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London Lives: Episode 2 – A Tiny Explosion of Joy

A full transcript of the second episode of our London Lives podcast series. This episode is inspired by our theme 'Party like a Londoner'!

Set of four christmas crackers each containing a folded paper hat and a printed motto.

Four christmas crackers each containing a folded paper hat and a printed motto.

Unlike the handmade expensive crackers available in London's department stores, these would have been bought by poorer families.

The podcast

The second episode of London Lives is inspired by four colourful party crackers in the Museum of London collection. This month we collaborate with Derek, who has kindly shared his memories of parties and celebrations with us.

Drawing inspiration from these joyful memories, musician Luke Saydon takes us on a musical journey back to 1861, to hear the fantastical story of an inventor and a young apprentice. Discover how party crackers came to be infused with a tiny explosion of happiness which bring joy to all.

Click on the white arrow below to play this episode.

With thanks to Derek, John and Russia Lane Day Centre for permission to use Derek's wonderful stories.

The transcript

[podcast begins]

Hello there, my name is Luke and welcome to London Lives, a podcast series as part of the Memories of London project. What you’ll hear today is a short radio story inspired by memories of different people, as well as exhibits from the Museum of London’s collection.

Today’s podcast is inspired by a conversation we had with Derek, a member from our Memories of London family. Today’s podcast is all about joy and happiness, so we asked Derek what brings back memories of joy to him. In very great detail, Derek told us about the two years he spent in Singapore when he was in the army. Besides all the work that he did as part of his National Service, he also speaks very fondly of the parties and the social events that went on during this time. They were throwing parties for the soldiers and the nurses with the army band playing good old tunes, everybody dancing the hokey kokey, singing Knees up Mother Brown, and some very cheeky dance games with the company there. He also speaks about the two Christmases he spent there. Despite being away from home, festive traditions still made it all the way there, such as mistletoe, the turkey, and of course, party crackers. Many things brought Derek joy. He speaks about the party that his family threw for him when he came back from Singapore, and 1945’s VE Day street party that came after this.

His words inspire today’s story. But before we hear the story, let’s first hear from Derek himself, speaking about his happy memories from his time in Singapore.

[00:01:47]

Oh just like a normal Christmas, chicken, roast potatoes, stuffing. Mistletoe! Yeah, with all the trimmings. Cake and Christmas pudding, and custard. Oh yeah, Christmas crackers. Hats, paper hats – the same stuff. Mistletoe. We had a social club and they had a dance band. They were good. They’d come in – armed soldiers – and they played all the old stuff there like, y’know, when you was young. Knees up Mother Brown, the hockey koky and – proper old ones. And what you done is you danced underneath with the woman, and when the music stopped, you had to kiss the girl - one of the women – who stopped next to you. Like, the hockey koky but when you stopped next to the WAAFs you got a kiss. Aaah! It was, it was something good. Decorations and stuff like that. All decorations up in there, like you usually do.Christmas crackers, same stuff. Yeah we had a Christmas tree, we had proper Christmas stuff. Done it up, y’know. It just looked like Christmas the same as what you had at home, with the tree up.

[00:03:19]

I never come back in two years! Didn’t give me leave. They didn’t know ‘til I come back and knocked on the door. Yeah, we had a bit of a do, a family thing. But my mum and dad didn’t drink and that,so…

Oh VE Day and that, yeah. We had it in the square where I lived where the houses were. We got everything there! No drinks, but we got, y’know, flags up and dressed up some of them. Y’know, cake and tea, squash and the old games – they played the old games!

[00:04:00]

You’re showing them all that?

Yeah, we’re gonna share all what we’ve talked about! Alright?

Am I on there?

You are on there!

Ooh!

[00:04:07]

Oh that was just lovely. Thank you, Derek, for sharing that with us. Joy comes in all sorts of places with all sorts of people and in all sorts of forms. One memory that Derek shared with us right there was that of party crackers. Most of us might know them best from Christmas time. Shaped like a French bonbon, you hold one side and a friend holds the other. You pull to one side and out comes a bang with a gift on the inside. Maybe a paper hat or a joke or a sweet. I’m sure most of you have seen one of these on occasion, and what I’m more sure about, is that you couldn’t help but smile when that little bang happens and it pops open. It’s like a magic power of these party crackers.

Did you know that the museum has a set of four party crackers that date back to 1906? Yep. Until today, they’re still not cracked open. It’s as if all the joy that is inside these crackers is waiting to be released. These crackers belonged to a fella called Ernest and out story is inspired by how he came to own these crackers. Inspired by the words of Derek and inspired by the true story of how crackers came to be, and inspired by the crackers that we have at the museum, dear listeners, I present to you today’s story, called A Tiny Explosion of Joy – the approximately true story of how party crackers came to be.

[00:05:46]

[Tinkling piano music]

[Singing]

You’ve heard of stories of kings and queens,

Ones of giants and magic beans,

But the story we have today

Is set in a very little town

It is bound to make a smile from every frown

From an inventor who acts just like a clown

And a very young boy

Called Ernest Brown

[00:06:27]

The year is 1861 and the story starts in a very whacky inventor’s workshop in London. Two people worked in this workshop. Firstly, and very importantly, was the inventor, Tom Smith. A very funny man with the most whimsical of ideas. With a white coat and white tufts of hair on his head, he wore very big glasses that made his eyes look huge. But, accompanying him on his crazy adventures, was a young boy called Ernest Brown. A very good boy with creativity and curiosity in his heart. He was the inventor’s apprentice and accompanied the inventor on all sorts of crazy inventions.

[00:07:20]

[Singing]

Ernest Brown,

The hardworking apprentice,

A very special boy,

Destined to spread joy,

Ernest Brown,

Bound to be tremendous,

Bound to be stupendous,

Ernest Brown

The hardworking apprentice.

[00:07:49]

The story begins on a cold evening. Tom Smith, the inventor is feeling very down and deflated. He has been working so hard on a new invention, bound to make so many people happy. He calls it a ‘party cracker’. These party crackers were like French bonbons – small parcels made with paper, decorated beautifully, and when two people held each side of it and pulled hard, it revealed gifts that were inside. Some crackers contained buttons, some contained treasures, and some a paper hat. There were plenty of crackers – some made for birthdays, some made for Christmas, some made for weddings, and for many other celebrations. The inventor hoped that crackers would be split to release a tiny explosion of joy to whoever pulls it open.

[00:08:50]

[Piano music]

[Singing]

A snap and a bang and a tiny explosion,

Puts those wheels and cogs into motion,

A small thing like a drop in the ocean

Can make the world go round.

A snap and a bang and a tiny explosion,

Never has there been a more inviting kind of notion,

A small sip and just like a magic potion it makes the world go round.

Ba da da dam – ba da dum ba da dum da

It makes the world go round!

A tiny explosion of joy,

For every single girl and boy,

A tiny little – teeny weeny, very small and piccolina little explosion,

Of joy

Of joy

Can the make the world go round!

[00:09:57]

But no one saw the joy in it.

‘I know what people need!’ said the inventor ‘they need a joke to make them laugh!’ So he put a tiny slip of paper with a joke in every cracker.

‘Come here, boy! Listen to this.’ Said the inventor to his apprentice. ‘Listen closely. Why didn’t the crab give a donation?...go on…Why didn’t the crab give a donation? Because he was shellfish! Hahahahaha!’

Ernest, the young apprentice, looked at him in a very vacant manner. His jokes were very, very bad.

‘Ok, ok I’ll give you another one. Listen closely. Come here, listen close. What did the horse say after it tripped? Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t giddy up! Hahahaha!’

But no luck; Ernest, the apprentice, did not find his jokes funny, and neither did the people. Nobody wanted to buy Tom Smith’s incredible party crackers.

One night, after experimenting with so many different things, the inventor decided that he had enough. He left his 7-year-old apprentice, Ernest Brown, to look after his workshop, as he went upstairs to sleep away his worries.

The workshop was quiet, and Ernest started to clean the place – that was his job. But, as his mind was full of imagination, he started looking at all the inventions that were around him. A clock that went backwards; tiny umbrellas to put on your shoes; a fan that clamps onto your fork to cool down your food, and sunglasses with binoculars attached.

Amongst the many random objects that the inventor had in his workshop, he had this box full of pocket-sized fireworks. Have you ever seen such a thing? Pocket-sized fireworks? They were small objects that, once squashed, would make a ‘bang’ and ‘snap’ sound. Something like this: [snapping sound]. Little Ernest Brown found it very amusing. He did the first one very subtly, being scared he’d wake up the inventor. But, Ernest Brown got very carried away. One firework there [snap sound], and another firework here [snap sound]. The bangs and snaps started to get bigger and bigger, one after the other. It was like a symphony of sounds and he was the conductor…

[00:12:45]

[Music playing]

Pop! Bang! The fireworks burst,

And out there came, a small, tiny spark,

That brightens the dark,

That shocks like a shark

As loud as a bark,

These wonders that he’d never seen!

Pop! Bang! The fireworks burst,

And out there came, a small, tiny spark,

That brightens the dark,

That shocks like a shark

As loud as a bark,

These wonders that he’d never seen!

Pop! Bang! The fireworks burst,

And out there came, a small, tiny spark,

That brightens the dark,

That shocks like a shark

As loud as a bark,

All these wonders that he’d never seen!

[00:13:14]

Oh! The joy of inventions. If only the inventor knew what this apprentice was getting up to right now…

[Music playing]

[00:13:27]

Pop! Bang! The fireworks burst,

And out there came, a small, tiny spark,

That brightens the dark,

That shocks like a shark

As loud as a bark,

All these wonders that he’d never seen!

All these wonders that he’d never seen!

All these wonders that he’d never seen!

[00:13:46]

But the bangs and snaps started to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. When Ernest Brown decided that it was enough, it was already too late. He heard the inventor waking up and moving. He was coming down, and the place was a shambles! Ernest panicked and put all the fireworks in the box of the party crackers. Oh no, these were fireworks, no no, that’s the wrong box! Hoping the inventor would not find out, one by one he hid them there and he closed the box.

[00:14:22]

The door creaked open and in walked the inventor. Clearly, not having had a good night’s sleep, he went straight to the crackers box and brought out the first cracker he could pick up. He wanted to continue working on his failed invention.

‘Oh no!’ thought Ernest. The inventor was about to pop open a cracker with a firework inside of it!He tried to warn him, he tried to stop him, but… bang! He thought of all the possibilities, but he wasn’t quick enough. The inventor pulled open the cracker and out came a tiny explosion!

[00:15:04]

Little Ernest was shaking with fear. The Inventor would punish him so badly. But instead, the inventor started to laugh. Big laughs at how the explosion had made him jump. This was a fantastic idea! Maybe this was what was needed for his invention to bring joy and happiness. Ernest was lost for words. The inventor was laughing and laughing and holding his belly and slapping his thigh. He gave him a cracker, which clearly now had a small firework in it. Ernest pulled left and the inventor pulled right and boom! Out came a tiny explosion of joy. They both started laughing and no matter how bad the joke was, they laughed and laughed and laughed. Bad jokes were coming out left, right and centre.

‘Come, come here and listen Ernest! Why are cats bad storytellers? Because they only have one tail! Hahahaha. What did the clock do when it was hungry? It went back four seconds! Hahahaha! I used to work in a shoe recycling shop. It was sole destroying. I’m friends with 25 letters – 25 letters, why? Oh, I’ve never heard of ‘why’; I only know 25 letters! Hahaha!’

The inventor picked up the paper crown that fell out of the cracker and placed it on Ernest’s head.

‘From now on’ he said, ‘you will be known as Ernest, King of Inventions!’ Which is why, from that day onwards, people always called him Ernest King.

[00:16:57]

[Singing]

A snap and a bang and a tiny explosion,

Puts those wheels and cogs into motion,

A small thing like a drop in the ocean

Can make the world go round.

[00:17:26]

And so, in 1861, Tom Smith launched his new range of party crackers – what he called ‘Bangs of Expectation’. And, until this very day – mostly at Christmas – a lot of joy is given thanks to a cracker. A paper crown, a bad joke, and a tiny explosion. As a reward, the inventor gave Ernest King four party crackers, which he instructed him to use only to spread joy.For, whenever a party cracker is opened, the bang releases a little bit of joy. The inventor himself put a very special message inside these four party crackers and gave them to Ernest King as a present. Until today, Ernest had never opened them. He wanted to save their joy for a later time, for when we really need it. 100 years late, these crackers are still not open, and the tiny explosion of joy that’s in there is still waiting to come out. Who knows who’ll be the person to open them? Who’ll need this emergency happiness? Until that day, we are storing them safely in the museum!

The End.

[00:18:95]

And that has been today’s podcast everybody. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks go to the Museum of London; to Derek, John and Russia Lane Day Centre; to Paul Lucas and his musical masterpiece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and, finally, to Ernest King, for giving us his party crackers and inspiring today’s story. Until next time, I have been Luke, this has been Memories of London, and I’ll see you soon. Bye bye!

[podcast ends]

Creative & Connected

This podcast is just part of June's creative activities for people affected by dementia, their carers and loved ones. You can find the rest of this month's content here: Creative & Connected - June edition