Monday, 9 November 2009

What Happened to This Guy?

This past week, I've been hearing the pop of the occasional backyard fireworks display in honor of Guy Fawkes Day (or Bonfire Night), which was Nov. 5.  It's an interesting holiday in that it celebrates the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a mercenary from York named Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido from his days fighting in Spain) was found on a tip in the cellars below Parliament with a smidge of gunpowder.  Maybe 36 barrels is more than a smidge. It seems the Catholic Guy and a dozen of his closest friends were tired of being put down by the Protestand Elizabeth I, and when her successor James I didn't really treat them any better, the thirteen decided that the best way of dealing with their disgruntledness was to torch Parliament altogether.  He was found thanks to a tip, and was ultimately hung, drawn, and quartered.  He managed to avoid maximum torture by taking a dive off the scaffold and breaking his neck early in the process, so he wouldn't survive the short hanging and being disemboweled alive.  How sensible. Every year at the opening of Parliament, there's a ceremonial check of the cellars just to rule out any explosives enthusiasts.

To those intrigued by turns of phrase, "guy" is an eponym - a word based on a real person.  Guy Fawkes was the original "guy."  The term "guy" used to carry more baggage than it does today.  In memory of the big boom that wasn't, children began to make and display grotesque effigies of Guy to burn on a bonfire.  In Britain, "guy" used to mean a man displaying odd dress or behavior, but the weirdo connotation was eventually lost.  Now they're burning effigies of Katie Price on their bonfires.  That's progress.

On Saturday evening, we drove by one of the largest bonfires I've seen in years, visible for at least a mile at night.  After getting worn out by thinking of the sheer number of hot dogs that fire would roast, I was trying to think of comparable celebrations. It's odd to declare a country-wide celebration dedicated to something that didn't happen.  The only failed plot in my recent memory was the attempt to blackmail David Letterman about sleeping with a number of his staff.  I'm sure to him, the mere foiling deserves a holiday.  Maybe he could bring a chiminea onstage and burn his little black book. He shouldn't get too enthused, though, or his wife could hang, draw, and quarter him for high treason.  It would get ratings, I think. 

Too bad for traditionalists - American Haloween seems to be edging out Guy.  I think I would prefer a gobstopper to a firecracker myself, but that's a matter between me and Weight Watchers.

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