Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A Hunka Hunka Burnin' Loaf...

In common with a lot of Brits my age, I don't really 'get' Hallowe'en. When I was young it came and went with not a lot of fuss, and by the time we got around to having kids ourselves it seemed to have become an extension of Christmas, with orange, green and red tat filling the shops from the moment the kids go back to school in September until the end of October, when it is immediately replaced by white, green and red tat for the next two months.

This year, though, I bought some sweets and resolved to dispense them to the local youth whether they liked it or not, but only managed to get rid of a single packet of Chewits, which was harder than I expected.

Two little girls and their Mum were passing, the former dressed as witches, when I got back from putting the car away.

I think that they grew suspicious when I asked them if they had been very naughty all year, as they ran away and hid around the corner by our front door and their Mum had to go and fetch them. We had no further young visitors, so we're working through the Chewits ourselves.

When I was small we used to make a big thing of Bonfire Night, celebrating Guy Fawkes almost managing to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It was only recently that I began to understand that what was actually being celebrated was the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, and with it the persecution of Catholics at that time.

Even the fact that we were watching an effigy of a Catholic being burned didn't really register - any more than small children dressing up as witches consider, (depending on your world-view), the human story behind the persecution of Pagans in history, or the dreadful things that Wiccans have been accused of - quite regardless of how much, if any, veracity is contained within these claims.

We kids had always just assumed that Guy Fawkes was the hero.

Until a small boy grows old enough to realise quite what might have happened if the plot had actually succeeded, the blowing up of a huge building a la James Bond or The Towering Inferno seems very, very cool indeed.

Every year Mum would help my sisters and I make a Guy by stuffing a set of my father's worn-out work clothes with scrumpled newspapers, drawing a face on an old pillow-case with felt pen and then sewing all the bits together.

The three of us children would then put the Guy in a wheelbarrow and push him around the town, demanding a "penny for the Guy" with menaces. One year I found quite a large handbell which I rang enthusiastically as we went on our way, and all but Mrs King at number 27 came out and gave us money to get us to go away.

On the evening of the 5th of November we would all troop out into the garden and watch my Dad letting off a pretty good selection of fireworks. We always looked forward to a Catherine Wheel setting fire to the fence, followed or preceded according to whichever fancy had taken him that year, by the milk-bottle containing one of the rockets falling over and everyone wondering where it would go.

And we always had a fantastic bonfire.

Dad was a carpenter and every year it was my job to go with him up to the yard where he worked and gather up old doors and window frames from a big pile in an outdoors corner, taking them home to make an extremely large tent-shaped bonfire in the back garden which would scorch the grass to the extent that it would take a whole year for it to grow back - to my Mother's perpetual annoyance.

The Guy would sit on top, Dad or I would light it, and we'd all watch in wonder as the whole lot went up.

About the time I became a teenager, my friends and I discovered that the local sports shop sold rook-scarers so that farmers could add sound effects to their scarecrows - really, really loud bangers on a rope - which were much better than the little efforts you could buy from the newsagent or toy shop. A string of them hidden in the middle of the bonfire took everybody by surprise - for a couple of years at least.

That may have been in the days before bonfires were regularly frisked for hedgehogs just before they were lit, but no hedgehog would have burned in ours after the second time we'd pulled that one, as it would have been found while the pyre was being frisked for stray explosives.

I miss our old family firework parties, although we generally take the children to a large display nearby - and also miss the days when November 5th was the only time when anyone in England let off fireworks. These days it seems to be done at the drop of a hat - which is all very jolly, but a bit like Christmas happening at Easter, the Town Show, the Queen's birthday, and a dozen other times besides all through the year.

Anyway, I thought I'd recall those more innocent times by putting together a compilation on a fire theme. It kept me quiet for a while, and I hope that you enjoy it.

Tracks are:

1 The Rolling Stones - Play With Fire
2 Jimi Hendrix - Burning of the Midnight Lamp
3 The Fall - Fiery Jack
4 The Sweet - Hell Raiser
5 The Doors - Light My Fire
6 Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire
7 Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire
8 Elvis Presley - Burning Love
9 The Tramps - Disco Inferno (Burn Baby Burn)
10 Hudson Ford - Burn Baby Burn
11 Eno - Baby's on Fire
12 Roxy Music - Both Ends Burning
13 Hayseed Dixie - Smoke on the Water
14 Fire Engine Sirens in Traffic
15 The Move - Fire Brigade
16 Thirteenth Floor Elevators - Fire Engine
17 Theme from Fireman Sam
18 Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Forest Fire

I'm Just a Burnin' Guy...


Tommy said...

Up here in Scotland we used to go around 'guising' (guy - zing) on Halloween to raise money for our fireworks. We'd dress up and go round the houses singing funny songs and telling jokes. Kids today - eh? Tsh.

Oh, and why no song by the mighty Fire Engines? Or Iggy Pop's 'Fire Engine'? Or... ok I'll shut up now.

Wild Man Mikey said...

Hi Tommy, that sounds great! I'd thought of the Fire Engines, but couldn't actually remember any of their songs (I'll have to dig out my vinyl collection one of these days!) Not familiar with Fire Engine by Iggy - off to Limewire it is, then :-) Cheers, WMM