Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The V in November

Ten years before the Wachowski brothers turned V for Vendetta into a major motion picture, I could easily recite what would become the film’s opening lines:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot.
Something something something something
Should ever be forgot.
On this date in 1605, Guy Fawkes and his motley band of Catholic conspirators planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament1 while King James I and his motley band of (mostly) Protestant nobles and aristocrats were inside. Alerted by an anonymous note to a Catholic noble warning him to stay away that night, palace guards searched the cellars and caught Fawkes as he was leaving. Only then did they discover dozens of barrels of gunpowder hidden beneath piles of firewood and coal. Throughout the city, people lit bonfires to commemorate the King’s escape from assassination, a tradition which has since evolved into fireworks and the burning of effigies.

Prior to Guy Fawkes Day children would request a “penny for the guy” to raise funds for the fireworks, although this practice has diminished in recent years, likely in an attempt to avoid the incendiary combination of children and explosives. Thus endeth the history lesson.2

So, where did I learn all this? My 12th grade English teacher, Mr. Ludlow. Through this story of treachery, he found a way to impart a little British history and connect with his students at the same time. When he asked you for a “penny for the guy,” you didn’t give him anything that year. But the next year, and the next... Every year, former students sent him pennies as November 5 approached, each coin enclosed in an envelope and perhaps accompanied by a letter detailing college life or whatever the graduate was doing after high school. Mr. Ludlow would read the most noteworthy letters in class, introducing his Guy Fawkes tradition to a whole new group of students.

I wrote a letter the first year, and only mailed pennies perhaps two years more, but I’ve never never forgotten the fifth of November. Maybe it’s time I look up Mr. Ludlow, long since retired, and restart the tradition by sending him a penny. Not by mail; that’s so last century. But perhaps he has PayPal...


1 I mean, of course, the British Houses of Parliament (for it is in London that our scene lies).
2 By the way, the word “guy” is derived from Guy Fawkes’s name. Therefore, Sloth owes much of his popularity (“Hey you guys!”) to a failed 17th-century assassination plot. Thus endeth the etymology lesson.

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