Minor British Institutions: Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night, the celebration of which was once compulsory, is all about the failure of Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot in 1605. We all know, don't we, that the aim of Guido and his conspirators was to blow up Parliament and deliver England back to the Pope?

Its anti-Catholic origins are visible today in Lewes, where to visit the town on 5 November is to enter a Wicker Man world among the antique shops of deep Sussex. There, they still still burn an effigy of the Pope, or a pope at any rate, and once immolated a dummy Osama bin Laden, which caused a stir.

Outside Lewes, the main function of firework night is to make cheap explosives available to the scummiest sections of society, who chuck them under cars, tie them to cats and push them through letterboxes, sometimes with fatal results.

Is it only a matter of time before the first improvised explosive device is fashioned from a box of shoplifted fireworks by the next generation of junior urban terrorists? Penny for the guy...

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