Light Blue Touch-Paper

vesuv (1)Growing up in the UK in a certain era meant that you got to play with fireworks.

I have no issue with the safety restrictions now in place but I am glad they came after my time. All the weeks running up to November 5th in my childhood meant collecting the wood to build the bonfire and steadily accumulating the private stash of explosives.

It meant saving up weeks of pocket money and trips to various shops in an effort to build up the best collection. And then all day at school with the excitement building. And being out at night in the dark, lighting the fire and waiting impatiently for darkness to get the best effects. The rockets shooting up from every back garden! The smell of explosives in the air! Being trusted to be in charge of the matches and using them.

And looking back I know that I  was lucky not to have blown off a finger or two.

Every firework came with lighting instructions that were a variation on:

Light Blue Touch-Paper and Retire

I’m at the NYSAIS Annual Heads Conference  and it was inevitable that the phrase came to mind. I consider myself as ‘re-wiring” not retiring. But still. I lit the blue touch-paper over a year ago and now I’m getting ready to stand back. Not quite yet though. June is over seven months away and there’s work to done.

I hope you enjoy this little collection of firework labels from back in the day. Each one – the name, the colors, the design – brings back memories of lighting that blue touch-paper and retiring.

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And what is it all about? What’s the origin of the tradition?

Who Was Guy Fawkes

Guy fawkes

Guido Fawkes is the most well-known of the plotters who planned to blow up King James I and the Parliament in 1605.

After England split from the Roman Catholic Church and established the Church of England royalty was not very tolerant of English Catholics . King James I was a protestant and Catholics began to lose hope that there would be a return to the old religion.  A small group of conspirators planned to blow up both King and Parliament with gunpowder.  They placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament. They hoped to place James’ daughter Elizabeth on the throne. and that she would marry a Catholic prince and return the country to Catholicism.

The plot was discovered, Fawkes was arrested and after torture confessed and gave the names of fellow plotters.  After a brief trial, he and his co-conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. The grisly public executions began in London in January and on the 31st

Fawkes was called to face his death. While climbing to the hanging platform he jumped and broke his neck. He died instantly.

Fawkes signed two confessions. The first was under torture and was very shaky. This is the second one eight days later.

Since then Guy Fawkes night – November 5th-  has been marked with fireworks, and bonfires topped with a “guy” – an effigy of Guido Fawkes.

All very gruesome and grisly. Perfect for small children.



  1. John:

    Memory Lane! Always loved firework night. All the smells of autumn. Happy memories.

  2. Always think back to those smells and craziness of that night. How we all survived is amazing when you think what we all did with those fireworks. Even better is why we celebrated this night in the first place and spend so much time and energy in burning Guy. Loved the bonfire however and the smell of my clothes much later.

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