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Halloween - a vapid substitute for good old-fashioned old Bonfire Night

29 October 2020

By Adam Lloyd

On 5 November 1605 a plot to kill the King of England by blowing up Parliament was foiled. Guido (Guy) Fawkes was caught red-handed and he was hung, drawn and quartered for his crime.

“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot”

And so, every year in the run up to Bonfire Night on the 5 November, the children of England would create stuffed effigies of Guy Fawkes which they then paraded around town, begging cups in hand, with the accompanying cry “’a penny for the Guy”. When bonfire night came around, the Guy would be placed atop the said bonfire and the whole lot set ablaze.

Innocent fun for all the family and a gruesome ritual in remembrance of the gunpowder plot.

As a kid, I loved the run up to Bonfire Night. Unsupervised play or “playing out” was common place and we “played out” a lot. We got up to all sorts but this time of year was the best. Before health and safety was even a thing, children could buy stuff that would make a modern parent’s blood turn cold and chief amongst this stuff were fireworks. It’s almost impossible to imagine now but we could buy “bangers”, cardboard tubes stuffed full of gunpowder, for pennies and that was the real reason we made a Guy: the pennies bought sweets and fireworks. We could all recite the opening lines of the poem and we were taught about it at school, but the symbolism of the Guy and Bonfire Night was lost on us. We just liked pyrotechnics, especially if we could set them off ourselves.

Health and safety is most certainly a thing now and apart from a few large organised events bonfire night is not the free-for-all it used to be. A combination of safety obsessed parents ( I admit it, that’s me) and plenty of children’s TV from the USA has seen the adoption of Halloween and “trick or treating” as a nice, safe, ‘cute’ alternative.

So for one night every year, children in shockingly bad costumes, armed with pumpkins and accompanied by parents who should know better, terrorise our neighbourhood like sugar crazed munchkin gangs. I have no idea what the trick is if you don’t hand over the good stuff and, judging by the maniac look in the eyes of their doting Mum, I don’t want to find out.

I know which event I prefer.  Penny for the Guy, anyone?