This past Saturday night, one could be forgiven for thinking that New Zealand was being invaded. We weren’t, it was just Guy Fawkes again. And it really needs to change.
As I joked on Twitter:
Has anyone alerted the NZ Defence Force there’s a full scale invasion in progress? The small arms fire is everywhere… :-/ #ihateguyfawkes— Arthur Schenck (@AmeriNZ) November 5, 2016
Only, it wasn’t really a joke, because the constant “pop, pop, pop, BOOM!, pop, pop, squealing whistle, BOOM!” really did sound like warfare. And this is the first problem with it.
Many animals are terrified of all the noises. Our dog Sunny becomes clearly and visibly distressed, and it’s almost impossible to calm or comfort her. Jake, on the other hand take almost no notice, nor does our cat, Bella. I’ve heard stories of horses bolting on Guy Fawkes night in an attempt to escape the noise, but the tales of people’s furbabies in distress are by far the most common. Apparently some children are distressed by the cacophony of war noises, too.
MOST people don’t intend to cause problems for others, but, apparently, neither do they care that they do. They set off their fireworks aware that some animals are distressed and upset by the noise, but the fact they do it anyway must mean they simply don’t care about that.
Another problem is that they also don’t care about the mess they leave behind, or the damage they can cause. The photo I posted to Instagram (above) is a remnant of someone’s fireworks, and the photo at the bottom of this post is of the remnant on the roof over our deck that I mentioned on Instagram. I’m certain that no one deliberately aimed their fireworks at our house or property (though that has happened to others), it was just wind and trajectory that made them land on us.
But people setting off fireworks with absolutely no regard for where the things will land does cause problems. At the height of Guy Fawkes night, the New Zealand Fire Service received calls at the rate of one call every 19 seconds. While most of the calls that night weren’t related to fireworks, those that were related involved things like scrub fires possibly caused by personal fireworks.
While we haven’t been targeted, we’ve nevertheless been affected by (probably unintentional) damage caused by people using fireworks, such as the night we celebrated our marriage with friends and family:
The weirdest part of the night was a power failure—a rare event, but especially inconvenient right then. Apparently, someone set off a Guy Fawkes firework that launched itself into a power line connection. It cut power to the entire area because its aluminium coating caused a short in the wires. Or, so I heard—none of us knew what precisely was wrong at the time. But the power did eventually return.There are other reasons I think New Zealand needs to move beyond Guy Fawkes, primarily that it relates very specifically to English history before the English Civil War, and also the very definite anti-Catholic bigotry implicit in the celebrations. However, it’s definitely part of Kiwi culture inherited from the English in colonial times. For some it’s a link to their ancestors and the land those ancestors came from. That’s legitimate, I think, even if I also think there are parts of WHAT they’re celebrating that ought to make a reasonable person squirm a bit.
My argument isn’t with Guy Fawkes celebrations, per se, it’s with the sale of personal fireworks. I think it’s time to ban them altogether.
When I first arrived in New Zealand, anyone 14 years old or older could buy fireworks for ten days prior to Guy Fawkes—and they certainly did! Over time the, shall we say, strength of the fireworks has been reduced, and in 2007 the government reduced the sale period to only four days prior to Guy Fawkes and raised the purchase age to 18. At the time, I actually thought that was a reasonable compromise. Back then, I also thought that the sale of fireworks would be over in a few years.
A decade on, more or less, and they’re still around. I heard the prime minister say on the news the other night that his government had no intention of banning the sale of fireworks. Well, of course not: Next year is an election year, and they may need every vote they can get. Even so, I’m still sure they’ll be banned someday—I just have absolutely no idea how long it will take.
In the meantime, we’ll put up with terrified animals for a few weeks (many people stock up before Guy Fawkes and set them off for weeks afterward). We’ll also have to clean up other people’s messes, and the fire service will have some extra call-outs. People seem to want it that way.
So, for some time to come, we’ll still need to “remember, remember, the fifth of November”. That really needs to change.