For all their pretenses at civilization – tea parties, quaint villages and princesses – the English have a barbaric history. I have a childlike understanding of their bloodthirsty past, but I’m in good company in my ignorance. Prime Minister David Cameron, who was educated at Eton, couldn’t tell television host David Letterman what Magna Carta stood for in Latin. So much for a poncey, overpriced education, but I digress…
I intend to give you a condensed/idiot’s synopsis of certain past events. On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to famously blow up the houses of Parliament in what was called the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes, who was devoutly Catholic, wanted to replace King James I with a Catholic monarch.
Without getting bogged down in too many details, let’s just blame King Henry VIII for the English Reformation, the Church of England’s breakaway from the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. As is well documented, the King wanted to annul his marriage to one of his wives (I forget which) in 1527; Pope Clement VII refused. So he decided to just get on with it anyway and bypass the Catholic Church by reforming existing laws.
Our dear King James I is therefore Protestant, although he has a Catholic wife, and is oblivious to a plot to dethrone him in 1605.
With the help of 12 co-conspirators, Fawkes – who was not the leader of this rebellion as some believe – stockpiled some explosives under the House of Lords and intended to detonate it. The authorities, tipped off by a letter, caught Fawkes guarding the gunpowder on the night of November 5.
Fawkes was tortured for days and finally executed on 31 January 1606. He was to be hung, drawn and quartered – a savage custom by which a person convicted of high treason would be emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces). Fawkes jumped to his death before enduring the worst of this torture, but his broken body was chopped into four pieces anyway and these were then distributed to the metaphorical four corners of the kingdom. I told you they were savages.
Today, the English – for reasons that are hard to fathom – gleefully celebrate the death of this terrorist with fireworks and the burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy on a pyre, called Bonfire Night. I suspect this tradition handily taps into their savage past. As with all celebrations, many English also get drunk and try to light fireworks simultaneously, whereby they end up in the emergency room, overtaxing the already overburdened NHS (National Health Service).
Bonfire Night 2012
This all brings me up to the present. We celebrate Bonfire Night on November 2 at a cricket ground about a 15min walk from where we live. It is being put on by the Raging Bull’s school. We fork out £30 (about $50) for a mediocre fireworks display that would probably cause most Americans to ask for their money back. This being an event put on for the school to raise funds for computers or some such, we kind of see it as a bit of charity.
It’s a good thing we are feeling charitable, too, because the night would be many people’s idea of Hell. We get to the muddy, cold field at 6.30pm and find that the line for the food is extremely long and barely moving. We finally get to the dehydrated hamburgers and sausages about 45 minutes later. By this time there is no ketchup, and I find myself squirting orange hamburger sauce on a piece of veggie sausage that looks like it has been trampled by a herd of buffalo and cooked by someone who hates vegetarians.
We miss some of the fireworks when we lose one child in the crush of people and see the rest while munching on cold chips. Shortly afterwards, the bar runs out of beer and there is toilet paper and mud on the floor.
We’ve been promised a disco ‘hut’, but what we actually get is a disco corner with a forty-something DJ, who is playing Katy Perry, Michael Jackson, YMCA and various pop songs on repeat. The kids love it. I’m feeling old. Welcome to the next 15 years, I think.
I see other middle-aged parents staring vacantly at their kids, who are writhing on the dance floor and jumping up and down as if on a trampoline. None of the parents dance.
Does anyone even remember why we are gathered here tonight? Does anyone remember history? I doubt it; the past has been reduced to insignificance. I’ll tell you what, though, I am feeling vaguely mutinous.