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Friday, January 02, 2004

Fireworks and New Year

The Dutch are a nation of sensible, sober folk. They like beer, but not to excess. They live in very sensible houses, are extremely organised in a slightly German kind of way and have the kind of serious outlook on things that probably comes from building your own country. Right up till new years eve.

At this point the Dutch go quite startlingly mad. There is somekind of national pyromania that lurks just below the surface in Holland and on the only night on which fireworks are not banned all hell breaks loose. We spent new year at a very nice houseparty. For several hours it was normal, but as midnight approached explosions began in the streets - the kind rockets and bangers make. As midnight got closer the explosions came closer together, and peeking out through the blinds and the mist you could see the odd shower of stars and chemical glitter.

Come midnight it was like something out of WWII. The crackle and snap of bangers, the whoosh of rockets and the thumping explosion of big fireworks mortars. Official advice to asthmatics is to stay inside. Our whole party rushed outside, bags of fireworks appeared from nowhere and we started to contribute ourselves.

In the UK there are relentless safety campaigns around bonfire night, some with graphic images of what can go wrong if you

Throw fireworks
Return to lit fireworks
Ignore the safety distances
Don't have a bucket of sand on hand
Set off fireworks near buildings

our party, and pretty much everyone else on the streets (and there were many) did all of these things. Bicyclists wheeled around corners to be confronted with catherine wheels and rode straight by. One father walked his three young sons yards away from a rocket in a bottle and didn't give it a second glance. The whole thing was a display of insane irresponsiblity from a group of people I'd have expected much more from.

I don't think I've been so shocked in a very long time.

My other half seems to feel like I'm overreacting. This after all is normal behaviour here. But in amonst all the fireworks was the constant sound of sirens. The emergency services must have been rushed off their feet that night. All those British commercials of the burned and the blinded kept running through my head.

On a more prosaic note everyone complains about kids in the streets with firecrackers in the weeks around christmas. They have big firecrackers here, you can here them from streets away. They also throw them in waste bins to set things on fire - no one can understand why.

I can. It's because once a year adults demonstrate that the grown up thing to do with fireworks is to behave like reckless kids. When we got home yesterday our recyling bin was burning away merrily. Apparently this happens every year.

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