Penny for the guy

Having been brought up in Britain where Guy Fawkes night was a long standing tradition, I though some of my International readers might be interested in a little of the background. As usual one of the characters took over and it ended up as a short story.  😉

Bonfire night 29.10.17

 In the run up to Guy Fawkes night this was a common cry from children, sitting on the pavement, begging for money to be able to buy fireworks for bonfire night. Next to them would be a scarecrow type figure, often made of old cushions, tied together with string and wearing Dad’s ancient jumper and hat. It was a great way for Mum to finally get rid of the decrepit old gardening jumper and baggy trousers he refused to throw away.

On November 5th, or sometimes the nearest Saturday, families would gather in the garden round the bonfire, made up from the accumulated debris after sweeping up the autumn leaves, and anything else that had outgrown its use. As soon as it was dark the little ones would be given sparklers to wave around in their gloved hands, buckets of water would be put ready in case of stray sparks, and bonfires everywhere would be lit. The air would turn thick from the smoke, but nobody considered pollution.

Once the fire was blazing, potatoes would be buried in the embers to cook, accompanied by sausages prepared in the oven, but finished off over the bonfire to get that smoky tang. Even on the coldest night faces would turn red from standing too close to the fire, and loud bangs would reverberate, starting all the neighbourhood dogs barking.

Earlier, Catherine wheels would have been nailed to fences, rockets stuck in the ground, and roman candles and fountains prepared for the display. Armed with a rolled-up newspaper, which often burnt away too quickly and had to be speedily dropped into water before yet another hand got burnt, one of the men would light the bonfire. If, as sometimes happened it didn’t catch, it was not unusual for petrol or paraffin to be splashed on the damp wood to start the blaze. The smell and danger just added to the excitement of the evening.

Often the fireworks would not light on the first attempt, and young lads would edge each other on to investigate whether to relight them. Running back to safety when a rocket whooshed just as they approached was excellent training for future athletes. The next day the pavements and roads would be littered with sticks, and the smell of smoke would still linger in the air.

It was a very British tradition, celebrating the foiled gunpowder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James 1 during the opening of parliament in 1605. Although he was not the leader or instigator, Guy Fawkes is remembered as the gunpowder expert, hence the burning of the guy effigy on the bonfire. He was caught, tortured and all five main conspirators were executed.

Nowadays, health and safety, pollution laws and other restrictions mean you very seldom find private parties, although there are several large, organised events in major parts of the country. It made my job that much harder but not impossible.

Being fairly senior on the local council I was able to obtain a licence to organise a display in our village. Although much more low-key than the big displays in London, the locals seemed to enjoy it as an opportunity to mix and mingle.

It was held on the waste ground behind the green; the W.I. baked cakes, and the local take-away did a roaring trade in burgers and pasties from their mobile unit. In the preceding weeks, old furniture and scrap wood was collected at the recycling depot, and the rugby club volunteered to transport it to build the bonfire, which got bigger every year.

My job was to supply the guy, which earned me the nickname Guido. The novelty shop donated a mask, and everyone remarked how life-like my effigies were. It was a tradition that I never revealed the guy until the event began, arriving with it in a trailer, towed behind my car, and climbing up personally to place it on top of the pyre. Only when I descended was the signal given for the bonfire to be lit, and the party began.

Everything would have been fine had I not twisted my ankle and been unable to climb. Several of the younger men volunteered but it was my responsibility, and not a duty I could delegate. I struggled to lift the heavy weight, but when I slipped and twisted the other ankle I had to admit defeat and allow the rugby boys to take over.

‘Keep it upright, don’t twist it too much. Be careful of the mask.’
I yelled my instructions from the ground as one of the men started the climb.

‘This weighs a ton. Are you sure it’s not a real body in here?’ he called down.
‘Jack, Phil, you’d better give me a hand. I don’t know how Guido manages this all on his own.’

I was on tenterhooks as the other two joined him, and together they manipulated the guy towards the top of the bonfire. Trying to stand and give directions the pain in my ankle became excruciating, but I couldn’t give up now. Refusing help from the St John’s ambulance people I sighed with relief as they finally reached the top and placed my masterpiece firmly in position.

Then I blacked out.

I woke to find myself in a hospital bed, with two policemen standing by the door, waiting to interview me when I regained consciousness. Perhaps I was getting sloppy in my old age. Never before had one survived; they were always well dead by the time I began dressing them in the old clothes and preparing them for their cremation.

The biggest problem with being an assassin was disposing of the body afterwards. I thought I had found the perfect answer, even if it did restrict me to one job a year.

It wasn’t as if my salary from the council could support my extravagant lifestyle, but now it looked as if I would have to retire from both my jobs. I wonder if they will pay my pension when I’m in jail?

© Voinks October 2017

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