This past Sunday was November 5, which is celebrated in England as Guy Fawkes Day – it’s their fireworks day. When I lived in London from July to July 1966 to 1968, children still kept the custom of constructing a rough figure of “The Guy” which they would drag around in a wagon, begging “a penny for the Guy” of passers by. They didn’t want a penny, they wanted at least a sixpence, of course, which they would spend on fireworks set off in the street around bonfires in which they’d burn the figure on the night of November 5.
The fifth of November 1605 was the day a search of the undercroft of the House of Lords in London revealed a cache of 36 barrels of gunpowder guarded by a man later identified as Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was tortured and revealed to be a member of a plot by thirteen Catholics to kill King James I and members of the nobility. (James was a Protestant and his government was determined to keep any Catholic far from a position of authority.) They were all arrested and executed in the hideous manner of the time – Fawkes escaped the worst of it by falling or jumping off the scaffold and breaking his neck.
English children recite a rhyme to keep the memory fresh:
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason,
Ever should be forgot.”
There is a book called 1066 and All That (an amusing history of England) which says that ever since the discovery of the plot, England burns effigies of Guy Fawkes while setting off fireworks on November 5 to “remind their rulers of what can happen.”
On the other hand, it was while living in London that I read an article in a Sunday newspaper that made a very curious point: Gunpowder was a controlled substance back in the seventeenth century, and the government owned most of it, kept it carefully stowed in the Tower of London. So how did the conspirators get hold of 36 barrels of it? Also, a check of the records of the Tower show no increase in the amount of gunpowder stored there after November 5. So where did it go? Or was the whole thing an anti-Catholic plot, Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and the others innocent men, and the 36 barrels a myth?
I have been promoted – demoted? – from oxycodone to hydrocodone, and am taking it sparingly. The healing of the replaced knee continues. There are actually hours here and there when I am in no pain at all.
And I am at work on a short story. I am giving no details, lest I spoil the fragile progress I’m making on it.