Clapham Common is a large park in south London. It was there that my flatmate and I met up with some of her friends from Brixton to participate in November 5th’s Guy Fawkes Night festivities of fireworks and bonfires (though I didn’t see any that night). Entering the north end of the Common, we joined thousands of others in celebrating this night of historical political significance.
Who was this Guy Fawkes, you ask? A Catholic conspirator, he was, of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plot’s intent was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament with the ultimate goal of assassinating King James I, who would be present to make a speech. Just after midnight on November 5th, tipped-off authorities arrested Guy Fawkes as he was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the House of Lords. To celebrate the fact that the plot had been thwarted and King James I lived, people began setting bonfires alight. In the years to follow people also began to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes in the bonfires.
Prior to that evening, I thought people were celebrating Guy Fawkes for his anarchy against the government. Bonfires seemed riotous and fireworks joyous. I was, however, a bit confused why people would burn effigies of Guy Fawkes if they were praising his actions. The film V for Vendetta wouldn’t come out until the following year so I didn’t get the idea from that. I was just plain ignorant of the day’s history; I learned that night.
It was very cold that evening. I had on gloves and a scarf. I purchased hot cocoa more to warm up my hands than to drink. We had arrived late to the Common, and, therefore, were relegated to the fringes. Some people were carrying around smaller-than-life-sized effigies of Guy Fawkes. I really wanted there to be a bonfire to burn them in. The whole event was like being at an outdoor concert where everyone was facing one general direction waiting for something to begin. The crowd packed in tight to stay off the surrounding roads. The nearness of bodies did take off some of the chill. Eventually, the fireworks began and I was content viewing the show.
Then, out of nowhere, came a 6 foot 6 inch tall (at least) man and he parked himself right in front of me and my flatmate. We tried to shift but were packed so tight there was nowhere to go and nowhere else to look but at the back of his head. And next to him was a father with his kid on his shoulders! We were cold, trapped, and couldn’t see a thing. Once the fireworks crescendoed to their finale, we quickly made our way back to Brixton on foot avoiding the clogged Underground and went to a pub.
It was fun to participate in a truly British event. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times above, seeing a bonfire would have been cool. I’ve read that there are some towns that celebrate the night very extravagantly. That would be really awesome to experience and speak with the townsfolk as to why the night is so important to them. Also, the night gave me some background for when I did watch V for Vendetta the following year.