A Penny For The Guy, Mister?

Gunpowder plot

Remember, remember

The fifth of November:

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Earlier this week we ‘celebrated’ Halloween. As I said then, this is largely imported to these shores from the US, in its current form, although parts of the British Isles do have a tradition going back many hundreds of years. Our real celebration for this week comes tomorrow, when we mark what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, if you prefer. This is such a big night in the UK – still, after all those years, despite predictions of its demise. Understanding of it is perhaps declining, but it marks a momentous event in British history. Bonfires will be lit all over the country, and thousands will attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. Why?

8 of the 13 plotters

8 of the 13 plotters

As the majority of readers here are based outside the UK it would be presumptuous of me to assume that you would know why we do this. A brief history lesson is in order, perhaps. On 5th November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the vaults of the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there to blow the place up during the State Opening of the English Parliament, as part of a plot by Catholics to murder the King – James I of England and VI of Scotland – and install his 9 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic monarch. The details of this are well documented so I won’t bore you with them here, but if you want to know more there is a good article in Wikipedia which draws on a number of authoritative sources to give a full description of the plot and its aftermath, which resulted in trials for those who had not been killed as they tried to make their escape, and subsequent executions by the now barbaric method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps ironically Guy Fawkes managed to escape this end – weakened by having been tortured during the investigation into the plot he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck. All very gory!

The executions

The executions

In the following years the foiling of this plot was celebrated on its anniversary by the ringing of church bells, special sermons and the lighting of bonfires, and it became a part of traditional British culture as a result. This tradition included the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, although in recent times there have been occasions when masks of modern political figures have been put on the guy – we may love our democracy but it doesn’t stop us hating the politicians! Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have been popular choices for this in the past, although I’d prefer to see Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage up there this year. When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children on the streets with their guys, asking for a ‘Penny for the guy, mister’ but this is seen much less nowadays. In our current Health and Safety conscious era I guess they are likely to be arrested for begging! All the same this is still a big deal for us – very few in this country weren’t taught the little rhyme at the top of this piece while they were in primary school, although that may have changed since I was there.

These events took place 411 years ago. But there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we would like to think, do we? The US Presidential election is four days away, and it is the great fear for the rest of the world that they might elect a man who is so inexperienced in politics that he might be likely to hit the destruct button without realising that his actions have consequences – he hasn’t shown any evidence of understanding this so far in his campaign. But at least he would have been elected by public ballot, rather than by blowing up the seat of democracy. And we here in the UK know how well the public ballot can result in the correct decision, don’t we? Er, maybe not…..does anyone have any dynamite they don’t need?  (Only joking. I think) 😉

 

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35 thoughts on “A Penny For The Guy, Mister?

  1. Seems you struck a chord with this post! We are all a bit unhinged over the US election. It must be doubly distressing to you, coming on the heels of the Brexit vote. As the saying goes, the only way out of it is to go through it! And that’s what we will all be doing on Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Diane, it’s hard not to be unhinged about the US election when one of the candidates is totally unhinged! It does feel a bit like history repeating itself, with the appeals to racism, the bullying and unpleasantness. Whatever the result, Tuesday won’t be the end of it, either.

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  2. Clive,
    We used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night in Australia but as it is in late Spring and therefore getting hot it was often the cause of fires so it was banned (probably the right thing to do I guess). So for me its just a distant memory of nights with the family outside lighting our own fireworks and watching others in the street do the same.
    Your post brought back some great memories!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post Clive, I knew a bit of the history but not the whole story so it was interesting. Seems we haven’t learnt a great deal from the past, our current global political climate is such a concern. Even from down under there’ll be repurcussions I’m sure. Well, if you light a fire, I’ll be there in spirit, nothing beats a good bonfire.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I smiled all the way through this 😊👏🏻 We also looked forward to treacle toffee and parkin (being ‘Up North’). Our very young grandchildren are visiting tomorrow and our sone would have liked to take them to a firework display but they are so loud nowadays that it would be too much for them. We’re hoping they’ll be able to see a few from the bedroom windows. We did tentatively think about buying a gew for the back garden, but …. no, we both have tales about when it all goes terribly wrong! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Chris. I have similar memories, the Catherine Wheel on a stick in the garden is still a favourite, the stick fell over and we had fizzing, sparking shrubs for a moment! Organised displays are best, but I can see what you mean about the noise! Enjoy the day, however you do it 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Clive I LOVED this. From the reminder of the why and the history which is engrained from my classroom days and the nostalgia of looking back and thinking about the bonfire parties complete with hot potatoes and soup and the face-scorching fire engulfing the effigy of Guy. And making Guys of course though we were not allowed to ‘penny for’ ours which I saw as child cruelty from my parents at the time. To the neat way you link this to the mess of modern politics. I have said before that I remain decorously silent on these matters. Though if you stand outside your back door you can probably hear my thoughts across the pond on both issues – I’m certain they are loud enough 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! From someone who writes so well, I take that as a real compliment. I have similar memories, and jacket potatoes feature in mine too. That weird effect of one side of your face baking and the other freezing if you stood beside the fire instead of facing it! I think the strand of disaffection with politicians has always been with us, and always will be. Modern solutions tend mostly to be less violent, extremists excepted. If Tuesday’s vote goes the wrong way you’ll hear the whole world shouting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure … I only EVER say what I mean – it’s a rule 🙂 You are absolutely right about politics and international relations …. nothing really changes except an adjustment to the rules of engagement (extremists notwithstanding). I have begun to turn my attentions back to France where they have a president with a popularity rating of 4% (the lowest in history notwithstanding Louis) …. I think the bigger issue is what is causing the obvious swing to the right in the world and how to really address it not just irritate it further …. oops – I just stuck my head above the trench line, better pop back down marmot-like into my safe burrow 😂

        Liked by 2 people

      • It’s ok, I won’t tell anyone! We don’t think much of Hollande either! The world used to be more right wing generally, I think. It feels like we’re going back to the 19th century! And thank you 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice post, Clive. I did know a bit of the history as English history has fascinated me for years. I voted yesterday and it felt, as we say here, as if we are sitting on a powder keg! Certainly the Trump/ettes are quite willing blow things up here, at least metaphorically, that they are falling for promises of change by a charlatan. He certainly has fired up his base. Some of his fans in the FBI are leaking tid bits of unsubstantiated investigations as if they ere Snowdon or Assange. It is actually scary even if Hillary wins for how they will try to thwart her in every way. What do you make of your court decision? We hear of that of course but not so much of how you all are reacting to it. Are some crying foul and others hoping to be saved from Brexit after all?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jo, that’s kind of you. Whatever the outcome of your vote I can see trouble ahead. Either Trump wins and blows the world up or Clinton wins and he refuses to accept it, his supporters continue to defy reality. Not good! For us, response has predictably been divided by how you voted in the first place. Remainders saying this is right, and Parliament is legally required to oversee the process. Leavers throwing hissy fits about unelected judges defying the wish of the British people. The morons are too stupid to see that getting decisions from a British court is one of the things they voted for – if they actually thought that much about it, which I doubt!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Clearly the tides that are sweeping through your nation and ours are at a destructive flood stage. Part of my fear is these kind of reactions toward the institutions that have been put in place to protect us. At the same time unless we address the unfairness that the working class feels, the inequities they experience (at least here) and their feelings that things are rigged against them (if not really against Trump), we will continue to see those ourselves self-destruct. Interesting that Guy Fawkes falls right before our election!

        Liked by 2 people

      • That’s really what was behind the Brexit vote. Somehow they thought it would make everything better, as if the EU was responsible for social inequality. Utter rubbish, but unscrupulous politicians played on the fears to get a result I don’t think even they expected. And now we have to live with the outcome. Your election date moves around, my newspaper today has Obama’s first win as being an ‘on this day’ thing. Blame those farmers who are the reason for the date!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes…the first Tuesday of November, actually late this year as the 1st was a Wednesday. I have to admit as scared as I am I am so sick of it and just want it over. It has been so brutal…and yet I know it won’t be over, even when it is. It wasn’t like that when I was younger. Politicians lived by the same rules kids playing ball did, “best man wins” and then they would get on trying to make things work by compromising. They are already saying if Hillary wins their only goal will be to stop her. Such horrid times.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I guess I have kept hoping that it might not have to be irrevocable. Actually, the vote was strange to me in that we would never have a national referendum of this sort. (Whole representative democracy thing…which at the moment does not appear to be working so well.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • The referendum was Cameron’s way of appeasing the right wing of his party. The plan was to have a referendum, show them the country didn’t support them, and shut them up. That went well, didn’t it! We had a referendum on it in 1975 too, not long after we joined. Big majority in favour back then. Not constitutionally binding but the Government really has to accept the result. The other big mistake was in not stipulating a minimum level, say 60%, to ratify a change. Oops!

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