At the End of the Day

It’s November 5th. Time for the Bonfire of Inanities.

‘G20 leaders in Cannes end their summit with a plan to boost growth and rebalance the global economy, but give no details’

(BBCNews website)

“We will fight to defend Europe and the euro,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a closing press conference for the G20. I must confess to being at a loss as to who exactly Nico will be fighting. I don’t discern any invaders on the horizon, apart from the Chinese buying an airport here, and a harbour there…but then, they’re not doing anything illegal.

As I find it very difficult at the moment to view the antics of our Betters without (a) laughing in a vaguely manic manner, or (b) trying to buy a gun on the internet, I suggest we move on to other more engaging topics.

Tonight is Bonfire Night, when we British celebrate the idea of burning wicked Catholics to death. Like so many rituals which lose their pernicious significance over the centuries, this one segued into the the mid Twentieth Century devoid of any meaning beyond lots of enjoyment for everyone. As a kid, I can only recall the avid collection (and secretion) of various types of firework, stuffing straw and old bits of useless cloth into a Guy, and then collecting bits of wood, knackered fencing, vegetable boxes, and wind-destroyed tree trunks into a pile on a muddy patch of common land somewhere.

On the night itself, Mums produced trays of treacle toffee. These were mainly consumed by adults, the kids being far more interested in chucking firecrackers around in an entirely irresponsible manner. Wimpy southerners call these things Jumping Jacks, but we  northerners knew them only as Rip-Raps. The other missiles chucked in the direction of frail grandmothers and weak-heart patients by kids like me were called ‘bangers’ (1d each) or ‘cannons’ (2d each). I have no doubt that, were children today to behave like this, they would become the subject of in-depth Sunday Magazine  features about a new anthropological trend. It would probably be described as The New Ageism, or some such equally nonsensical fiction.

Because I remember the 1950s largely as a decade when it rained non-stop apart from two short breaks in August, it usually fell to my Dad to light the damp wood of the Guy Fawkes bonfire. Pop jealously guarded the ability to do this because, being a travelling cloth salesman, he had access to petrol above and beyond the coupons supplied by various austere governments still trying to repay the cost of having won the War. How surreal that sentence looks today. (What’s even more surreal is that Dad was a Catholic.)

Today’s authorities would have an attack of the vapours about the idea of a father of two small children chucking buckets of petrol onto a bonfire without a single local Council steward within miles of the scene. Had Health & Safety been invented, they would, without doubt, have arraigned Dad  for trial as some kind of anti-social criminal at a Court in the Hague somewhere.

In 2011, Libertarians have hijacked Guy Fawkes’ image in order to wear his likeness as masks at various events and demos. I wonder how many of them understand just how illiberal, censorious and murderous the real Guido Fawkes was. The bloke was little more than an odd hangover from the Spanish Inquisition – which wasn’t, let’s face it, entirely libertarian. The red-robed priests would’ve had Paul Staines stretched on the rack before you could say Monty Python.

Dogs are less keen on Bonfire Night. For them, the whole thing involves unexplained bangs, and an unwarranted interruption of the eternal canine pursuit of cats, rats and any other small, tree-climbing rodent. It’s weird, is it not, that we worry about the effects of noise on dogs who would break the neck of other living thing without a moment’s thought or guilt. But then, this is all part of the glorious muddle of being British.

Does being British mean something any more? If it means anything, I’d like to think it is having the maturity to have grown beyond the original, eccentric bigotry that shaped us. The EU was an attempt to do this for Europe as a whole, but it was previous – and has failed. We in this offshore island find such precocious attempts brave……but ultimately, funny. I think that, above all, we are suspicious of those who cannot laugh at cultural difference.

For the British, foreigners will always be subjects for endless amusement. But what worthy pc pillocks should remember is that nobody laughs with more gusto at the British than the British themselves. The French and the Americans insist that they have no class system. The British, by contrast, openly admit to having one, taking the merciless piss out of its idiocies. The Germans’ serious pursuit of a European ideal strikes us as laughably worthy. The Italians’ ability to elect a buffoon like Berlusconi feeds a thousand comic routines in precisely the same way that Mussolini’s ludicrously set jaw did 76 years ago. Yet only the British could have a joke that goes, “The Devon slang ‘presently’ is like the Spanish ‘manana’, but without the sense of urgency”.

All around us today, there are tedious commissarines desperate to persuade us that we are structurally, intrinsically, innately and incurably racist, sexist, heightist, fattist and altogether fascist. I think this to be unutterable bollocks. Want to hear some real racism? Go to a Serie A game in Italy, and listen to the abuse handed out to black footballers. Want to read some naked fascism? Download any East Coast US University thesis on the nature of affirmative action. Want to see some cruel fattism? Watch the sneers of every stick-person as an overweight beach bum wobbles past them in Cannes.

I hope this piece goes some way to explaining why Hattie Harman’s pursed lips, David Cameron’s insincere common man act, and Ed Miliband’s studied, Statist sanctimony make me want to vomit. And why I long to revisit the free-and-easy, Council-free Bonfire nights of my childhood. But then, if you’ve no idea what I’m on about, there are billions of other websites from which to choose.

28 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. In common (I believe) with many of my countrymen Nov 5th has for me nothing whatsoever to do with religion, but it hasn’t lost all its significance. As a nation we are renowned for our admiration of heroic failure, which this was. And lets be honest any attempt to get at the arrogant mob in parliament deserves our admiration, even if it was for the wrong or a now forgotten reason.


  2. Another great blog JW. Just how do you keep producing such good work.
         Bonfire night was my favourite – I can’t remember to many girls around though. 


  3. It’s tempting to fantasise about a Guy sticking a few barrels of gunpowder under the Berlaymont building, although a few bombs from a great height would probably be better.


  4. Evocative piece John, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your last paragraph struck a chord as I sometimes question the motive of many of the comments that are posted. When you so obviously put such a lot of research and hard ‘slog’ into your essays, mainly for our benefit, it must often be soul destroying to read some of the posts. I know you don’t expect everyone to agree with your opinion and you welcome debate, to the point of thanking some bloggers when they present you with alternative views. But the deliberately rude posts are thoroughly out of order. They have choices, don’t log on. Then there are the others, who would appear to be in direct competition with you. I often wonder why they don’t just set up their own sight??? Are am I being too harsh? On a final point, I too am a great fan of our uniquely British idiosyncransies and wish the MSM would embrace it more, rather than concentrating on the p.c., smothering, local council mindset, Daily Mail drivel they try to force-feed to the nation. Up here in Glasgow, in the land of the Gallus Besoms, our favourite colloquial oxymoron is Aye Right! Have a very pleasant Sunday, you’ve certainly earned it this week.


  5. I vividly remember flames licking around the legs of a locally sourced upright piano that had been tossed on to the bonfire while I practiced playing the first six notes of the then popular ‘Sailor stop your roaming’

    I never got the chance to play the second line of the song, the heat of the fire cutting short the budding musical career of a five year old, not that I knew what keys to play anyway, my Mum had run out of nail varnish so she couldn’t put a mark on any more of the white keys.

    It was a cracking bonfire night, no doubt in part due to the absence of the HSE enforcers, I was after all only five. In fairness the entire council estate had turned out so I’m sure someone would have looked out for me.

    The other notable thing about bonire night from back then was that it was actually held on the 5th.


  6. @RomfordxDave Hi RxD, That’s an horrific picture. I hope it’s in honour of the Halloween/Bonfire Night season and not an actual image resulting from the licking flames getting to you.


  7. As Liz has already said, a truly evocative piece … thank you.

    I’d nearly forgotten those 1d bangers. I remember one night at Elberry Cove tying six of them together and, in the spirit of true scientific enterprise, burying them in the stones before lighting the fuse and squatting a few feet away to observe the effects. I leant a lot that day :-)


  8. Gallus Besoms? Pray enlighten a mere Sassenach, albeit one who supports the right of Scots to make their own mistakes.


  9. @oldasiahand Always a pleasure to enlighten a Sassenach. Gallus: cheekily self-confident, cocky, daring Besom:(or Bizzom)a girl or woman (usually derogatory) Also a broom in both Scots & English. Taken from The Concise Dictionary of Scottish Words and Phrases.


  10. Hmm, seems to me Guy Fawkes is very relevant to now. The Catholic Church of the day was very much like the EU, a supra-national empire manipulating Nations very much in the pursuit of Mammon.
    Guy Fawkes was essentially trying to pull a 9/11 but was foiled. Nov. 5th celebrates our Sovereignty…..
    Which has been given away, by the very people who were the obstruction last time.
    Thus the V for Vendetta meme reverses the Guy Fawkes story since the MPs are clearly now the traitors.


  11. It’s not just the Health and Safety and all the political thought crimes we have to contend with, but the greatest erosion of civil liberties since New Labour came to power, and is continued by this lot. Any British person born since the 60’s can have no conception of what a free and easy time we had of it. We may not have had computers, multi channel tv’s, even the luxury of cars, but what we did have was freedom. At 5, I used to walk to school 1 1/2 miles with a 7 year old sister. Any parent allowing this now would be convicted of child cruelty or neglect. Scrumping apples would have got you a whack off the local village bobby. Now you won’t find an orchard, the village bobby is extinct and any kid caught doing it would no doubt be given a criminal record to follow him or her for the rest of their life instead of a sore bum. As for bonfire night it came in early this year, pity they burned the wrong targets, should have been the palace of Westminster and then in the centuries to come we could have celebrated that.


  12. In my childhood the weeks before bonfire night were spent building the wooden structure and then defending it against local rivals (who were like the thieving penguin in “Frozen Planet”). The pile of wood (built on a bombsite) was hollow and gave us a den. I’m sure Health and Safety would have loved that!


  13. I remember one of my ‘enterprising’ friends finding an old exhaust pipe from a car and bashing one end in; we then dropped lit bangers down and fired them like a gun!


  14. Sandy, the parallels between the Catholic Church’s Holy Office and the EU Commission have also been occupying my mind, I’ve been reading Karen Liebreichs “Fallen Order”. The similarities are almost unnerving, Papandreou sort of rhymes with Galileo and José Manuel Durão Barroso is not a mile away from Camillo Borghese, the latter was Pope when Galileo was hauled before the Roman Inquisition in 1615. And he was the Pope on November 5th 1605

    My uncle was a London docker when he could get work, a bookies tout or casual waiter when he couldn’t He could always blag a few boxes of fireworks for Guy Fawkes night from somewhere, Not just bangers, also roman candles, catherine wheels, rockets, ???? fountains etc. He also got the long strings of chinese firecrackers, presumably from mates in Limehouse. The coppers hated us letting those off outside the shops, my elders said it reminded them of Cable Street 1936, nerves were still raw even after the war.

    There was one girl I recall who always attended our fireworks nights, her name was Carol, you could get a kiss for a sparkler. Like everyone else we made a straw stuffed Guy to go on the fire, but we also used to dress up the smallest kid in the street and wheel him around as our Guy – it was a right of passage.

    From what I’ve read of the Gunpowder Plot the target wasn’t Parliament, it was King James 1 – but I may have read the wrong history books.

    As a kid I didn’t know about Catholics, I knew about “the Irish” because my Mum & Dad went to “Bomb Throwers Dances” of which my mothers family disapproved. Being CoE we always seem to worry more about Methodists & Congregationalists and their “Boys Brigades” who were regarded as proto-fascist SS storm-troopers.


  15. During my 51 years on the planet I have seen fireworks ‘made safer’ outlets allowed to sell fireworks reduced, China lights vanish, bangers vanish, air bombs vanish, roman candles all but vanish in fact the sale of individual fireworks has vanished.
    I’ve witnessed the demonisation of bonfires (they pollute the atmos and kill hedgehogs allegedly). Large urban bonfires have vanished due in no small part to the disappearance of the ‘brownfield’ sites they used to by built upon and the removal of all ‘bommy’ material to the recycling con.
    I’ve watched as the ever more tyrannical NHS nanny has run campaign after campaign ‘warning’ about the dangers of mixing fire, gunpowder and stupidity which of course does cause injury but now everyone who isn’t labelled ‘official’ is classed as eternally stupid so today’s bonfire night, though much louder, than those of my youth is a subdued affair by comparison.

    The righteous are hell bent on killing off all enjoyment, that they don’t approve of. As the righteous are in the main puritans it won’t be too long before everything most people regard as ‘enjoyable’ is regulated out of existence, for our own good of course!


  16. Absolutely true, Bill. And I also totally empathise with Mike Gibbins above. I well remember penny bangers and the harmless pleasure that they brought, not to mention the ingenuity involved in their placement and surprise value. Today’s pc and repression, sadly, points directly to illicit drug usage as the only rebellious action open to young people.


  17. Guy Fawkes was after the MPs. Henry VIII in telling the Pope to sling his hook had cost Vatican substantial revenue and was also harbouring those who dared criticize the Holy See. James I would have been quite happy for England to have become Catholic again since he would have been ‘in’ with the other European Monarchs vying for rank against France and Spain. England remembered the depredations of Bloody Mary and would have none of it.
    So I’ve no doubt that the MPs were the target.


  18. My understanding is that Guy Fawkes was only the armourer, the plot was instigated by Robert Catesby.

    But you’re probably right they probably weren’t after the King. Had they been successfully I guess he would have just been collateral damage. As a consequence of him being foolish enough to be in the House of Lords, fulfilling his duties of Opening Parliament on the very day the bomb went off. Perhaps Stauffenberg wasn’t after Hitler either.


  19. Bloggers call such folks ‘trolls’. The trick is not to engage.
    Sadly, this doesn’t work with religious maniacs….but then, it never did.
    Thanks for your kind words. I’m off to make some neeps and tatties….


  20. Just for a moment there John you brought back to my childhood ahh plot night penny for the guy, chumping, bangers, rip-raps, air bombs sold over the counter individually.There was a sense of community spirit back then.


  21. penny for the guy mister? all day and you would be lucky to make a shilling. cannons were tuppence, expensive. it was penny bangers for me and sweet revenge in the letterbox of cranky git neighbours.our bonfire was massive with a den inside. and baked potatoes. sparklers were for cissies. happy days, sort of ,if you ignored the rickets!


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