Guy Fawkes Day / by Brian Beck

The 14 bus crawled forward and then took an unexpected left on Edith Grove.  The beads of water were gathering on the window now and beginning to streak down in angular dotted lines, the raindrops tapping out a message in morse code.  I didn't want to go left, I wanted to go straight, on to Fulham Broadway.  I could see the blue jerseys out the window now, emblazoned with the word "Samsung" in white, and then it clicked.  There was a Chelsea match and Fulham Road was closed.  My bus was on diversion.

I jumped up as soon as the bus turned and rang the bell.  I immediately made the calculation that a twenty minute walk in the rain beat a forty minute diversion so I leaped out of my seat along with a handful of other impatient types, and seeing the angry crowd forming behind him, the bus driver hit the brakes and flung open the doors even though we weren't technically at a bus stop.  They can be practical that way--anything to avoid a mutiny.  We spilled out onto the sidewalk and scattered away in the early winter gloom.  It was dark now and at the halfway point, I opted for the shortcut through Eel Brook Common, preferring a quiet walk through the park to dodging drunken footballers on the road.  The broad sidewalk gave way to a narrow path along a blackened wall and then emptied into the inky expanse of the common.  As the sounds of the crowd faded, there was only the sound of my footsteps on the wet leaves and something else, something I hadn't noticed before.  In the distance, seemingly from all directions, there were fireworks.  Mostly just the bangs of the M-80 style firecrackers, but also the occasional screech and pop of bottle rockets. 

It turned out to be Guy Fawkes Day, a peculiarly English holiday that marks the anniversary of a failed plot to blow up Parliament by packing the storerooms below the then-wooden floor with gunpowder.  The ill-conceived plan was to blow it up while King James I and the entire parliament were gathered, paving the way for Elizabeth, then third in line to the throne, to ascend as a Catholic and save the island kingdom from the bloody Anglicans.  It didn't work.  The night before the big bang, the King received word of the plot and when they arrived at the store room, the hapless Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the stash.  Poor Guy was tortured on the rack and shortly gave up his co-conspirators, whereupon the rest were rounded up and summarily drawn and quartered.  It's a charming tale, and I admire the fact that 400 years on, the British still commemorate the failure of an otherwise ignoble man.  It's a sarcastic little holiday and I love it.  So today, we kept it alive here in America with some sparklers and a little bonfire in our backyard.