It took a plumber from Sheffield to make sense of a Lennon/McCartney song that had been shoved ungraciously in Ringo’s direction for the Sgt Peppers “Token Ringo” track and in the first week of November 1968 Joe Cocker had his first UK number 1 with it, I still swear that he was a milkman who appeared on Opportunity Knocks but no history book in the country records this so I must be thinking of someone else, probably someone who is still a milkman somewhere and still talks about the day he scored 10 on Hughie Greens Clapometer, which now sounds like a device they’d use to assess patients at a sexual disease clinic.
Anyway, Bonfire Night 1968, the night my mother unintentionally set fire to herself, for the benefit of readers in our former colonies Bonfire Night is the one night in the year when we citizens of England are required by law, yes, by law, a law passed in 1605 as the “Observance of 5th November Act” by King James 1st who, inbetween writing his famous bible, which became a best seller for many year until usurped by Harry Potter, declared that all Englishmen should celebrate the death of one of Englands traitors by the burning of fires and detonation of gunpowder for fun and entertainment.
And set fire to your mother too, although that bit is in the very small print right at the end.
Yes, on the 5th November 1605 a scapegoat named Guy Fawkes was captured in cellars beneath the English Parliament building priming enough barrels of gunpowder to convert said houses of parliament to tiny slivers of matchwood on the very next morning which was to have been the opening of parliament attended by the King, suffice to say that the paymasters of the scapegoat Fawkes didn’t like the King very much – one thing to note here is that the Houses of Parliament, seat of the oldest democracy in the world, were built entirely of wood and the cellars that the paymasters of scapegoat Fawkes had rented the year previously (it took them a full year to buy all the bloody gunpowder) had previously been leased to a coal merchant – great idea that, you own a wooden building and then rent out the cellars to a coal merchant and then to a group of anonymous people who tell you that they want to store a bit of gunpowder down there for a while.
Anyway, back to Bonfire Night 1968, but first a song…
Aren’t the people in that video just the grooviest people you’ve ever seen, especially the freak in the red who appears to be kneeling on a live electric cable and can’t get off it.
Barry Ryan, Leeds lad, used to practice at Meanwood Con Club or so my dad would tell us and it must be true because he never once called Barry Ryan a “bloody long haired hippy” as would normally be the case.
So, Bonfire Night 1968, and our mother gets word of the fact that the Cookridge Cricket Club are organising a bonfire at their ground with fire, wood and everything, so no need for us kids to go chumping or anything – what, chumping, we’ll have to leave that for another story – so on Guy Fawkes night 1968 she tells me and our Ned that we’re off to the cricket field for a proper organised bonfire and she is taking us with her and could we please tell her how to get to the cricket field for she’s never been there.
So, and this is most important so pay attention now especially if you are thinking of going to an organised bonfire this coming Tuesday neet – she puts on her big faux fur coat, the big one, the one that makes her look like a grizzly bear, I’m not sure what sort of faux fur it was supposed to be, maybe a faux grizzly bear coat, anyway it comes down to her ankles and she puts it on because its November out there and rather a tad chilled of an evening, so she puts it on and me and Ned put our skinny nylon anoraks on but we’ll run around a lot to keep warm so thats ok then, and then, wait for it, SHE PUTS THE FIREWORKS IN HER POCKET.
Yes, it was an organised bonfire but the cheapskates at the cricket club hadn’t factored in free organised fireworks either, figuring that everyone would bring their own anyway so in that delightfully unorganised way of organising organised events in the 1960s hundreds of residents of the district all turned up at the cricket field that night with pockets crammed full of hundreds of tons of gunpowder to celebrate the death by dismemberment of a national traitor four hundred years before and in doing so were only complying with the law laid down by King James 1st.
It was a marvelous gathering of complete pandemonium, a huge bonfire to stand around and roast potatoes that you may have brought from home or perhaps snaffled from someone else’s bag when they weren’t looking “Have you stolen these ?” our mother had asked of me and Ned and when we nodded in acquiescence she clipped us around the ear’oles and then picked the best one for herself and told us to put it in the embers but somewhere where it wouldn’t get too badly burned, fireworks exploded in a completely random fashion, sometimes in the air just above your head depending on how hard someone had thrown the banger that said “Not to be thrown” on the label, sometimes at your feet where someone had thrown a jumping cracker that said “Not to be thrown” on the label , and occasionally a rocket would whizz through everyone’s legs before hitting a tree and exploding into myriad stars thus temporarily blinding the whole crowd after some wag had tried to fire it into the bonfire instead of following the “Launch skywards” label.
It was total mayhem but it was free and our mothers potato wasn’t properly burned yet so there was no way we were leaving and so we stood, oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing while dodging flying fireworks and trying to avoid tiny little kids with sparklers from poking you in the eye with them.
Suddenly from the crowd there appeared a man who launched himself at our mother and started to beat her about the body with his fists while at the same time trying to rip the faux bearskin coat off her back, “Well this is a tad unusual” thought the young me and turned to observe as other men joined in the ritual beating of our mother, this had never happened before, maybe they were faux fur trappers who hadn’t yet been paid for the faux bearskin ?
“YOUR COATS ON FIRE MISSUS” shouted one of the faux fur trappers in explanation, “YOUR BLOODY COAT’S ON FIRE” and indeed it was and not only was it on fire but it was starting to provide its own free firework show as OUR fireworks that she’d put in her pocket “for safe keeping” started to detonate, she looked like an act from the Cirque du Soleil, “Firework Woman, see how she sparkles”.
The coat was ripped from her back, thrown to the mud and stamped on vigorously to kill the fun and then handed back to our mother who stood there still none the wiser and wondering who these lunatic men were who hated her faux bearskin coat so much, but she said thank you to them anyway because we are English and say thank you to everything even if you still don’t know why they’ve just stamped your beautiful faux bearskin coat in the mud, and she put it back on and then with all grace and elegance while the whole crowd were staring in bemusement at her she held out her hand for to gather in Ned and I and said, “Come my children, we shall leave now” and off we went into the night with our mother in a coat covered in mud leaving behind a crowd of hundred all asking if that was part of the free show and when were the clowns due on ?
Moral of the story of course is – If you are going to put fireworks in your pocket of a Bonfire night then do not wear a faux, flammable, bearskin coat.
Late Edit by The Health and Safety Executive : DO NOT PUT FIREWORKS IN YOUR COAT POCKET WHETHER FAUX BEARSKIN OR NOT, NOT EVEN IN ASBESTOS COATS – OK ?