Gunpowder

Autumn dusk, Streetlight dawn

Autumn dusk, Streetlight dawn

5th November 2016. Half an hour past sunset, the sky still hangs light and pink-hued in the west, but the streetlamps are taking over. Their dawn casts orange orbs in front windows of tight terraces. They highlight metallic coal chute covers, like stepping stones through a bitumen brook.

Later, we cross the canal and head up the hill, my boy and I, to watch the city disgorge showers of light into a clear November sky.

Fireworks on Pitchcroft, Worcester

Fireworks on Pitchcroft, Worcester

A few yards behind us, up on Roger’s Hill, a great cannon once poured fire into the heart of the city. 370 years ago, in the summer of 1646, Birmingham-born mathematician and astronomer Nathaniel Nye directed Parliamentarian guns with scientific rigour during the Siege of Worcester. Nye detailed his experiences and strategies, including the triangulation of targets using an early version of the plane table, in The Art of Gunnery (1647).

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Tonight the hill is lined with spectators, and explosions issue from all corners of the city with chaotic abandon. I find myself wondering what Nye would have made of it. Given that his book was a “Treatise of artificiall fire-works for warre and recreation”, no doubt he’d be fascinated by the colour and spectacle, but despair of the aimless stagger of errant rockets.

Disputes in the manner of this country’s government opened a rift so deep that Nye found himself expertly orchestrating the suffering of this city, less than 30 miles from his hometown. The resonance gives an edge to the drifting smoke in the crisp November air.

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