The highlight of the weekend was taking my wife to see the fireworks display, held annually by the Cardiff Rotary Club, in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. As with Birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Anniversaries and New Year, my wife gets inordinately excited about Bonfire Night. This year she was especially pleased, because after four years of broken promises, I had purchased the tickets and we were definitely going. I hadn't intended to let my wife down on the four prior occasions, but I am very poor at prioritising for events, especially when I see them as essentially unjust. My stance on Bonfire night can be traced to Mr Garland, my history teacher during the mid nineteen-eighties.
Mr Garland's history lessons were the sort of lessons that were genuinely awe-inspiring. In the years before the strictures of the National Curriculum, Mr Garland opened one's eyes to an alternative view of the past. After all, as he always reminded us, accepted history was written by the victor. Little did he know, that one lesson in particular would stick in my mind. Furthermore, that the information he made me party to in that lesson, would culminate in a phone call to the Canton Police Station, in November, 2007. As near as I can remember it, the conversation went thus,
Mike: Can you tell me what time people have to stop letting off fireworks? It's nearly eleven and I've got to be up for work in the morning.
Female Civilian Police Employee (FCPE): Well tonight, it's midnight.
Mike: Midnight! That's ridiculous.
FCPE: It is Bonfire Night.
FCPE: It's a special occasion.
Mike: What if I was a Catholic?
FCPE: I'm sorry?
Mike: What if I was a Catholic? I might be offended by it.
FCPE: It's Bonfire Night.
Mike: It's Guy Fawke's night, actually. People forget that.
Mike: Guy Fawkes. The Catholic that was framed by the government to stir-up anti-Catholic sentiment.
Mike: How could he have got hold of all that gun-powder? Why was his voice drowned out by drummers at his execution? Hmm?
FCPE: You're wasting police time.
Mike: I pay my council tax. You're telling me I can't get to sleep, because some ne'er-do-wells are legally allowed to let of 'Air Bombs' in Canton until Midnight? In celebration of burning a Catholic to death in London, three hundred years ago? For a crime he didn't commit?
After getting nowhere with my complaint last year, I thought that I would try to put the inconsistencies in the accepted version of events to one side and treat it as an evening out.
We got to the Castle grounds at around six-thirty. On the way we passed at least half a dozen Chinese nationals, each selling fluorescent plastic tat. I had no idea that there was such a shortage of indigenous plastic tat retailers in this country, or that the Chinese were so able to fill the gap left in the plastic tat market. I imagine that, whereas nursing agencies head to the Philippines to employ their qualified medical staff, and construction companies advertise extensively in Eastern Europe for experienced tradesmen, The Glow-In-The-Dark Plastic Necklace and Rabbit Ears Retailers Association are undertaking a massive recruitment drive in China.
Once inside the grounds, we headed to the display area. We decided that as it was a cold evening, hot donuts would be the perfect winter snack. As we were a captive audience, I was disheartened, but unsurprised, to pay £3 for five donuts, that would been marketed more honestly, as 'mini-donuts'. A salient lesson in the perils of monopolies.
After finishing our donuts, we headed toward the bonfire area. This necessitated walking past the Real Radio Stage. Utter crap. Utter, utter, crap. The hosts of the Real Radio breakfast show asked banal questions, in artificially excited voices, of a series of even more banal guests. Oblivious to 'their' audience's total apathy, the hosts continually encouraged everybody to 'give it up' (I wished that they would), or 'make some noise' (I wished that they wouldn't), for the Z-List celebs on stage.
The first stellar act were two butch female 'singers' from the Welsh valleys, whose claim to fame was to have been eliminated, at the earliest possible juncture, from the X-Factor. The only thing worse that these hags' terrible songs, was their mind-numbing small-talk.
Next was a young man from Cardiff, who had progressed to be eliminated at the second possible juncture. Despite very obviously coming from the eastern part of Cardiff, or should I say, the eastern paaart of Caaardiff, he suddenly developed a ham American accent as soon as he began to torture the assembled throng with tracks from his first album. Fortunately, things don't bode well for a prospective second album, as after two tracks, he treated us to a cover version of Wham's 'Club Tropicana'. As the rain dripped off my nose and I stamped my feet in the wet mud to stimulate circulation in my frozen feet, I had the overwhelming urge to throw him in a swimming pool. Preferably whilst it was closed and drained for renovation.
The best act was left until last. Who was that? It was only X-Factor finalists 'Same Difference'! If, like me, you refuse to watch the X-Factor after the Seriously Deluded/Special Needs stage, I will enlighten you. Same Difference are a brother and sister act who, bearing in mind the libel laws, definitely do NOT enjoy anything other than a normal, healthy, sibling closeness. I have a younger sister myself, and like nothing better at parties than singing duets with her, as I gaze into her eyes. Our Top Five favourite duets (and doubtless favourites of Same Difference too) are,
5. You're The One That I Want (John Travolta and Olivia Newton John)
4. Endless Love (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross)
3. Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You (Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack)
2. I Know What You Want (Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey)
and of course our personal favourite,
1. Give It 2 Me (Madonna ft. Pherrell)
Just before the bonfire was lit, Same Difference stopped staring at each other, for just long enough, to give us the amazing news that they had been signed by Simon Cowell's record label. He really is all about the music that man. The Spirit of Woodstock is alive and well and living in Mr Cowell. Unfortunately, due to the early stages of hypothermia, neither my wife nor I could reach into our pockets to retrieve our mobile phones. If we could have done, we would have texted Same Differences' premium rate phone line, which they pushed relentlessly, and pre-ordered our copy of their first single. In reference to the duo's heavy reliance on technology, my wife made the comment that she would like to see Same Difference unplugged. I replied that the only thing I would like to see Same Difference unplugged from, would be a life-support machine.
As the Bonfire was lit, our ebullient hosts interviewed the leader of the South Wales Fire Safety Partnership. She was pointing out to people, who had paid to come to an organised fireworks display, that the safest thing to do at this time of the year, was to come to an organised firework display. Brilliant. Her safety talk might have been less ironic, however, if, as she was speaking, people weren't turning away from the millions of glowing embers, that the gale-force winds were blowing into the faces of babies, children and adults alike.
The fireworks, when they finally started, were, even I have to admit, impressive. For at least twenty minutes, tens of thousands of pounds worth of fireworks lit up the night sky. In fact, they were so impressive, that in spite of the best attempts of the Real Radio Breakfast Show and The X-Factor and notwithstanding the fact that it is, in essence, a celebration of a religion-based hate-crime, my wife and I will be attending the event next year.
After the last firework had dazzled us all, my wife and I headed back home. The way out was lined by yellow-vested members of the Rotary Club. The British love of politeness was clearly exemplified as we left the venue. There was, near the exit, an obvious shortcut across the grass to the gate. This would have taken around a hundred yards off the exodus' rain-soaked journey. However the short cut was staffed by two retired gentlemen, one of whom informed the thousands of spectators that they were to keep off the grass. Despite him patently having no explanation for this, beyond 'because I said so', and despite it being a clear example of officiousness for officiousness' sake, only one person disobeyed this jobsworth. A youth of about sixteen jogged the few seconds across the grass to the gate. His actions elicited a disgusted shake of the head from the two elderly gentleman, and several hundred tuts of disapproval from the bedraggled queue, inching forward, on the path.
On eventually exiting the Castle Grounds, my wife and I called into the best fish and chip shop in the world, The Codfather in Canton, and then walked the short distance home. Beelzebub was nowhere to be seen and the Micra was unlocked where we had left it.
After a wonderful dinner of cod, chips and mushy peas, I sat on the left hand side of the big sofa, ate two indigestion tablets, and watched TV in my underpants. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.