Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I can think of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Remembering the fifth of November was all very well until the UK went all “work-ethicy” back in Thatcher’s reign and people stopped enjoying themselves mid-week. Then the notorious “elf ‘n safety” boys decided that fireworks were BAD and the whole thing just sort of fizzled out! When I was a kid on the streets of North West London, Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night happened on the 5th November (whichever day that happened to be) and involved loads of kids running around with small explosive devices doing fun things like putting them inside milk bottles, down drains or through people’s letterboxes. Surprising as it may seem, in all those years of wild fun with fireworks I never saw a single incident of people having their hands blown off, eyes gouged out by flying shards of glass or of houses burning down. It was Bonfire Night, boys were boys and the pets were frightened!
Years of government brainwashing about the dangers of explosives have taken their toll and so we witnessed some pretty pathetic displays last weekend. Sanitized, government approved versions of what used to be fun, all the more fun because it was slightly dangerous. We’re not allowed to be slightly dangerous anymore.
The basic idea was simple:
- Take all the furniture out of your grannies house and pile it up in the back garden. Set it all on fire.
- Make an effigy of Guy Fawkes, needs to look as close to the chap below as possible. Note: For a few days before the 5th you will have been showing strangers your effigy and asking them to give you some money for being such a clever chap. This was known as “Penny for the guy”.
- Throw this effigy on top of the burning granny furniture. Alternatively you may place the effigy on the top of the furniture before you start the fire.
- Go to the kitchen and check that mum has got the jacket potatoes, beans and sausages cooking.
- Move the box of fireworks away from the spitting embers of the bonfire – just in case!
- Let off all the boring fireworks like Roman Candles and all the pretty girly ones.
- Let a few of the smaller rockets rip.
- Let off some of the more exciting fireworks like the Airplane ones or others that spin around on a nail attached to the fence post. Best to ensure the nail is a bit too loose so they fly off unexpectedly straight at someone’s head!
- Let off the big rockets!
- Let of the main event – usually a massive Mortar Bomb or something similar.
- Eat by the bonfire while the little ones burn their fingers on Sparklers.
- With pockets stuffed full of Bangers, go find your mates and roam the streets doing stupid things with them. Seeing how long you can hold a lit one before throwing it is always a good place to start!
- Go back home, check that what’s left of the fire is not going to burn down the garage and go inside to watch Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies or something similar.
So what is the reason for this annual celebration of pyrotechnics? Well it all comes down to religion, of course. It is the celebration of the failed assassination attempt by a group of provincial English Catholics against King James I of England and VI of Scotland. The plot intended to kill the king, his family, and most of the Protestant aristocracy in a single attack by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening on 5 November 1605. The conspirators had also planned to abduct the royal children, not present in Parliament, and incite a popular revolt in the Midlands. The whole plot was intended to begin a rebellion during which James’ nine-year-old daughter (Princess Elizabeth) could be installed as a Catholic head of state. This was felt necessary because Catholics were not well tolerated in England at the time and they were getting a bit miffed about it! Just as an example of how little the Catholics were liked back then, here’s a little ditty that was popular at the time:
A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!
The plot was masterminded by a chap called Robert Catesby but is was poor old Guy Fawkes who was chosen to deal with the explosives and therefore it was he who was caught red-handed in the basement about to light the blue touchpaper. The punishment in those days for the crime of ‘High treason’ was to be hung, drawn & quartered, a completely barbaric punishment that only the English or the Spanish Inquisition could dream up. Fawkes managed to avoid the nastier parts by jumping off the gallows and making sure the hanging was the last thing he remembered.