I’d almost forgotten: it’s Guy Fawkes night tonight! Suitably cold and autumnal too, in spite of it being nearly summer. Back in the day, long time ago now, we used to buy crackers by the dozen and blow things up. Small Tom Thumb fireworks, that came in a string of crackers each about 15mm long, would provide a ripple of excitement as we let them off in suburban NewZild, rat-a-tat-tatting like a drum roll from a tiny drummer. Let’s call him Roland the Headless Thompson Drummer, because I’ve been listening to Warren Devon today, just for the heck of it.
Those were just for the little kiddies though – we bigger lads used to buy the famous Double Happy crackers, about 50mm long and much fatter, which unlike the Tom Thumbs, actually had the ability to cause some damage. If I recall correctly, the Double Happy were used to destroy ants nests, in a vaguely scientific (OK, more like just a typical moronic teenage pastime) manner to see what would happen.
Very occasionally we would get the far more awe inspiring Thunder Bangers, which would probably take your fingers off if you delayed throwing it too long. Oh such fun, for all except the neighbourhood cats, which would be found days later hiding under beds. I don’t recall anyone telling me not to do that – not such a nanny state in those days.
There were, allegedly, some boys that had tied crackers to the tail of a cat – but I don’t think I ever met anyone who had actually done that or seen that. Perhaps it was all just an urban myth. I don’t think that we were ever those kinds of monsters.
But it was a lot more fun that Guy Fawkes Day is today. Fireworks were for sale for weeks before, and available at every corner store, so even age 10 years old (I’m sure) we could go down to the corner dairy and buy a Peanut Slab (in a small white paper bag) for 20c and a handful of crackers or those cool little mini skyrockets.
One thing I could never really figure out though, was why exactly we should be celebrating the anniversary of a failed coup attempt. Are we going to go out on January 6th and celebrate the time that Trump almost but not quite attempted to take back power via the hands of a mob of raving nutters? I think not.
Have we any such similar almost-coup in Nouvelle Zelande though? The time that the protestors stormed the field in Hamilton and stopped a game of rugby – and helped stop apartheid too? Does that count as a moment big enough to celebrate? Or does this week’s antics where idiot protestors in Whanganui tried to drum Jacinda out of town? That’s probably as close as we have had to a coup since the 1951 Waterfront Strike, or perhaps the Muldoon snap election in the 80s.
But Guy Fawkes made no sense to me. At the tender age that I was then, somebody blowing up Parliament sounded like a great idea, given that in the political surroundings we had back then, Muldoon was on the television every night – our black and white television, I might add – his ugly leering face tormenting the nation over dinner each evening.
Guy Fawkes was ‘the man’ in my eyes, for nearly succeeding, although looking back in historical retrospect, I think that it was more about a witch-hunt against Catholics than the more often quoted political motives. From memory the Protestants made sure that Fawkes was well dead and not coming back to life, make sure that you’re sitting down and comfortable before you read this account from Wikipedia:
The jury found all the defendants guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham pronounced them guilty of high treason. The Attorney General Sir Edward Coke told the court that each of the condemned would be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. They were to be “put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both”. Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become “prey for the fowls of the air”. Fawkes’s and Tresham’s testimony regarding the Spanish treason was read aloud, as well as confessions related specifically to the Gunpowder Plot. The last piece of evidence offered was a conversation between Fawkes and Wintour, who had been kept in adjacent cells. The two men apparently thought they had been speaking in private, but their conversation was intercepted by a government spy. When the prisoners were allowed to speak, Fawkes explained his not guilty plea as ignorance of certain aspects of the indictment.
On 31 January 1606, Fawkes and three others – Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookward and Robert Keyes – were dragged (i.e., “drawn”) from the Tower on wattled hurdles to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they had attempted to destroy. His fellow plotters were then hanged and quartered. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold. He asked for forgiveness of the King and state, while keeping up his “crosses and idle ceremonies” (Catholic practices). Weakened by torture and aided by the hangman, Fawkes began to climb the ladder to the noose, but either through jumping to his death or climbing too high so the rope was incorrectly set, he managed to avoid the agony of the latter part of his execution by breaking his neck. His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered and, as was the custom, his body parts were then distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.
I know the pets are much safer, and the eyes of adolescents are much safer, but I learned so much more and had so much more fun in the days when you could do it yourself, rather than now when we all traipse along to a gentrified public display and go “Ooooo” and “Aaaaaa” and then go hope again. Guy Fawkes these days is just a damp squib…