05 November, 2009

Penny For the Guy? Penny For the Guy?

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of living in Hatch End, a suburb of London, England, and helping "me mates" celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

For us, it wasn't so much a celebration, but an opportunity to do some things that normally would have had us in so much hot water - begging for money from people in town, buying fireworks, lighting a bonfire, spending extravagantly on sweets.

Yes, we were pretty out there as far as outrageous activity went. Still, we remembered to tip our caps to the ladies as we accosted them for a penny. That alone usually ensured that we got the penny. Well, that and what my mother used to say - that people were so taken with the fact that this strange little American boy was acting so... British.

It was so exciting when we were finally allowed to construct our "Guy". Wearing some old pants and a shirt, we'd stuff him with wads of newspaper. We usually used a brown paper bag for his head, with a face drawn with crayons. One year, we acquired a mask for Guy from the stationers on the High Street. That was about the fanciest we ever did.

We had an old three-wheeled wooden wagon that Guy would rest his weary bones on as we traipsed up and down the High Street stores where we accosted every shopper we could find for a "Penny for the Guy?"

Our aim, of course, was to purchase fireworks to be set off along with the small bonfire we'd build where Guy would meet his somewhat severe end. We'd conduct this extortion of shoppers for about a week straight, after school for an hour or so each evening. We always managed to collect on a Saturday too. That was where we really cleaned up.

Fireworks was the priority of course. But, since there was a nice little tuck shop (candy shop) where we could get such wonders as Bassett's Sherbet Dip Dabs. Dip Dabs came with a lollipop to dip the tart sherbet powder and were, by far, my favorite. There were also Fizzers, and chewy nougat pieces, and a whole host of other stuff guaranteed to rot our teeth. A good portion of our fireworks money went for tuck.

As I recall, there were only about three or four kinds of fireworks we could get then. Sparklers of course, ladyfingers, and maybe a smallish roman candle sort of thing. This was, after all, the mid-1950's, still post-war Britain. So there wasn't a lot of extra anything, even ten or so years after the war.

What was in plenty was the friendship and camaraderie we had during those times. I think that was what made it so special and made for such good memories. Roger, and Sean, and Kevin, and all the others, then as well - Cheers, mates.

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