Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cardiff go boom

It's that time of year again: the leaves are changing, the sunsets fall earlier, and the chill of autumn evenings are punctuated with explosions. Soon Britons will be setting fire to a Catholic bloke.

Well, not exactly.

Depending on how hot the girls were in your school, you may or may not have been paying attention on the day they mentioned Guy Fawkes. He was the chap who, more than 400 years ago, plotted to blow up Britain's Houses of Parliament with the king and most of the Protestant aristocracy inside.

He failed, of course. But for his trouble he was tortured for several days, hanged and then cut into pieces. Afterward, it would appear that someone, somewhere, said to themselves: "You know, that was jolly good fun. But what with all the torturing and hanging and cutting into bits, I can't help but wish that we had also set him on fire."

So, an effigy of Fawkes was made and promptly set alight. With no quality television like "Strictly Come Dancing" to distract anyone, this torching of a fake person turned out to be a delightfully good time. So much so that the British decided to keep at it for hundreds of years, burning Guy Fawkes anew every 5 November.

For those of you playing at home, a tradition of this time of year is for children to wander about town with their Fawkes effigies in tow, encouraging people to give them a "penny for the guy." Although, this has died out considerably in recent years. People aren't quite as comfortable as they once were in encouraging children to burn traitors. And, I think, the children are somewhat lazier than they used to be.

When I lived in Portsmouth, in the late 1990s, the tradition was already on its way out. I once passed a boy on the street who was sitting next to his effigy in the city centre and asking all passersby for change. But on closer inspection I discovered that his "guy" was, in fact, just his friend sitting really, really still. I gave them 10p for the sake of their entrepreneurial cheek.

These days, people tend to skip the bit about doing nasty things to fellas from the 1600s and celebrate in one of two ways: 1) simply set yourself aflame whilst pouring litres and litres of petrol on a pile of soggy detritus in typical British weather; or 2) lose a hand to a stockpile of fireworks that make the Beijing Olympics look like an also-ran.

Here in Wales we tend to choose option No. 2. In the Welsh language the celebration is most commonly referred to as Noson Tân Gwyllt, or "Fireworks Night." But it would be more accurate to describe it as "Fireworks Season." The fireworks started last week and will continue almost nightly until February -- with the post-Fireworks Night fireworks falling into the pre-New Years fireworks window.

On the actual night, my neighbourhood will become reminiscent of those CNN warzone news reports -- all British accents and explosions -- and there will be no sleep. The wealthy Indian family that live on the other side of the tracks behind my house will play Bhangra music at 6 million decibels and set off a sustained 50-minute pyrotechnics display, as they do every time there is anything worth celebrating.

In the United States, the tiny distance between my house and theirs would be our backyards. But here, there are three homes in that space. And on the night, each of those houses will be setting off fireworks as well. At the end of the evening we'll all meet each other in the local hospital's emergency room.

Strangely, I can't wait.

3 comments:

Jenny said...

We haven't had any fireworks in Historic Bath yet. The buildings are too fragile.

It's worth remembering, if you ever plan on owning an animal on these fair shores, that Bonfire Night is especially traumatic for pets. I've spent many a November evening trying to recover terrified cats from attics and backing away from scared, confused dogs.

the projectivist said...

oh i laughed till i laughed!

they banned fireworks here, long ago. the closest we get, is burning the tips of our fingers on a couple of Sparklers come New Years.

please enjoy
and set fire to your neighbour's washing line with a couple of really good fireworks for me!

The Cwtch said...

:o) ah that made me chuckle! It is a bit odd when you come to think of it. It gets like a war zone around me too, a lot of people seem to buy those rockets which make a wheeeeeeeeeeee bang noise that sound much like incoming bombs, all we need is a number of these all going off around the village and you feel like you are surrounded!