|'Remember, remember the Fifth of November'|
The Fifth of November....commemorated in England since 1605, when one Guy Fawkes was discovered by the authorities keeping watch over a pile of gunpowder stashed under the House of Lords. Not merely commemorated, but he is burnt in effigy on that date every year. That’s a lot of ire to attract.
It seems that the matter runs a little deeper, and involves a little more, well, religious fundamentalism, since Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, and dire treason besides. He was born in York, which I mention in case you are wondering why there is a Guy Fawkes Inn in York. He had fought with the Catholic Spanish against the Puritan Dutch in the Low Countries (where he was known as “Guido”) and then went to Spain to try to rally a rebellion to re-place a Catholic on the English throne. He and his fellow Gunpowder Plotters had that aim. So Guy and his effigy came to symbolise not just him, but Catholics generally. By the mid 1650s people were burning effigies of the Pope, and later any other prominent Catholics. In the 20th century, even Margaret Thatcher (who was not, as far as I know, Catholic, just not terribly popular) was burnt in effigy. But all in good fun, I’m sure.
|There goes the guy: bonfire up in smoke.|
|All the fun of the fair.|
And so today, 400 years after the event, whether it’s because of his nefarious revolutionary plot, his Catholicism, or just for the fun of it, we burn his effigy. Perhaps the many little kids running around Wimbledon Park last night with their light sticks and hotdogs and fairy floss will learn all this in school one day. Personally, I thought the guy last night looked a lot like Donald Duck, though it was difficult to see him clearly in the dusk, before he went up in flames on the enormous bonfire, brought to us by the local council.
|Donald Duck? The bonfire waits to be ignited.|
The word “guy” came to mean any oddly dressed person, after the effigies which were often made by children from old rags and newspapers. They used to beg passers by, displaying their creation and asking for "A penny for the guy". Eventually the word lost its pejorative connotation and came to mean any male, or even females too - as in “Hey, guys, did you enjoy the fireworks?”