A good way to cope with chronic illness is to be aware that it could always be worse and to be thankful for what you have. Nothing illustrates this better than Guy Fawkes Night, or as it’s more commonly called, Bonfire Night in the UK. If you’re not British you may not know what our little festival is about. Make a cuppa, I’m about to explain it.

The Black Death PlagueIn the 17th century, the UK was a rubbish place to be, especially in London. Not only was it skanky due to the lack of proper sewerage, but there was The Plague. I don’t really know what The Plague was, other than a horrible infectious disease that involved lots of rats, lots of dying, and mass burial sites. One of which was Blackheath, a huge open area in South London where they dumped all the bodies by the cart load. It’s probably why it was called ‘Blackheath’. Then there was The Great Fire the year after, which looking back, was quite handy in getting rid of the last bits of plague. So if the plague didn’t get you, the fire probably burned down your house.

Then there was the usual religious arguments, at this time it was Protestants Vs Catholics. A few hundred years previously King Henry the 8th decided he didn’t like Cathohicism because it didn’t allow him to change his wives as much as his underwear, so he made up a new branch of religion to allow for his womanising, hence the Church of England was born. Fast forward back to the 17th century and some Catholics didn’t like the Church of England, or protestant-ness, I’m a bit hazey about this part, but basically they didn’t agree with who was in power so thought it would be a marvellous idea to blow them up. Don’t think religious based terrorism is a new thing, oh no.

gunpowder plot guy fawkes
Guido (‘Guy’) Fawkes and his mates.

In 1605, probably after too much ale in the local tavern, Guy Fawkes and his mates came up with what’s now called The Gunpowder Plot. But really I imagine it as more of a drunken sketch on the back of a napkin in the pub. He put a load of barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament. Don’t ask me how he got in there, I don’t know, again in my head it probably involved pantomime dressing up and bribing some guards with ale and prostitutes. Of course he got caught and the Houses of Parliament survived to this day to be photographed by American and Japanese tourists and it’s image printed on a thousand mugs and T shirts. Guy Fawkes and his mates got hung, drawn and quartered as punishment and now us Brits blow stuff up and set fire to things as a celebration of Mr Fawkes’ failure.

Bonfire night is technically the 5th November but everyone celebrates it on the nearest weekend. We all wrap up warm and go to the nearest muddy field, freeze our tits off to watch fireworks and buy overpriced candy floss. (Cotton candy). Kids burn their hands on sparklers and it’s all a great success if everyone gets home with all their limbs in tact. Blackheath has a large fireworks display each year, it’s still a huge open grassy area due to no one being allowed to build on it because of the mass burial there.

Blackheath church open space mass burial site
Mass burial site turned dog walking park and fireworks venue.
burning of the guy fawkes effigy bonfire
Us Brits really know how to bear a grudge.

The most disturbing part of the whole thing is the burning of the guy. It’s basically a really creepy huge life-like effigy of Guy Fawkes. Usually about 8 to 10 feet high and made of something flammable like straw. It’s put on a bonfire and lit. I think it taps into the British sense of crime and punishment. As if slowly killing Guy Fawkes in a slow and painful manner wasn’t bad enough, for hundreds of years afterwards we make huge straw versions of him and burn them. So kiddies, if you want to overthrow the government, this is what could happen to you!

Of course over time us Brits got a lot more liberal, now if you want to overthrow the government you fill in a petition online or organise a demonstration where you march down a street with a homemade witty placard and then get beaten up by police. No one’s been hung for ages, instead we treat our criminals to free accommodation  meals and education inside prison.

I know which century I’d rather live in. Poor Mr Fawkes. I admire his courage for doing something about his beliefs, and I think it’s a bit of a bummer he’s now just remembered for that thing he failed to do.

So you see, I’m not very well, but I’m counting my blessings as it could always be worse. I probably won’t get The Black Death/Plague, Half of London probably won’t burn down, and I won’t get blown up, burned alive, or hung, drawn and quartered for a bit of religious based fanatical terrorism. At least not today. Also, as far as I’m aware, people don’t hate me so much that they burn effigies of me for 400 years. It really could always be worse. 


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