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Guy Fawkes

image from http://www.channel4.com       The typical bonfire for guy Fawkes night

I’m a little late with this post as you can see, since Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night was November 5. I realise my American readers will still be on November 5, so hooray, but down-under it is already November 6. I had intended to do this but instead my husband and I spent the evening reminiscing on what bonfire night had been like in both our countries as we were growing up.

Here in Australia it was celebrated with the huge (or small) bonfire and fireworks. It was a night of relaxed merrymaking amongst close friends, at least for my husband and his family, as they lived in the country and neighbours were miles away. With an abundance of wood cleared for planting crops they had a head start on their UK counterparts!

Yet for all the nostalgia of its passing I got the feeling that it wasn’t quite the same as we had in England. However, they made the night their own with a few drinks and a party, and of course, the obligatory high jinks. I’m told that amongst the fireworks was an occasional marine flare and an even bigger flash with the odd stick of gelignite (used for clearing tree stumps as a rule)! It seems when mischief arrives fun will be had and imagination abounds amongst young and the young at heart.

Guy Fawkes

image from http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk –         My type of bonfire complete with Guy Fawkes.

In the UK things were a little different. Throughout the months of September and October the households participating in their Guy Fawkes bash (and there were many of them), would scour the neighborhood collecting timber, of any kind, old doors, packing crates, furniture, in fact anything which would burn.  It was a competition to see who could gather, and keep their bonfire material. Scavenging was tolerated, if not accepted and raids on each others stockpile were legendary. (We used to keep ours under lock and key in the old coal cellar). Many is the night when I would join the local lads (yes I was a tom boy), creeping through the dark night to sneak under the fence or wire, climb a tree to get over a fence and raid the competition’s stockpile. Adrenaline flowed and it was all in the nature of fun…. there was little violence as a result of our raiding which showed how much things have changed over the years.

By the end of October the anticipation was growing apace. Guarding your stockpile was a rostered affair to ensure your hoard remained intact. It was serious business by now. Halloween was one of the last nights for fun and frivolity before the big event. Being a book-worm I would love telling the stories of how it was possible to see the spirits of those crossed over on this night and as we ran and hid to jump out and scare one another mercilessly, we looked over our shoulders to see if something was following us. Dropping from overhead branches as we crept past trees and suddenly knocking over dustbins to hear the clatter and clang were all part of the lighthearted fun.

My understanding of Halloween only grew in later years, but then, as a child it was simple light-hearted fun and a night when children could safely roam the streets for a few hours after dark and have some high jinks. Trick or treating didn’t exist and a few hours of running amok certainly tired us out, much to our parents delight.

Guy Fawkes

image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk    The traditional style of Guy Fawkes, all ready for the fire.

I hasten to add that this photo even predates my Guy Fawkes but is the closest approximation to the ones I made each year. Dad graciously donated a pair of overalls and shirt. Granddad a cap and socks and usually a scarf and gloves. The stuffing was a mixture of rags and sticks, straw and anything I could jam in to fill him out nicely.

His face was a piece of hessian with eyes, nose and mouth painted on. Sometimes we had a jacket and sometimes boots….it all depended on what we could scrounge in the area. Stuffing it, sewing him up and painting a face really made him come alive. When it came time to tie him into his chair, we always used a donated kitchen chair to put at the top of the bonfire, he became a rather sad person to me.

He was of course, the person responsible for trying to blow up the houses of parliament. One has to wonder at times if he wasn’t on the right track, but that’s just my musing.

It was an unwritten but accepted rule that once the bonfire building began there were no more raids. The fire built during the day so that as the adults came home we were as wired as a high wire acrobat. One family made baked potatoes, another cooked pies and the obligatory mushy peas (yes mushy peas and I loved them) and I made ‘plot’ toffee and toffee apples. I have no idea why it was called plot toffee as the recipe was no different to usual, except I had to make lots more of it. Chewy or hard there was little left at the end of the night.

Guy Fawkes

image from http://www.mumsintheknow.co.uk                  Fireworks a spectacular display on Guy Fawkes night

A ring of chairs (for the fire later) or from inside the house, logs for the fire or other comfortable perches were arranged in a circle around the fire for the adults. I can’t say I saw any alcohol but then I was a wee innocent back then. Dad was in charge of the fireworks and he managed to let his inner child run free and he slipped the Chinese Tom Thumbs loose behind the adults to see them jump too. I loved the Catherine Wheels, but then I loved it all.

The smell of the fire, the toasty feel of the heat on your face, the excitement as the fire burned brightly and the whiz, bang and whirr of the fire works, plus the parade of ‘goodies’ throughout the evening, on a cold chilly night was almost indescribable.  There was always a “hurrah” from almost everyone as poor old Fawkes succumbed to the flames but I still felt sorry for him.

Parents finally chivvied children in to bathe and bed, still excited and wide-eyed and seeing the fire glow from your window it was hard to fall asleep. Truthfully I was caught on more than one occasion hanging from my bedroom window watching the flames still burning brightly.

Guy Fawkes

image from http://www.theguardian.com     Standing around the bonfire on Guy Fawkes night

This then was the bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night of my childhood. After the long reminiscing last night I really wanted to share with you a highlight from my childhood days when fun and frivolity were just that, simple and light-hearted with no one getting hurt or playing cruel pranks. That came later, but not when we enjoyed it. I hope you can get an idea of what it was like for us.

Blessings and light-hearted reminiscing.

Ciao, Susan x

© Susan Jamieson 2013

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