Sticking to his Noonday Gun

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 October, 1996, 12:00am

Peter Fook Man-tak, 60, fires the Noonday Gun every day and spends the rest of the day as head watchman at the Quarry Bay offices of Jardine Pacific.

The story goes that Jardines fired the gun in the early days whenever the taipan came to or left port, but after a new naval commander objected the company had to fire it every day at noon as a 'punishment'. He has worked for Jardines for 15 years and also supervises firings by anyone who pays $33,000 to the Community Chest to fire the gun.

What's on your mind? The main thing as I go to the Causeway Bay site every day at 10 am is to ensure the firing is smooth. Safety is always on my mind. I need to check the gun and ensure the parts are in good order. The most important part is the firing pin.

Second, I clean the gun, polish the brass, clean the barrel and make sure there's nothing stuck inside, because although the site is locked, people can shove things in it.

Then I have to apply a lubricating oil inside, ready for the firing, though, of course, we don't fire a ball from the gun.

What problems have you had? There was one horrible experience when I was cleaning the barrel and the rod broke in two and half stuck inside. It took a long time to get the rod out and I only just made the firing. I was sweating all morning, wondering if I could get it out.

Another morning, I lost the key chain for the site gate, so I had to climb down on to a boat and jump from boat to boat (in the typhoon shelter near the gun) and climb up into the site.

Have there been any accidents? Nothing major. Once I hit my head on the brass bell and suffered some cuts and bruises. I still fire in a Typhoon 10, but the worst weather is heavy rain. You get drenched, but the gunpowder is protected so it stays dry.

What do passers-by do? A lot of people gather to watch. The number has increased in the past six months. On average, I guess there are about 80, many of them tourists. Immediately after firing they clap. I have three ways to check the time: my watch, a paging company, and listening to RTHK to hear the pips at 12 o'clock.

What is your most memorable firing? When I came across some primary school classmates who had come to see the firing as tourists. They recognised me.

Do you think the gun will still be fired after the handover? I think it will because it's a tourist spot, a tradition and it's linked to charity. I hope it will keep firing.