Sunday, November 06, 2005

Guy Fawkes Day

Bonfire night, held every year on Guy Fawkes day in the U.K., is difficult to describe to our U.S. relatives. It's vaguely like Independence Day, commemorating when the English foiled a plot by Catholic conspirators to blow up Parliament. Had they succeeded -- and they very nearly did -- it would have been easily as devastating as 9/11. The plan was to blow up the building during the opening of that year's session, killing the king and every top noble in the country. The English celebrate the capture and burning of the conspirators every year on Nov. 5, or the nearest Saturday night.

Fortunately, the anti-Catholic aspect of the celebration has waned a bit. They hardly ever burn Catholics on those bonfires now. What they do instead is shoot off enormous quantities of fireworks, which are legal and cheap here. You can buy anything, up to and including the biggest chest-thumping rockets, at the local corner shop.

The noise begins a week or so before because the Hindu celebration of Diwali, which is also celebrated with copious amounts of explosives, falls at the end of October. The Asians are concentrated mostly a couple of miles away, closer to Heathrow, but the low rumble of thousand and thousands of fireworks in the distance adds to the illusion that we're near the front lines. In a week, the battle will roll through our neighborhood in its full fury.

For an American, where fireworks have been made illegal in most states, and expensive where they remain, the barrage is hard to imagine. Try to think what it would be like if every third or fourth house could put on a show equal to any managed by a small town on July 4th. On calm nights, the smoke hangs in the air like fog and you can hardly hear each other talk.

This year, like others, we trudged out in the drizzle and mud to try to watch some of the show. I took the kids and the dog to the middle of a large field, which gave us a view of several simultaneous displays. I had hoped we would be close enough to watch one of the biggest shows around -- a paid event in a park nearby -- but by 9:45pm or so, they hadn't started yet and the kids were getting cold and tired. We did manage to watch some kids diligently trying to blow each other up. At first, they were shooting their rockets up, like they're supposed to. When that wasn't entertaining enough, they started shooting them at each other. We moved before we became the next target.

We also had fun for a while making letters out of a flashlight for the camera. I put together Sullivan, above, but we made enough letters to make everyone's name, as well.

Tags: ,