Wrangling with fireworks

We ventured into the village yesterday to get the traditional New Year’s delicacies, olieballen and glühwein, essential ingredients for a gezellig evening by the log fire. On every street corner stood gangs of slouching and sullen yoof, sniggering and swigging beers, SMSing with a mobile in each hand, while at the same time lighting bangers from their cigarettes and tossing them into the road (that’s multitasking for you.). Some of the fireworks they threw were so loud that you couldn’t hear anything for a couple of seconds after the explosion. Amazingly, our three-month-old slept through it in her pram.

When we passed the sole shop in the village licensed to sell fireworks (actually a bathroom fittings store), we were amused to see a couple wrestling a huge cardboard box of fireworks into a tiny car that seemed to be held together by rust. It reminded me that the lower, or more “popular”, the neighbourhood, the louder and more frequent the explosions, in other words, household income is inversely proportional to expenditure on fireworks.

After a couple of glasses of glühwein, I came up with the following formula:

Fireworks formula


x is the household income
y is the quantity of fireworks bought
a is the number of “bangers”
b is the number of “sissy”, decorative fireworks
z is the decibel level
n is the number of males in the household
c is the number of crates of beer consumed
f is the number of fingers left on 1 January

… I know. Blame it on the glühwein

Making light of New Year

It sounds as if we’re in a war zone. The rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons in the back lane; sporadic sharp !cracks! of small arms fire from the neighbour’s front door, puffs of smoke blowing up our pathway; and every few minutes, the deep CRUMP of mortar fire across the playing fields … welcome to BaghdadBeirutKingstonKabul … The Netherlands??!

Inderdaad, jongens … In the days between Christmas and New Year’s, the Dutch cast off their quiet self-restraint and Calvinist economizing and go completely crazy for fireworks. The law forbids the sale of fireworks before the last three days of the year, and limits the time for setting them off between 10 pm and 2 am on New Year’s Eve. What a joke! Our neighbourhood, like the rest of the country, has been fully prepared for weeks and not an hour goes by without an explosion in the vicinity. Teenage boys have been drooling over firework catalogues for weeks, and their mothers praying that they’ll see in the New Year with all their fingers.

The most popular fireworks are of course the loudest, and the loudest are the illegal Chinese firecracker rolls that exceed 156 decibels and can shoot off in all directions. People boast of their 100,000 klapper rolls, without realizing that there are rarely more than 3,500 crackers on even the most impressive-looking rolls. The law was relaxed slightly last year to allow more modest Chinese rolls, klapper-lite, if you like.

Many of the illegal fireworks are bought legally in Belgium and Germany, where the controls are less rigorous(?) and then smuggled across the border, prompting a huge increase in stop-and-search patrols by the special “flying brigade” from the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. Offenders are charged with transporting explosives without a permit.

(The rules in this country are something else …)

The authorities also fight back by attaching specially adapted thin slots on mail boxes to prevent fireworks being thrown in.

Leaving aside the farmers’ boys who have fun blowing up milk urns year round with fertilizer bombs, the firework business is booming, with sales on the first day of legal vending up 30% on last year. Obviously when you have money left over from your Christmas bonus, based on a year’s dedicated work, you blow it on a few seconds’ pleasure. Got to do it. Can’t. stop. Must. buy. saltpetre.

And if you really can’t help yourself, you could spend your children’s lunch money on the buff and tanned, the housewives’ favourite singing queer, Gerard Joling’s (who he? Don’t ask.) special firework packet. For the tidy sum of 79.95 euro, the lucky consumer gets four mortars, eight rockets, some sparklers, a towel(!) and a poster of Gerard — not quite sure how the last two items fit in with the rest.


It’s the first time we’ve been in the Netherlands that our children have been old enough to understand what all the explosions are about, so we will be joining in the madness in our own modest way.

Happy New Year!