I’ve had a fishpond in our garden since we moved here fifteen years ago and despite now being down to just three fish it is still a source of great enjoyment to me, especially sitting in the sunshine with a cold glass of something refreshing and watching the fish glide sinuously about amongst the lily pads.
So imagine my dismay when I receive a text message from Elaine at work this morning saying ominously “Ring me urgent, big trouble with fish pond”
Rewind 400 years:
It is the dawn of the 17th century.
In continental Europe, the Eighty Years War rages.
In the old low countries that would become the Netherlands, the Catholic Spanish are fighting the Protestant Dutch, aided by mercenaries and zealots from far and wide, including a man known variously as John Johnson, Guido Foukes, and Guy Fawkes.
During his time on the campaign Fawkes met Thomas Wintour, a fellow anti-royalist who introduced him to Robert Catesby, the man who would lead the conspiracy that would become known as The Gunpowder Plot…
Rewind a further 700 years:
The dingy recesses of a kitchen in 10th century China;
A cook is making a spicy curing mix for half of the pig his master has acquired for winter storage.
In the gloom he reaches for black peppercorns to add to the saltpetre he has already got in his grinder, little knowing that what he has in fact added is ground charcoal, used to prime the ovens.
Not only that, he also erroneously adds sulphur in the place of yellow turmeric.
After starting to rub the mixture into the pork, he realises his mistake too late and has to dispose of the spoiled meat, already fearful of the punishment to come.
However, when he throws the carcass on the fire, thinking to tell his master a tale of a cooking accident, he notices the coating he had applied burning with strangely coloured flames and giving off loud cracking and popping noises.
Knowing a good escape route when he saw it, he hurried to his master and told him of this mysterious discovery.
Experiments followed, packing the sulphurous black powder into hollow bamboo shoots and igniting it, the destruction achieved seemingly disproportionate to the tiny volume of mixture used.
The rest is history.
Or possibly gastronomy.
Fast forward to England in 1605;
By now Catesby had persuaded Fawkes and eleven other co- conspirators to take part in his audacious plan to assassinate King James I.
He had gained access to the undercroft of the House of Lords, where he and his cohorts stashed some two and a half thousand kilogrammes of gunpowder. Enough, by recent calculations, to cause total devastation to anything within a 500 metre radius of the blast.
Of course the plot was foiled at the last, the King’s men tipped off by an anonymous letter. But it is often forgotten, in our haste to cast a good anti-hero in our folk legends, that John/Guy/Guido only played a minor part in proceedings, merely guarding the cache of explosives and therfore being the only one caught red-handed.
He gave the rest of them up under what would nowadays probably be called “enhanced interrogation”, but cheated the full weight of justice – he was to have been hanged, drawn and quartered – by jumping from the scaffold and breaking his neck before sentence could be carried out.
Now, back in good old 2013;
We still celebrate the burning to death of a man who actually took his own life under the very noses of his executioners.
And thanks to Henry VII choosing the new fangled fireworks (oh, if that long-dead Chinese chef knew what he’d started..) as the climax to his wedding festivities in 1486, immediately making them de rigueur with the celebrating upper classes and soon with anyone else who could mix the easily-accessible ingredients, we now fire all manner of alarmingly powerful ordinance into the night sky, never knowing quite where it will land.
Such was the case last night.
As Elaine opened the sliding patio door to let in some fresh air at about 10.30pm yesterday, a loud Whooosh noise, accompanied by a lot of sparks and smoke went past at just above head height and smashed into the fence.
The rogue rocket then proceeded to skitter about on the paving right next to the fishpond (remember the fishpond?) and then explode with the most incredible, deafening BOOM!
The box containing all the electrical connections for the pump, filter etc was reduced to this..
… and when I returned home early from work to investigate the “big trouble” alluded to in her text, the waterfall liner, not visible in the dark last night had clearly been melted by the fiery detonation.
This had allowed the pump to efficiently empty the pond over the patio in the night, leaving the gasping fish with only a few meagre inches of water in which to flop around.
When I got there the pond had been topped up somewhat but still looked in a sorry state.
Nevertheless, after an hour or so of emergency restoration work on the waterfall the pump was repositioned and our two goldfish and my golden orfe, Carrot (named after Captain Carrot of the Ankh Morpork City Watch) could once again rest easy in their watery lair.
Mind you, I can hear the fireworks starting up again already, let’s hope they follow the same never-in-the-same-place-twice rule as lightning…