Before I tell this story it has come to my attention that some background information may be necessary. I recently attended a party that I was surprised to find was super-villain themed (I know right; don’t you wish you had my friends?) Seeing no better way to still look cool without dawning a large cape and some spandex, I opted for my best wide brim had and a Guy Fawkes mask. What shocked me was how few people seemed to recognize one of what I thought to be the most recognizable masks in the world.
For any who don’t know, Guy Fawkes was a British revolutionary who attempted to blow up the parliament building in London on November 5th, 1605. For anyone not completing a history degree, Guy Fawkes became a symbol of revolution and his visage was taken up by activists and protestors in the 21st century, most notably by the hacker group Anonymous.
Needless to say, as I walked around the party feeling creepier than I should have (mostly due to the baffled and bewildered looks of the multiple Lex Luther’s and Jokers) it began to remind me of how I must have looked the last time I donned the mask.
It was November the 5th, in a small town called Battle just outside of London. Now in England, the Fifth of November is celebrated as an important holiday. Although, unlike holidays like Easter or Valentines Day where you may go out for a nice meal or spend some time with your family, Guy Fawkes day is a little different. On Guy Fawkes day, all of England burns.
To be more precise, the small town of Battle housing just over 6,000 people grows to nearly 100,000 for one night of the year where everything is in sight is set alight, exploded or generally destroyed. Political effigies are burned at the stake, firecrackers are set off en masse in the streets, parades of ghoulish looking Vikings and Knights patrol the roads with torches flickering, and amidst it all is a bonfire the size of a two-storey house. Made to resemble the British parliament, it is burned every year in towns all across the UK to celebrate the failed Gunpowder Plot attempted all those years ago by Mr. Fawkes and his co-conspirators.
Honestly when I was told about this holiday, even on the train to Battle I was skeptical. The stories told me it sounded halfway between an anarchist’s open house and Purge Night (go watch The Purge if you haven’t already, it’s both funny and terrifying). Little did I know, anarchy was the name of the game on Guy Fawkes Day. As soon as I stepped off the train the smell of smoke nearly choked me, and swarms of people rushed past in black face paint, medieval garb or masks just like mine.
It wasn’t long before I found myself separated from my friends and struggling to see faces in the streets lit solely by the hundreds of torches held by onlookers. Stumbling out on to the road, I realized I was being watched by a gallery of dark or masked faces. While the sidewalks were packed, he road was empty, and as I turned to look an explosion ripped over the hill at the top of the road. Little did I know, strings of cherry bombs had been laid out and the start of the parade was barreling down on me. I dove in to the nearest crowd just managing to save my feet from being incinerated before looking back and seeing a masked marching band parading down the hill, torches and ghostly tunes in tow.
The smoke was so thick I began to gag and took my mask off. I couldn’t see three feet in front of my face and I could hear large explosions going off everywhere. The glow of small fires could be seen in the distance through the smokescreen and voices would zip in and out of my ear as people passed completely unseen to me.
As the smoke began to clear I found myself standing in the middle of the street again, the parade having moved on, when suddenly I could have sworn the whole town was being bombed. Explosions lit up the sky and I honestly nearly dove for cover under a nearby bench. In my confusion I had completely missed the beginning of the fireworks display, which is supposed to be the highlight of the show. It definitely lived up to its reputation, because as I looked around at the countless lights shining off windows and storefronts, reflections and fires twinkling from every corner, I actually felt as if I was in a town completely on fire. It was the closest to a warzone I have ever been, and judging by how hard my heart was pounding, I can only imagine how Guy Fawkes felt sitting on 20 barrels of real gunpowder.