There are few dates in history that we working class kids knew, but November 5th was, and is, firmly embedded because of its celebration – all these years on from the day - of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605:
We could all chant:
Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys
God save the King!
We would be helped by our mothers to make ‘guys’ out of old clothes, stuffed with newspapers – something to make a head – and usually a battered hat.
Guy could be paraded around the streets in a broken pushchair and used to collect money for fireworks: ‘Penny for the guy.’
November evenings were always cold and often damp with rain, but a bonfire would be lit – constructed from collected branches, twigs and anything which might burn. Guy would be enthroned upon it and set alight.
Our fireworks were small and feeble compared with the dreadful things which are available now: squibs and jack-in-the-box, Catherine wheels, rockets - but even then there were dangers – burned fingers or worse. The evening would be disturbed as much by the sound of fire-engines and ambulances as by the fireworks.
Best was just to be out in the dark – with the men tending the fire and the fireworks, the women preparing food which tasted all the better for the circumstances: baked potatoes, Yorkshire Ducks (rissoles) and warm drinks.
I don’t think we caused much distress to other people – though people were aware that dogs and cats and other pets and wild animals could be terrified.
We had no real understanding of what the Gunpowder Plot was about and the brutal, vicious behaviour that Protestants and Catholics showed to each other.
Such innocence has passed. Fireworks now are huge and seem to be designed to celebrate the fearful soundtrack of war – deep into the night. How dreadful at this time of war between Russia and Ukraine.
Sensitive souls, and particularly people with dementia, suffer for this thoughtfulness.
Surely it is time to stop this horrid routine. A celebration of lights is fine. An indulgence of terror is something we can do without.