Remember, remember the fifth of November

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This Saturday hundreds of folk will make their way to Callendar Park for the annual fireworks display. Drawn there by the special experience of fire and light on dark chilly nights, they will also be answering the centuries old demand that they “Remember, remember the fifth of November”.

It was on that night in 1605 that a group of conspirators tried to blow up King James and his parliament as part of the complex religious struggles of the time.

The King was not long on the throne of England and for some of his new subjects this was an added reason for “blowing them all back to Scotland”.

The man we all remember was of course Guido Fawkes (known as Guy) who was nabbed in the cellars with a box of matches and a few barrels of gunpowder.

The authorities were well aware of the plot and were waiting for the fall guy and over the next few days a number of others were either killed or captured. After the usual round of torture they were tried and sentenced.

I’ll spare you the gory details but suffice to say that it didn’t include 100 hours of community service! Hanged, drawn, and disembowelled ... and that was just for starters.

The relieved King ordered that his subjects should mark the saving of his sacred person by lighting bonfires each year on the date, and never to forget “gunpowder, treason and plot”.

And so it has been for the years between, that is, until the modern era when a combination of health and safety and political correctness has crushed the history out of the event.

It was different when I was a child in the 1950s.

In Windsor Road we spent many days gathering planks of wood and old bits of abandoned furniture to build a big bonfire on waste ground.

There were many houses under construction and no shortage of fuel.

An old suit and a hat went to make the effigy of Guy Fawkes which was mounted on a bogie (a kind of home made cart) and dragged round the houses to collect a “penny for the guy”.

This helped us buy fireworks, which we called ‘squibs’, as well as sweeties and lemonade.

The days before the fifth were tense as we guarded our bonfire in case the boys from Summerford (the Summies) came to steal our wood.

On the night the ‘guy’ was set on an old chair and lifted to the top of the fire.

Once the blaze was well underway it was time to let off the squibs. Roman candles, jumping jacks and rockets launched from lemonade bottles were favourites but the bangers were king.

Children love a fright and a squib going off at your back without warning did the trick for sure – throwing them into the fire was another way of giving the party a lift!

As the night wore on we sat round the fire with back and shoulders freezing and faces ablaze to watch the final end of the guy for another year.

There has been no bonfire at Callendar Park for years, no burning effigy or mention of old Guido!

It is a pity ... but understandable I suppose.

However, we have not turned our back on the past completely. As the crowds flock to the display they will be reaching much further back in time to the days when our ancient ancestors tried to hold back the advance of darkness with festivals of fire and light which held the promise of warmer, brighter days to come.