Thursday 5 November 2009

"Remember, remember...

... the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot."

It's Guy Fawkes today and tonight there will be lots of bangs and crackles in the sky and trembling animals inside, including our Labrador who's a disgrace to all gundogs everywhere. I don't think that many kids now remember about Fawkes and the plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament - not here, anyway - and it's more usually known as Bonfire Night. It's a damp morning and no doubt firemen up and down the country are crossing their fingers for discouragingly steady rain tonight.

The best fireworks display I ever saw was in Kuala Lumpur, on Merdeka Day, their independence celebration - something Fawkes would have sympathised with, I guess, breaking free from British rule.

It was a huge day: it began with a parade that went on for hours -

>>> Involving 24,000 participants, it included 12,500 marching past where we sat awed by the sheer scale of the production. We had been expecting a fuss as the entire city was draped with flags and banners, but even the huge image projected onto the skyscraper opposite was upstaged by the living flag in Merdeka Square. Made up of hundreds of children dressed from head to toe in red, white, blue and yellow, it occasionally morphed seamlessly into other patriotic shapes. Behind them in the grandstand were more child professionals, who with an arsenal of coloured cloths, streamers, pompoms and banners flawlessly spelled out messages and executed complicated Mexican waves despite sitting in 30 degree sunshine for the whole three hours.

It was a phenomenal display: after the arrival of the sultans, princes, presidents, prime ministers and Malaysia’s own king and queen, there were children singing and dancing, 1000 drummers, military personnel marching with rifles, missile launchers and huge tanks (note to Helen: don’t fall out with Malaysia), veteran soldiers, vintage cars, decorated floats, fireworks, dog handlers and mounted police, bands with lots of brass and a remarkable number of bagpipes, plus contingents representing industry, commerce and the professions all vying to have the most colourful costumes: those in the blue and silver Flash Gordon outfits got my vote. Whenever it began to feel as though the marchers were surely circling round behind us for another go, the pattern was broken by a fly-over of heavy-duty helicopters dangling flags or MiGs and Hornets screaming overhead trailing coloured vapour trails as they did barrel rolls and other aerobatics. Amazed, I turned to our guide Hamida and said, “I’ve never seen anything on this scale before, have you?” and she replied, “Oh yes. You should see when the Formula One drivers come to town: now that’s what I call a parade.”

[Pub. Press 26/11/07]

And that night, over the city, with the Petronas Towers stunningly stark against the black, amazing fireworks scribbled the sky with colour.

Today is also my father's birthday. Or was. Miss you, Dad.

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