Smoke Gets In Your Eyes


Our small community was disturbed every Christmas holidays for about four weeks by a religious group. About thirty or forty people, men and women. They came up to the hills for the peace and quiet, to praise the lord. They rented a group of holiday homes in Thomson Road and Mrs Nicholsonís spare block on the other side of us where they erected the big marquee for the prayer meetings. This meant a long walk around the road, until some smarty in their group decided it was easier to cut through our back yards and our neighbours as well. This saved a lot of time for them.


Our neighbours and mom werenít happy about this, because no one asked if they could. But there was a lot of ill feeling generated when some one cut our fences to facilitate their walk through. Mom was fuming. To make things worse, one idiot decided to blow a trumpet every morning at four thirty am and evening at seven thirty pm. This was to call the good people to the prayer meetings. This did not go down too well with the locals, mostly older folk who had also come to the hills for the peace and quiet. But complaints fell on deaf ears. No one in their group knew who cut the fences and no one knew who blew the trumpet.


The neighbours and mom were going off crook about these one way Christians out the front one-day and we boys were listening in. Reg in particular was very interested. As the meeting finished and we were wandering off, Reg pulled me to one side

'Your still going to the matinees at the Loyalty, arenít you?' he asked.

'Yes', I said puzzled by this line of conversation.

At the back of the theatre, there is a big rubbish incinerator. I knew it well you must get there early before they light it. Go through all the rubbish, and collect every bit of film you can find. The old movies were made on celluloid film, which broke often. It then had to be cut and respliced somehow, I don't know how but with every break pieces of film were cut off and thrown out.

'Roll all the film up in your hanky, and bring it home, right.' He said.

I was always there early, and had been through the incinerator many times before, I had seen pieces of film there, and knew exactly what Reg wanted. It was no trouble to collect; I just did not know what was in the wind.


Tony half thought out his little forays or outings, and often got himself in trouble. With me, things just sort of happened, and I rolled along with it all. But Reg was a thinker and worked everything out first. I reckoned whatever was coming up would be very interesting. After a couple of weeks collecting at the Loyalty, and Reg at the Cameo, Reg said he had plenty of film. The word was past around the neighbours and anyone else who might be interested, that on Thursday night at eight fifteen the marquee block was the place to be. No one knew what was going to happen, me either and it was exciting as the big day.


Then the hour grew nearer. The marquee was set up inside with a rickety table up one end and wooden bench seats, enough to seat about forty bums, literally. Candles on the table were all that lit the marquee. The evening came, the place was packed, and all were having a good time, completely unaware that outside quite a group of locals had gathered. The glow of the candles could be seen through the canvas and the silhouettes of those inside.


Reg had made up three smoke bombs with the film (celluloid is a very volatile product and many fires started in projection rooms because of a small spark. The stuff seemed to literally explode). But rolling the film very tightly. Then rolling again in newspaper that was screwed up at one end for a wick. The tight rolling helped to control the volatility a bit. The wick was lit, and when the film started to flare, it was stamped out quickly. The film then smouldered, sending out clouds of dense acrid black smoke that would make all eyes water and throats terribly sore. Reg, Tony and Bill positioned themselves around the marquee. Reg whistled and they all lit up, stamped on the film, then lifted the flap of the marquee and rolled the now smoking bombs under the bench seats.


Well panic is not the word. Almost immediately, screams of fire, fire, followed by banging and crashing as the good folk tried to run over each other in a desperate attempt to get out first. One of the first things to get kicked over was the table, candles and all. Then the milling group were in complete darkness and really dense smoke. They stumbled around kicking and coughing, clawing each other, barking shins on seats, swearing and cursing (praise the lord).


I heard a lot of things there that I had not heard before, so I put them away in my memory box. It was a great show for the locals, who in the semi dark cold see the smoke billowing from the tent and the sound effects from those inside, rang around the neighbourhood like gospel singing. Well someone got outside the marquee and lifted the side flaps. The smoke dispersed, and surprise, surprise, there was no fire.


At this time the locals realised the show was over and happily chatting, drifted off home. Reg won the award for the best production, best choreography and best vocal. In fact, he scooped the pool. I reckon he must have earned at least a thousand brownie points. We didn't win the war, only a skirmish. The opposition must have had a good think about it all and decided to back pedal a bit. They stopped the trumpeting (a big relief to all). They still walked through our back yards but it didnít seem so bad any more. Mom even had a smug look on her face as she watched them limp past.