Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Pleased to remember, the 5th of November

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At school we were taught that a fellow with the unlikely name of Guido Fawkes had once tried to blow up the British parliament. England was closer to us then than it is now and annually we were encouraged to recall this dastardly deed and in the process make ourselves a little pocket money which we were then encouraged to blow on fireworks.

This may have been a brilliant commercial conspiracy encouraged by Nobel and his gunpowder manufacturers, and might have even encompassed our history teachers, but I suspect that it was merely a customary practice maintained over the years and we were reasonably keen to keep it going.

On November the fifth in 1940’s Masterton the early morning streets were alive with the sound of music as receptive citizenry threw coinage towards the gaggle of kids who turned up in groups of four or five every few minutes on their front lawns and projected their voices at the main bedroom which was invariably at the front the of the house.

Provided you had a credible Guy and a chorus of friends with acceptable vocal skills, money literally flew out of those windows.

We lived in Lansdowne and for weeks before the big day we would shape our Guys using our dads’ old pants and shirts stuffed with straw with a flour sack for the head. We would set off, pulling the Guy in home-made carts at 6 in the morning and this gave us two hours before breakfast and school to hound the sleeping citizenry who almost always good naturedly opened their curtains to our intrusion and threw alms into our arms.

Although we would chant “penny for the Guy” inflation had decreed that threepences and sixpences were the least you would expect, and the odd florin and a very odd half-a-crown were sometimes proffered, usually from folk who had been so overwhelmed with Guys and their choristers that they had run out of the smaller coinage.

Four threepences made a shilling and there were twenty shillings in a pound and a pound would buy a huge amount of fireworks. That night, with darkness falling at a more respectable hour than it does today, our families would gather to watch our hard-earned money go up in flames.

The climax of the evening was supposed to be the throwing of the Guy on the bonfire, but this was more often than not discouraged because it seemed a little gruesome to a community that had just come out of a world war and anyway often the clothes you used for the Guy were the same ones your father used to don to work his vegetable garden.

This word picture is starting to sound like a Norman Rockwell illustration of the era, but it’s how I remember it.

Although fireworks featured on the fifth of November this year, scaring the living daylights out of the canine and equine population, the only street merchants were the trick and treat brigade who a few days earlier were knocking on your front door demanding candy while their protective parents hid covertly on the footpath.

Oh how I miss the good old days.

Except of course, they weren’t really that good.

“If you’ve never seen a real, fully developed look of disgust, tell your son how you conducted yourself when you were a boy.” - Elbert Hubbard


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