L.P. Hartley’s novel ‘The Go-Between’, opens with the words “The past is another country. They do things differently there.” To me, the memorable past is the 1970s, and at this remove, it feels more like another planet. Albeit a planet I rather miss.
In the mid-seventies, on Angel Row in Nottingham, there was a kiosk. Commonplace in all city centres, kiosks were walk-up shops selling sweets, cigarettes, newspapers and the like. This one was run by a couple of Indian brothers and they sold something called ‘Bengal matches’. Essentially, these were tiny fireworks. As with the familiar red-tipped matches, they came in a stiff card box, but were half-coated in a black substance. On striking they would ignite into a blaze of red, blue or green and burn for ten seconds or so. They were quite brilliant, and I felt incomplete if I didn’t have a box in my pocket. Anybody could buy them, and only the most timid of parents objected. Eventually, some pyrotechnics legislation outlawed their sale, and like that decade, they were gone forever.