Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot
I do have vague memories from back in the sixties of something we called Bonfire Night, where a few paltry fireworks were let off and the community stood around a massive bonfire watching an effigy burn. Apparently, the straw dummy facing immolation was the representation of one Guy (Guido) Fawkes, the fall guy for an assassination attempt on King James I in 1605. The main perpetrator was a Robert Catesby, an English Catholic, who along with his cronies, planned the failed Gunpowder plot. Fawkes was guarding the gunpowder in the undercroft of the House of Lords when caught and was hung, drawn and quartered for his troubles.
As a child, I don’t think I grasped the historical references, especially the Protestant/Catholic struggles that would be a background to my young life. It was just a good night out in winter.
The evening started in our back garden with a few of my school chums and their parents. My father took his Health and Safety role seriously armed with milk bottle, taper, hammer and nail. Then the hallowed box of fireworks, hidden from curious school kids up to this point, would be brought out.
First, the rocket would be placed in a milk bottle and my father would gingerly approach it with a taper.
Stand back kids. No, further back !
Once we were several postcodes away, lift off commenced.
Phzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bwwaat !
Like a loud wet fart.
Occasionally, the milk bottle would fall over, sirens would wail and we would dive for the Anderson shelter.
Then, the Catherine Wheel. This was a delicate set up. Hammered too hard into the side of a fence post and it wouldn’t turn. Too loose and it would cascade in a spiral of death and destruction.
Back to the shelter !
Truth was, most of the time it just fell to the ground and fizzled out.
Now, something the kids could really get into – sparklers. Held at arms length, you could wave them about for all of three minutes. There was always one child that would try and grab the molten metal end.
Quick ! Get the first aid kit from the bunker ! It’s behind the gas masks !
Well, that was fun and it’s only a quarter past seven !
There was a wooded area across from our house about two acres in size that was aptly named The Woods. Over the course of the previous month, neighbours would assemble this colossal wood pile at a designated area (designated by who ?) It always looked well structured but I don’t remember their being a Community Flammables Construction Working Party. The whole thing seemed quite organic.
With Mr Fawkes atop (a penny for the Guido doesn’t really work, does it ?) The erection was soon ablaze. No! I’m not talking about Ol’ Man Dirty Dawkins up to his tricks again ! I’ve never known anyone with such a supply of puppies to visit !
With your face like a well skelpt arse and your bum freezing there was a welcome feeling of communal unity. There was no need for ‘authority’ to be watching on with unwarranted scorn and disdain.
But there was always one.
Who let that banger off ! You should have done that in your own back garden. Quick children ! There’s a safe cave in the woods !
Fireworks are banned in many countries and are now only seen in synchronised displays at public events.
Influenced by the popularity of a blockbuster movie, Guy Fawkes has now come to represent broad protest in mask form.
James Sharpe, professor of history at the University of York, has described how Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”
I think he got that right.
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
(Post by John Allan of Bridgetown, Western Australia – November 2022)