Saturday, November 05, 2005

Penny for the Guy

I'm taking my five year old to the firework display at Morden Park later. A prospect which has inspired a curmudgenly meditation on why it is that "Trick or Treating" on Halloween - an American import unknown when I was a boy, has replaced "Penny for the Guy", the more venerable British tradition for kids putting the bite on adults at this time of year.

It used to be that we would make make a Guy by stuffing some old clothes with newspapers, craft a head out of material, and either draw a face on it or buy a special cardboard Guy Fawkes mask and then push it around in a pram or pushchair demanding a "a penny for the guy" from passers by. The pennies were spent on bangers. Ordnance that is now illegal I think, never mind banned from sale to kids.

(I remember my father saying that when they were boys they dressed my Uncle Joseph up as they guy to save assembly time and some bloke started poking him with a stick claiming such a poor Guy wasn't worth a penny.)

The British have been burning effigies to mark Guy Fawkes' treason for almost 400 years. The tradition started in 1606, the year after the Gunpowder plot failed. In these first bonfires, called 'bone fires' at the time, it wasn't an effigy of Guy Fawkes that was burned, but one of the Pope. It was not until 1806, two centuries later, that the people started burning effigies of Guy Fawkes instead. Even as a cradle Catholic, I do hope that they burn a Guy at Mordern rather than defer to some imaginary sensibilities. I never met a Catholic who could give a monkey's about it, never mind get offended or mount a high horse.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

The only thing I can grudgingly say in favour of the shake down custom imported from our cousins in the US is that - much to my delight - Raybs used to think it was called "Trickle Treat".

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