Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, remember

Remember, remember, The Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder and treason
Should ever be forgot

As I write this the air outside Fox Corner is thick with bonfire smoke, and the sky alight with fireworks. Small scale, back garden fireworks, but nonetheless, fireworks. It's Bonfire Night!

For the benefit of my American readers allow me to explain. Contrary to what TLOML thinks, bonfire night is not the day we mark the overthrow of Parliament. It is not - despite the fireworks - the British parallel to the Fourth of July. In fact, it is the day we celebrate the thwarting of a plot (by Guy Fawkes) to blow up Parliament.

We celebrate it with bonfires, fireworks, and burning effigies of Mr Fawkes. In the weeks running up to the 5th of November, children carry their Guy Fawkes effigy around the streets asking passersby for 'a penny for the guy'. The money does not go to fund the rehabilitation of pyromaniacs, nor to pay for a better sprinkler system for the Houses of Parliament. The kids just spend it on sweets. The bonfires where I used to live were usually huge, with unwanted wooden furniture - I'm talking big wardrobes, as well as chairs and stuff - piled up 10 feet high, in a farmer's field or on the beach. In addition to 'penny-for-the-guy' funded sweets, people eat homemade flapjack* and drink tomato soup from mugs. Someone's dad sets off fireworks and everyone oohs and aahs.

Sadly in London there aren't many places where it's okay to light a 10 foot high bonfire. Instead a (decreasing) number of councils run public bonfires. They sound like a nightmare to me, really busy, full of kids and no-one's grandma walking around with a tin of flapjack. Some of the bigger gardens near us, judging by the smoke in the air, are hosting family bonfires tonight. But we didn't score an invitation to any of them.

So we opted for the arms-length approach. With a couple of friends, TLOML and I walked up Parliament Hill on Saturday night (when most of the big public bonfires were held) so called, apparently, because it is where Guy Fawkes sat, looking down on Parliament, to craft his dastardly plot. At the top there were maybe 100 other people with the same idea as us. We stood there for a while spotting a dozen or so fireworks displays going on around London - and some, we think, as far away as Essex. We lit sparklers and went to the pub and talked about parliament, freedom and X-Factor. (Only one of those three topics was actually discussed).

It wasn't quite the bonfire night of my childhood, but it was still very jolly.

* 'What is a Flap Jack, anyway?' TLOML asked of me a few months ago. He knows better now.


  1. bommy night has two great elements fire and anti papism. as edmund blackadder remarked - "winter is god's way of telling us to burn more catholics"

  2. Yes, I chose to play down the anti Catholic roots. I'm not sure it's a 'great element' so much as a slightly embarrassing one...