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05 November 2008

Remember, remember the fifth of November ... [More:]

Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, twas his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By God's mercy he was catched
With a dark lantern and lighted match.
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King.

Today is Guy Fawkes Day in Britain, otherwise known as Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes conspired with others to blow up the Houses of Parliament, but was caught and executed.

In memory of the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, on 5th November all over England bonfires are lit and fireworks set off. Traditionally an effigy of Guy Fawkes is put on top of the bonfire, although he wasn't actually burned to death, I believe he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

When I was a kid, children used to sit with their guys - usually an old pair of jeans and a sweather stuffed with rolled-up newspaper, with a mask and a hat - outside the local shops and ask for 'a penny for the guy'. The money would be spent on sparklers, or bonfire toffee.

It seems that 'penny for the guy' has been usurped by the dastardly American habit of trick or treating instead. I'm sad about that, it's a uniquely British thing that shouldn't be allowed to die out.

Fireworks are horribly expensive these days, and 30 will buy a tiny box that lasts about five minutes. But local councils put on big displays, charging 5 or thereabouts, so it's much better value, and much safer, to attend a big display, although probably not as much fun as having a little firework party in your back yard.

It's a horrible time for pets though. It seems that since I was a kid fireworks have got much louder. There used to be only one brand available - Standard ("Light up the sky with Standard Fireworks" went the jingle) - but now there are all sorts of Chinese fireworks of varying degrees of loudness, colour and safety/deadliness.

Children are not allowed to buy fireworks, but they still manage to get them and every year kids are burned or lose fingers. The most serious injuries are where boys put fireworks in their trouser pockets ... oy, oy, oy ...

I used to love Bonfire Night when I was a kid. We never had a bonfire, our yard was too small, but we would usually have a few fireworks, Bengal matches, and baked potatoes, toffee apples and bonfire toffee to eat. It's one of the few happy memories of my childhood, writing my name in the darkness with a sparkler.
The Guardian was complaining about Bonfire Night being eclipsed by Halloween.

Someone was saying that we should rebrand Bonfire Night... we could call it 5/11...
posted by TheophileEscargot 05 November | 11:55
jan: I hope you're writing your name in the dark with a sparkler tonight.

My cousin and his wife are living in Cambridge while she is on a fellowship. He's looking forward to this and I am looking forward to hearing his tales, as he's quite the spinner of them.
posted by crush-onastick 05 November | 12:09
No, I'm not, crush. It's raining, well drizzling really, and I haven't got any sparklers. Rain + bonfire night is not a good combination.
posted by essexjan 05 November | 12:12
≡ Click to see image ≡
posted by Eideteker 05 November | 12:25
It is worth noting that Alan Moore had asked Fawkes to remove his name from the plot months before 11/5.
posted by cortex 05 November | 15:20
Went to a bonfire and firework display tonight. Random thoughts:

It was too foggy for the fireworks really. The sound of them was muffled and all you could see of then were murky blotches.

The g/f wondered what people from other countries make of bonfire night. It's quite a quaint custom, and I don't think anyone does anything like it.

The g/fs kids had no idea why we have a bonfire night, and the fire didn't have a guy. I don't know if the guy Fawkes story has been lost to them because it's not as popular any more; or because of worries that the story ties too closely into current terrorist fears; or because they go to a catholic school.

Although I love fires, health and safety concerns mean you can no longer get that close to them. Something has been lost I think. The display was also devoid of bonfire toffee, toffee apples and parkin. That's a great shame.
posted by seanyboy 05 November | 16:04
yey guy fawkes night! all the neds are in a festive mood, A Football Team I Dislike lost, and I just had a big mediocre curry! the city is going SNAP CRACKLE POP!
posted by By the Grace of God 05 November | 17:24
seanyboy: they celebrate Bonfire Night in Canberra, Australia, but it was moved years ago to the Queen's Birthday holiday weekend (June) because it's too hot for a bonfire in November! Fireworks are legally available twice a year, in June and November - the only place in Australia where home fireworks are legal. So at least one city in one of the colonies has carried on the tradition, kinda.

With Diwali, Halloween and Guy Fawkes, we've had fireworks nearby every night for a couple of weeks now. The Council's big display will be on Saturday - last year we had an awesome view from our living room window, but they're in a different park this year. With mulled wine! We'll probably go.
posted by goo 05 November | 20:03
I was driving home from the store this evening and, as I was turning onto my street, stopped for a pedestrian in the crosswalk who had his back to me. As I started to inch forward, he turned to look at me. He was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.

It honestly freaked me the fuck out. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Wasn't expecting that mug staring back at me.
posted by mudpuppie 05 November | 20:50
Awesome, cortex.
posted by King of Prontopia 06 November | 00:14
Yes, well played, cortex.
posted by stilicho 06 November | 00:41
Advice for broken laptop monitor? || As if there wasn't enough to be happy about!