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Home > Culture and Society

Factoid Corner: Bonfire night

Bonfire Night has its roots in the olden days, when Shrek was alive and Hamlet defeated Smaug at the battle of Agincourt, and celebrates an attempt by the Pope's army of Orcs to kidnap Winston Churchill, like in The Eagle has Landed.

We've done our research, but how much do YOU know about this annual festival of baked potatoes? TFT presents the Bonfire Night Factoid Corner...

5 November 2004

1) November 5th is celebrated to commemorate the failure in 1605 of Guy Fawkes and other terrorists to commit a 'spectacular' by flying a hijacked Montgolfier balloon into the Houses of Parliament.

2) The famous rhyme 'Remember, remember the fifth of November' may have begun as a schoolyard chant about a boy called Dave. The original version is believed to be:

'Remember, remember the fifth of November, Bogies, willies and snot. We see no reason, Why Dave's got a penis, But if he did, he'd bum his mum with it, that's what.'

3) Generations of historians have accepted that the plot to blow up parliament was an attempt to re-establish the Catholic religion in the UK. However, in these conspiracy-fixated times, some people have claimed the plot was the work of a group of agents-provocateurs, who wanted to discredit the Jesuits and reinforce the ascendancy of the Protestant religion. Mind you, these people probably think the Omagh bombing was a trial run by Mossad for September 11.

4) No one is sure where the word 'bonfire' comes from, although large fires have been used throughout history to mark special events, celebrations, disasters and paedophiles.

5) Guy Fawkes was an interesting chap. His real name may have been Guido Fawkes and, although he is remembered as the principal conspirator, he was in fact a minor cog in the plot. Born in 1570 at York, he was brought up as a Protestant, but later enlisted as a mercenary in the Spanish army in the Netherlands and became a Catholic. He was a bit of a war hero and may have been chosen for his skills when it was planned to tunnel under the House (tunnelling was a common military siege tactic at the time). Also, it was an advantage that, having been abroad for some time, he was not known in London. So if you want to imagine what he was like in person, think Osama Bin Laden meets Gareth from The Office meets Martin McGuinness meets Andy McNab meets Manuel out of Fawlty Towers.

6) Medieval people believed bonfires or 'bone-fires' repelled dragons, the twats. The big spacks actually thought dragons hated the smell of burning human bones. Surely dragons would LOVE the smell of burning bones, in the same way that humans love the smell of barbequed ribs? Yum!

7) After the failure of the plot to blow up Parliament, the conspirators were probably subjected to extensive torture, which formed part of the punishment for treason at the time. The tortures would have included: being forced to eat semi-raw baked potatoes, having their fingers burnt with a sparkler, and having a Mount Vesuvius firework set off in their trouser pocket. After several days of torture, Fawkes was claimed to have said: 'Zooks, that smarts! Verily, be it wise to put Savlon on a burn, or should I just run it under the tap?'

8) Fireworks made with gunpowder are believed to have been invented in 6th Century China. But these days the expression 'there were fireworks' can also refer to a heated argument and even an intense sexual experience, in the sense of: 'That sexual experience was so intense it was as though fireworks were going off in my head. But it just turned out to be an aneurysm caused by the poppers.'

9) The word 'bonfire' may also have begun as 'bane-fire' or 'fire of woe'. In French and German, it's the other way round and a bonfire is known as 'feu de joi' or 'freudenfeur' - a 'joyous fire'. They're a queer lot over there.

10) Guy Fawkes day traditionally involves burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, but the burning of special bonfire night effigies only started in the 18th century, with the Pope and the Devil proving as popular as Guy/Guido himself. In recent years there have been more contemporary Guys, including burning of an effigy of a mad cow during the outbreak of BSE in the UK. In 2002 a plan by residents of Maidenhead to burn Eammon Holmes was halted by police on the grounds that they were planning to use the actual Eammon Holmes. However, after a two-year legal battle, a high court judge has ruled that it is entirely reasonable to burn the annoying little twat, so that will be going ahead this evening.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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