Monday, January 09, 2006

Gee Whiz Bang

Old Years night is when Amsterdam has a distinct Baghdad feel. Every corner there are explosions and the sky lights up with great explosions. These are caused by fireworks, those Weapons of Mass Diversion. Families set rockets off in the street, children throw bangers randomly and people with far too much money launch enough gunpowder into the air to demolish as small town.

Every year, there is a remembrance service for the people who died when a fireworks factory exploded one day in Enschede. People are stilted and say things like it is wrong to have a fireworks factory in the middle of a town. Then a few months later, people are setting big fireworks off in narrow streets, narrowly missing passers by with no hint of irony.

I am always surprised that every year there is not a huge death-toll after a typical Dutch new years. But no. The papers this year carried a report of 4 deaths that night. One due to a firework landing in someone's face, two more in a family feud over fireworks and one more which was gang-related by the look of it. One direct death due to firework abuse. I don't count the gangland killing as it was probably unrelated to fireworks, and if members of one family were able to kill each other over fireworks, then they were probably ready to kill each other over pretty much anything.

There were other fatalities, only one of which was reported. This was of a small bird which was cowering in a bird house away from the noise when some stupid kid popped a banger in. Result was not pretty. And given how severely this country looks down on people who kill birds (they are one notch below terrorists and people who fiddle TV ratings), it wasn't a clever thing to do. No doubt a full police investigation is underway.

So fireworks as it appears are pretty safe. It's more dangerous to be a member of a feuding family.

Most dangerous career of 2005 was clearly being a Chinese mine worker. A career in which nearly 6000 people popped their clogs last year. Anyway, I'm off home to make a firework bed, because nobody has ever died of cot death in a firework bed. That's my theory, anyway.

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