Today in England (and possibly in other parts of the country) is Guy Fawkes Night. It happens every 5th November and celebrates the discovery of a Papist plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament several hundred years ago. Effigies of the ring leader of the plot, Guy Fawkes, are burned and fireworks set off. Some may say that it is a shame that Mr Fawkes did not succeed in blowing up Parliament, but that would be too cynical a view of things. Fawkes was hankering for a return to the old ways and the old religion, and wanted a Catholic England in 1605 when he stored his gunpowder in a cellar under the House of Commons and thought that by blowing up Parliament he would achieve his wishes.
When I was a child we wrapped up well on Guy Fawkes Day. We needed gloves, coats and scarves to brave the early November weather. Today I can walk around London without such paraphernalia on Guy Fawkes Night; it is not cold. It has been warm on Guy Fawkes Night for many years. Perhaps it is that when I was young I was skinnier and so my body felt the cold weather more. Perhaps it was colder then. Perhaps it was both. We built effigies of guys our of old clothes, stuffed with paper and rages, and burned them on the bomb sites that littered Poplar.
We did not think that we were burning an effigy of a person who once lived, we did not think at all about Catholicism and Protestantism but only of the fireworks that would come. We could hardly wait for night to fall, and the wildest bravest boys threw lit bangers in the streets, risking their limbs and those of others.
The biggest bonfire was built in what was the waste bomb site of an old public house between Chrisp Street and Market Square. It burned high and long into the night while the inhabitants of the Lansbury Estate held their own small fireworks displays on the yards of their maisonettes before wandering down to the bonfire.
There was something rather splendid and magical about setting off small fireworks in a dark night. massive displays seem unimpressive in comparison to the “Mount Etna” cone or the Catherine Wheel that never spun, or the sparklers, held in cold hands and waved to make patterns in the dark.
We lit the blue touch paper and retired, and then retired to bed.