“Please to remember / The 5th November:
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
We know no reason / Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”
I sometimes wondered if Guy Fawkes Night was meant for us kids or for the grown ups. After all, the grown ups went and bought all the firecrackers, organised the meat and salads for the barbecue, And they lit all the crackers and rockets after placing them in strategic places. So what were we meant to do? Squeal with delight when a rocket flew off into the darkness leaving a trail of rapidly fading sparklers?
Who was this Guy Fawkes anyway? Well, he was, I was told, the person who tried to blow up the House of Parliament in England. Where is England??
When I first heard the name I thought his name was Guy Fox. Was he as cunning as a fox or did he wear a fox outfit?
Then I was shown a picture of the Houses of Parliament and also saw the correct spelling of the infamous character.
It was years later when I found out what the real event was all about.
But in this small country town, during the 1940’s and 1950’s, in the middle of semi-desert South Africa, we celebrated Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November each year.
As always, a cloudless night prevailed and we gathered after dusk at the back yard of Uncle Jack’s home. Jack was my dad’s cousin and we all lived in the same street. They had the biggest back yard, which also bordered on to the side of the hill and presented an ideal place to launch rockets from.
The adult men usually cooked the meat whilst enjoying a glass or two of whiskey and the ladies surged around in the kitchen and the outside tables preparing and presenting food and sipping their own brew of alcoholic mix.
If ten families were invited then there were at least 30 kids of all ages ranging up from babies to teenagers. I was somewhere in the middle of the age group. Six, seven eight or nine years of age. Too young to play with the teenagers and too old to make any sense out of the younger kids. But there were five or six of us of the same age and so we stuck together. While the adults were not taking any notice of the kids, the teenagers were usually plotting some devilish trick on my generation.
On one particular night the older boys somehow got hold of three large bottles of beer and despatched of them in no time at all. Then as the brew bubbled up into their heads they became rowdy and started playing silly games. The adults did not notice anything for they too were telling lewd jokes around the fire whilst happily burning the meat.
The first kid to run foul of the older boys was my cousin Garth. Someone attached a live string of happy crackers to his short pants and he ran off screaming as the crackers went bang so close to his posterior. Amidst great admonishment by the elders the teenagers faded into the darkness only to plot some other naughty party trick.
After food came the ‘real’ fireworks when the adults lit their roman candles and sent rockets soaring into the sky. Whilst all were ‘ooing’ and ‘aahing’ at the bright display of sparkles and falling stars, someone stuck a double-bunger into my hand and ran off. Before I could release my grip it went off with a loud bang. The force of this mini explosion caused a great blister to well up in the palm of my hand and along my fingers and left a pitch-black mark from the exploded cordite. I stood there too stunned to say anything except to offer a weak whimper.
Then all hell broke loose, inebriated adults fanning out in all directions, in a desperate but fruitless search for the culprits. Stumbling in the dark and falling over logs and rocks which had always been there. Someone in the confusion suggested a possible suspect and then our fathers started arguing amongst themselves, quite loudly, I might add, as to whose child had been so irresponsible.
It took a great deal of self-control by some to take control of the situation and to calm things down. The teenagers had disappeared for the rest of the night, no doubt giggling somewhere in the dark, out of the perimeter of the light of the fire.
I was taken down to the hospital to be examined and it turned out that there was no permanent damage. Yes, my ego was dented but the next day at school I could relay with great aplomb on just how my hand was bandaged up like it had been severed at the wrist.
To this day no one has owned up to that dastardly deed.