Thursday, 5 November 2009

Gunpowder, treason and plot

At this time of year in England, little children everywhere are learning to recite:

Remember, remember,
The 5th of November -
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

For I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Today is Bonfire Night, and while it is fortunately no longer compulsory in this country to celebrate the deliverance of the monarch from the evil Catholics, effigies of poor old Guy Fawkes are still burnt around the country - and in Lewes they even still burn an effigy of the Pope.

In the good old days, children would make their guys a few days in advance and stand out on street corners showing them off, asking people for a "penny for the guy". They would use the money they collected to buy sparklers and toffee apples, and maybe a few bangers. These days, under the influence of Hollywood and Hallmark, they're too busy dressing up for Hallowe'en and going trick or treating.

The run-up to Bonfire Night is the only time that fireworks are freely available on sale in the UK. In areas such as north London, where there are a lot of Hindus, we start with a precursor of what's to come when they celebrate Diwali.

We then have a couple of weeks where it seems that all the teenage yobs in the country are spending all their dole money on fireworks and whiling away the time every evening by setting them off in confined spaces or throwing them at each other.

Tonight there'll be official displays all over London, and since we're visiting my brother and sister-in-law in south-east London after work and then making our way back out of London via the north-west, if we time our train journey home right we should be treated to quite a spectacle.

Not that it'll be a patch on the most amazing firework extravaganza I've ever seen - a small town in Guangxi Province for Chinese New Year 1994. Forget the locked cabinets that we have in the UK - the streets were lined with firework vendors with their wares laid out on blankets before them and cigarettes dangling from their lips as they completed their sales. My friends and I bought the biggest rockets we'd ever seen, mortar bomb-type affairs which shot up into the sky and exploded into clusters of coloured stars, and all manner of whizzers and bangers.

Every family in town did the same, and we stood out on the roof of an apartment building at midnight and watched as the town exploded in noise and colour at midnight, carrying on for over an hour. It was one of those moments that stamps itself on your memory for ever, and when I shut my eyes I can still hear, see, taste and smell that night and feel the excitement and anticipation.

A public display with all the Elf 'n' Safety rules we have to follow these days just isn't the same...


  1. Cool, I didn't know what the bonfire and fireworks thing my neighbors invited us to Saturday night. We've only been in England for almost a year now. Thanks for sharing :-)

  2. Those Chinese fireworks sound incredible! Did you live there for a while or visit? I have always wanted to visit China, but it seems so overwhelming to me. I hope you enjoy the less-stellar but still fun fireworks for Bonfire Night.

    I was thinking of you because I bought a travel guide for England. DH and I are planning a trip for next year. Any suggestions for things to see/do or what month is best to go?

    Also: I got the hypnotherapy CD yesterday and used it for the first time last night! Great suggestion! It really did relax me. Well, except for getting used to them assuming that IVF WILL work and you WILL have a child in just a short while. That made me cry but then I got over it and was able to relax. =) Thanks again for the suggestion.

  3. What a beautiful, well written post. I felt I was right there with in China as you described the scene. Have a good night and hope your train ride offers wonderful sights.