Penny for the Guy
November 6, 2007
All over the country county and town councils are cancelling Bonfire Night.
One of my earliest memories, so long ago in my wee brain that I had trouble deciding if it is something I made up later and then forgot I made up, or it was a real memory, is of having my first sparkler at the Bonfire. I hadn’t been too keen on Bonfire night before this incident, because it seemed not to involve my favouritest thing in the world to do in the autumn; namely dressing up as a fairy princess and running around outdoors after dark. But after this moment of truth, in which I literally saw the light, I have been a Bonfire Night fan for more than 35 years.
I was five and someone, it may have been my mother, but I seem to recall it was “Uncle” Fred (1), her foster father, or Uncle Mike, or someone else, gave me a sparkler. It was my first but I recall being terrified of it. I thought it was alive and extremely dangerous. Until someone took my hand, still holding the wildly fizzing and madly sparkling thing, and wrote my name in the air with it. After that, I was sold.
Well, after that and a toffee apple eaten with both hands whilst standing in front of a bonfire at least four times my height. And being outdoors late at night. Glory!
I didn’t know it was anti-Catholic. I had, of course, never heard of the Glorious Revolution. I knew only that someone had tried to blow up something called “Parliament”; that “Parliament” was quite a long way from Manchester, but was, despite this defect, still quite important and so probably it wouldn’t do to try to blow it up; and that it had all happened quite a long time ago. That and there was this straw-faced fellow whose clothes had been donated from the rag and bone man’s bag and stuffed with newspapers and we tossed him onto the bonfire for no adequately explained reason.
What it all had to do with the unbelievable magic of the sparkler was anyone’s guess, but I was asking no questions. Grown-ups were, and are still, so likely to put a stop to fun that is too closely questioned, that I thought it wiser to just stuff as much toffee apple into my mouth as possible, before anyone said it was looking like bedtime.
I have seen with a growing sense of horror and slowly enveloping despair, that the wicked forces of Grown-up NoFun, namely that wicked and slippery sprite, “elf n’ safety”, it’s bog-stupid brother, political correctness and an invasion of American commercialism, are slowly snuffing out the best holiday anyone ever came up with.
Kids in Britain are dressing up and “trick-or-treating” at Hallow‘een. But they are doing it with none of the style with which I used to do. (My mum and I worked on the outfit for days in advance; once, my last year at 11, even making an entire Darth Vader mask out of papier mache.) No, the kids in Britain are being dressed up in the horrid store-bought things and just showing up demanding sweets. It has grown out of, (sitting down? holding on to something nailed down?) the airing in Britain of that stupid American horror film, “Halloween”. Yep. One film did the whole job. And because, as I have been observing, English people have forgotten what they are supposed to be, it was adopted with a shrug. One thing as good as another right?
Now I was never against Hallow‘een as it was properly observed in my own youth. But its commercialisation has destroyed the flair, the charm, the fun and the point in N. America. To have waited until after it has died and simply transported the dead, plasticised carcass of the thing over here so the kids can dress up in tacky plastic muck from Woolworths, just seems a bit pointless.
I believe I have said elsewhere that I have longed for and searched for and cherished those Really Real things that are now being so lightly tossed away. The search, in this life of mass production and cheap grace, for the Really Real, has turned into a vocation. And for North America, Hallow ‘een, properly observed, is one of those things. But it is so rare now that I suspect it has died out. But that’s OK. I don’t live there anymore. Not my problem.
But Bonfire Night is another matter. It was, and is, a demonstration of the Really Real Britain, a country with a history, and moreover, with a people who know that history is important enough to remember and commemorate for very long periods of time. What is happening in this country, to this nation, can be illustrated I believe, by the carelessness with which Bonfire Night is now being treated.
It is being banned in councils across the land on the ridiculously thin ground that it is unsafe for children. Fireworks blow up, don’tcha know, and some idiot might fall into a bonfire.
It is being banned, unbelievably, because bonfires and fireworks contribute to that weird imaginary beast “global warming”.
But worse by far is that it is being banned on the grounds that it is an affront to people of other cultures, whom we must now for some reason call “British” as well, for English people to commemorate our history. One council, (I won’t look up which one,) banned Bonfire night because it is a “white” British festival whose existence might tend to remind “New Britons” that they are new and their ancestors had no part in the historical events which it commemorates. It is an English custom, therefore so offensive to our guests that we must never mention it again.
No, I’m not making that up.
I am happy to report, however, that on the Saturday night of Bonfire Weekend, I was kept awake until well after midnight by the sound of fireworks. And the next night, and the night after that. So, once again, I have grounds to believe that the insanity is confined, mostly, to the small class of ruling busybody grown-up NoFunners who cannot keep their misery to themselves and are not content until the land that once rang with the joyful shrieks of laughter of my small delighted self on November 5, 1972, is as silent, pinch-faced and bored as they are themselves. The rest of us, it seems, are not going along.
I’m also glad to say that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
1. Due to the enormous complexity of middle class British kinship systems and the wholesale redistribution of children after the war, I have several uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews who are not actually any blood relation at all...the rule, in general, is that any male relative or close family friend of your father’s generation or older, who is not your father, is “uncle.”
Oh, and Steve? It's "phenomenon" singular, not "phenomena" plural, since we are talking about the (sing.) "prostitots" phenomenon.