“Remember, remember the 5th of November!”
“Gunpowder, treason and plot”. Those words had a magical ring to them when I was a kid and preparing for Guy Fawkes Night was the big event in the last weeks of October. Halloween had not yet made it across the pond and every dusky street corner seemed to have a small gang of children hunkered down around a battered old pram in which sat an effigy of old Guy Fawkes dressed in the cast off clothes of some friendly adult, stuffed with rolled up newspaper, usually sporting an old jacket, trousers and battered hat, with a face mask of cardboard and usually with a “banger” shoved in the mouth looking for all the world like an unlit hand made roll-up fag, stand well back when lit. “Penny for the Guy Mr?” The children would beg and more often than not passing adults would fish in their pockets for “coppers” and throw a penny or two into the pram. Of course the money wasn’t so much for the guy but for buying fireworks from the corner shop. Most of which would never make it to Guy Fawkes Night but would be let off in the streets to the consternation of everyone of a nervous disposition and passing dogs or other small animals, of which there were many.
It seems incredible now and those scenes have long since passed from our streets. Any talk of gunpowder plots now has serious and sinister connotations. Modern health and safety legislation targeted as a priority the sale of fireworks to children and gradually Guy Fawkes has been wheeled away in that old pram and abandoned in favour of cute elves and scary goblins and witches who now roam our streets in the October evenings, under the watchful and maybe indulgent eye of Mum or Dad. Bonfire night at home with fireworks in the back garden has given way to community wide spectacular displays. The family size box of fireworks from the local shop, complete with two rockets, a selection of sparklers, Catherine wheel and two smallish Roman Candles just cannot compete. We now trudge in our hundreds to see the displays organised by the Council or voluntary / charitable organisations. And jolly fine they are too. (See the events section for details of local displays). But, are we missing something? Stuffing Dad’s old jacket and trousers in the front room to make a Guy, knowing that within a day or to that same Guy would be perched on top of the bonfire that has been weeks in the making in the back garden; silently resigned to its terrible fate, waiting for the first match to kindle the fire that would crackle and rise up to engulf him was both a terrible and awe inspiring moment for adult and child alike.
We now live in a different world. Safer, more civilised and less gruesome. I think….