For Fawkes' Sake
[Yes, I know this should have been published on 5 November, but I've been on holiday in Dorset. It was lovely, thanks for asking.]
As any schoolboy will tell you - in between asking for “Penny for the Guy” and stealing your mobile phone - the 5th of November remembers the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Fawkes’ attempt was doomed to failure from the start, but not for the reasons that history books so irresponsibly print. He packed barrels with a mixture of sawdust, Mighty Crackers, Thunderbolts and Krakatoa rockets, standard for any large fireworks display in the early 17th century, but rather than stacking them in the cellars, as most people assume, he first sited them in the Members’ Tea Room, hoping to blow up the parliamentarians as they fortified themselves with bath buns and Earl Grey (at that time Earl Grey served tea for members) before the opening of parliament.
Disastrously for the plot, most people assumed the barrels were there for a lucky dip and started to take the fireworks and let them off from the terrace. (This was, incidentally, considered to be a success by the members, who decided it would be nice to do it every year, as well as the traditional tombola, burning of Catholics, and bingo.) By the time Fawkes managed to wrest control of the barrels from the increasingly over-excited parliamentarians, most of his arsenal had already exploded over the Thames.
Furious with himself, swearing to vote Lib Dem next time, and terrified that he had been foiled, Fawkes dragged the now nearly empty barrels down to the cellar, where he discovered that all he had left was two Flash-Bangs and three packets of sparklers. He set off the Flash-Bangs himself but they failed to penetrate the cellar roof and simply bounced around, singeing his eyebrows (he had failed to retreat to a safe distance, which in the original plan had been France). Exhausted and deeply disappointed by the awful failure of his plans, Fawkes tried to cheer himself up by lighting a few sparklers and spelling his name in the gloom of the cellar. Again, poor planning caught up with him. With no bucket of water to drop the extinguished but still-hot sparkler sticks into, he dropped them onto the floor, where one soon kindled some wood shavings into flame. Terrified that the building might burn down with him in it, Fawkes ran for help, and the rest is history.