrotechnics three or four times a year. They advertise them well in advance, so we brace ourselves for those Saturdays when the night sky is flashed and walloped in time to Rule Britannia and the 1812.
But we’re never ready for the shock tactics of the blue touch paper brigade. Earlier each year, it seems, they arrive with car boots full of cheap Chinese rockets and whizzers and head for the slopes. Then, like guerillas, they attack when you least expect it in a frenzy of fire and brimstone.
The hills are alive with the sound of Rambo. Nerves fray and I’m reminded of something I’ve been trying to forget for around half a century.
A pigeon, as it happens.
This one flew into the wrong place at the wrong time and went out with a bang. Collateral damage, they call it nowadays.
The wrong place? The Tip, several acres of man-made dunes covering an area at Silkmore once used as a dump for factory waste. In the early 1950s, it was an unofficial playground for kids from the nearby estate.
The wrong time? The afternoon I found a box of explosive maroons in our garden shed. They were designed for the theatre and my dad had used all but five of them for off-stage effects in one of the many amateur shows he directed at the old Borough Hall. They looked like stumpy candles, but the instructions on the box promised otherwise. All that was required to set them off was a battery.
I collected two pals and we headed for The Tip, carrying a biscuit tin containing the maroons, a torch battery and several yards of flex.
The first explosion was deafening but visually disappointing so for the second we were more adventurous. We buried the maroon and produced a satisfying boom and a shower of dirt.
Seasoned demolition men by now, we decided to blow the rest in one spectacular finale. We dug a hole halfway up a sandy mound, rammed the last three inside and covered them with the biscuit tin lid. Then we scooped soil over the lot and retired behind another dune unrolling the flex as we went.
The others covered their ears and I touched the wire to the battery. There was barely time to duck before Armageddon announced itself with a roar they must have heard in the Potteries. We lay still, not daring to move, as lumps of soil and sand rained down on us.
When the storm subsided we stood sheepishly and looked at the damage. The mound had all but gone and the biscuit tin lid was nowhere to be seen.
I rolled up the flex, stuffed it in a pocket with the battery and prepared to beat a hasty retreat with the others.
That’s when we saw the pigeon.
It was lying on what was left of the mound. There wasn’t a mark on it, but its neck was broken.
For a while we giggled about it, the way the young do when they’re feeling guilty, but there’s nothing very funny about a dead bird, so we left it there and walked home.
We never spoke of it again, but that pigeon has pecked away at my conscience at odd moments ever since. Could have been worse I suppose. It might have been an albatross.

 

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