Day 117: Fireworks Strictly Prohibited

The facts

“I don’t see why people have fireworks
every year jus’ ’cause he di’n’ blow up the House of Commons.”
Henry thought over this for some minutes in silence. Henry never liked to own himself at a loss. “I know,” he said at last. “They felt so sick at him not doin’ it. You see it ‘d ‘ve been such a jolly good sort of thing to watch. The House of Commons shootin’ right up into the air like that. So they started havin’ fireworks to sort of comfort themselves with.”

  • Number: 10.7
  • Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form, originally titled Fireworks Strictly Forbidden)
  • Book: William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are determined to celebrate Bonfire Night whatever their parents say.


We’ve had no shortage of stories in which Robert and his contemporaries reveal themselves to be of basically the same mental age as the Outlaws they so look down on.

But now we see that the Outlaws’ fathers – normally such stern figures of unstinting authority and respectability – are basically children as well. And especially petty children at that.

“Father,” William said brightly, “I expect you used to have a jolly good time when you was a boy, didn’t you?”
“Were a boy,” said Mr. Brown absently. “You were a boy. I was a boy.”
“Yes, I know,” said William patiently, “that’s jus’ what I’m tryin’ to talk about. About when you was a boy.”
Mr. Brown groaned but said nothing.

After an explosive incident last year, the boys have been forbidden from going anywhere near a firework this year.

But as William decides, “What I’m goin’ to take it to mean is that we’ve not gotter let off any fireworks where they can see or hear ’em. Well, that’s nacherally what they mean, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t mind anythin’ you can’t see, do you? You nacherally don’t.”

So now their only challenge is to acquire the necessary items. They did intend to buy them honestly, but when this plan fell through they decided to steal them from a neighbour, by playing the rather cruel trick of telling the neighbour’s elderly sister that they were defective, extremely dangerous and should be disposed of immediately. (An array of slings, crutches and bandages were used to ensure that she was genuinely terrified.)

Hubert Lane tips off the Outlaws’ parents, who hasten to the locale of the firework display…

But the minute they arrived on the scene something happened. They had been boys together.
William’s father had set off one of the catherine wheels, Ginger’s father was setting off the rockets, Henry’s father was just preparing a Roman candle, and Douglas’s father was opening another box of rockets.
They seemed suddenly to notice the presence of the Outlaws. “Clear off, you kids,” they said shortly, ” what are you hanging about for? Clear off!”

And so the adults glory in the fireworks which they know to have been both stolen and forbidden. And their children sneakily arrange for the fireworks’ true owner to exact vengeance on their parents.

What is remarkable about this story is how dreadfully almost everybody behaves.