Event review: Firewalking in Wandle Park


By - Monday 5th December, 2016

Andrew Dickinson ecounts a night of thrills, spills and explosions


Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

It was the evening of 4th November when around 3,000 of us Croydonians – and no doubt many from outside town – got ourselves along to Wandle Park to see the fireworks and stunt show. Fireworks are a universally popular form of mass entertainment and their colour, noise and spectacle have to be experienced in the flesh to be really appreciated. Just the purchase and handling and the setting off of fireworks still excites me and takes me back to being a boy. I’ve even got a box of fireworks stashed away as you never know when you might fancy setting a few off. Except, on this particular night, I was really more excited by the prospect of the stunt show. I love fireworks and think Guy Fawkes Night is one of our great English traditions that should be bigged up instead of Hallowe’en… but I digress.

Since I was a young boy, I’ve always been bit of a frustrated stuntman, especially motorcycle stunts. Back in the mid 1970s, we were spoilt for them as we had the American Evel Knievel and then our own home-grown hero, Eddie Kidd. In the short space of time whilst waiting for the stunts to be set up, I got nostalgic about my Raleigh Tomahawk.

The MC for the evening broke my reverie and we were about to be treated to one of the first stunts of the night. A man was climbing an extendable ladder and once at the top he was to be set on fire to then jump on the air cushions below. This was proper stuff, fire, falls, and then when he hit the cushion… ‘bang’! It exploded just enough to make us jump a little and raising our excitement levels that little bit.

Then came the loudest noise and biggest fireball I’d seen or felt in my life

The crowd grew that little bit more and the lights of the funfair blazed brighter as the MC was now building up that Aron, the stunt bike rider, was checking the grassy surface as he sped around on his machine making sure that the afternoon’s rainfall would not hinder his jumping. Round and round he went, building up the excitement, and then his first jump. Up the ramp and back down safely on the other side, easy stuff. So a car was lined up for him to leap, no problem, then a couple of vans, no problem, and then eventually the equivalent of ten car widths was marked out with the one car at the end and up he went – no problem. But Aron wasn’t finished for the night as he was packed in to a coffin. The lid was put on, and then came the loudest noise and the biggest fireball I’d seen or felt in my life. Aron was blasted out and onto the floor. This was seriously good.

As they set up the next trick, I recalled more memories of the 1970s. Mainly the time we taped an Evel Knievel action figure to two fireworks. I was smiling at the memory of his plastic form tumbling from the sky when all of a sudden a figure ablaze went past my vantage point, smashing my reverie. It brought me back to the here and now, where a human, holding his breath, was walking on fire to break the current world record of 163 metres for a firewalk stunt. This was serious stuff, and I felt for the stunt man doing this for the record but also our entertainment. The MC announced that he had gone to ground, getting us all concerned for him and the record. But after a dramatic delay we were told the news that a new world record for a fire walk had been set at some 181 metres, which was later checked and announced at 183! It’s not every day that you witness a world record being set.

It’s reassuring for me, a once wannabe stuntman that in these health and safety times we still have brave, mad souls who will risk injury, even death to entertain us and to push the limits of human endurance to do so. And that they’ll do it in Croydon.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, a Turf Projects trustee, part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create.

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