Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Up until 1859, when the law was repealed, King James I made it compulsory for everyone to celebrate the saving of the King on 5 November. But what is Bonfire Night really about? Is it genuinely to mark the preservation of the sovereign or is it a smoke screen for something more sinister?
Guy Fawkes Night should perhaps be known as Robert Catesby Night, given he planned the whole thing. But then it doesn't have quite the same ring to it does it? And was it a plot that went wrong, or a plan the King knew about and used to justify his prosecution of the Roman Catholics?
And what made Guy Fawkes do it? Was he a product of a neglected childhood or was he simply a terrorist and extremist, a Bin Laden of the 17th Century?
In 1570 when Guy was born, Elizabeth I was excommunicated by the Catholic Church. Then when Guy was just 8 years old, his father died. By the time he was 16, Guy was a convert to Catholicism and in 1593, at 23 years old, he left England to fight for Spain.
In 1603, Elizabeth I died without an heir. James I (son of Mary Queen of Scots) enforced heavy fines on Catholics who failed to attend Protestant church services.
Guy asked King Phillip II of Spain to invade England in support of the Catholics, but he was too busy fighting his own wars, so by 1604, Robert Catesby had planned the Gunpowder Plot enlisting Guy, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. Their plan was to assassinate the King and his government, make James' daughter, Elizabeth, queen and then marry her to a Catholic nobleman.
During the weeks leading up to the 5 November, 36 barrels of gunpowder were put in place. The assassination was planned for the day of the State Opening of Parliament.
Guy was put in charge due to his military background and explosives knowledge. It was a simple plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament, taking out royalty, nobles and government. But one of the plotters, Francis Tresham warned his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, to stay away. This letter was unsigned, vague and held no identifying marks. It was received by Monteagle on 26 October.
The plotters found out about the letter the next day, but continued with their plan, in the belief that the details of their plot had not been disclosed. Guy Fawkes himself checked the cellars and confirmed nothing had been disturbed and so they were sure their secret was safe. All except Guy left London and waited for news of success.
But on the morning of 5 November 1605 the Secretary of State instructed that the cellars should be searched. Guy was found ready to light the gunpowder.
But how did the Secretary of State know to look in the cellars on that particular day? Had one of the plotters, the turncoat Francis Tresham, betrayed his fellow conspirators in the hope that he would be pardoned?
But what if the plan had been known about all along by the King and the letter was merely a hoax made up by the King's men? How could they have known precisely where to find Guy Fawkes? Did King James and his government allow the plan to go so far with the intention of exposing the intended atrocity, to show just how far the Catholics were prepared to go to get what they wanted?
Guy was arrested, and King James instructed the torture should be minimal to begin with and only increased if Guy refused to confess. But Guy was war hardened and it took nearly four days of increasingly brutal torture before he would disclose the names of his six conspirators.
On 31 January 1606, the plotters were executed in the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral in the most gruesome way possible, hung drawn and quartered. Although it is said that even in his mutilated state, Guy refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing his execution and he jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck.
Do you suffer from wiccaphobia or occasionally samhainophobia? Well, the good news is you shouldn't be affected very often or for long. The bad news is you are about to have an attack of at least one of them.
Halloween is nearly here and if it’s witches that spook you, then you suffer from wiccaphobia but if it's the whole Halloween thing, then you might have an attack of samhainophobia.
But don't blame America for creating the spooky costumed event. Far from it, whilst it was the birth of Christianity that led to the fixed date of Halloween, our Celtic ancestors were doing that and a whole lot more.
Back in the 400s BC, the festival of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, was celebrated on 1 November. This day marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark and cold days of winter.
The Celts held many superstitions and fears of the spirit world and they believed that on the night of 31 October, the barriers between the two worlds dissolved, allowing spirits into the natural world. To avoid being abducted and drawn back into the underworld, it was necessary to observe the yearly ritual.
The Druids would light huge fires to ward off the evil spirits. Sacrifices of crops or animals were offered and as the fires died away, the sanctified embers were distributed amongst the people to take home to light their own fires, ensuring continuing protection against any wayward spirits on their return journey to the other world.
There was also another side to this sombre and critical event - party time! There would have been costumes, masks and face painting and they would whoop it up into the small hours.
When the Romans arrived, they combined two of their own festivals; Feralia, when they commemorated the passing of the dead, and Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees; with the existing Celt celebration.
However, with the dawn of Christianity, the pagan rituals were rebranded to harmonise with the new way of life.
By the 9th century, Pope Boniface 4th created All Saints' Day on 1 November, from Middle English All holowness, or All Hallows' Day, making the previous day All Hallows' Eve which meant everyone could carry on celebrating, but under the auspices of a church sanctioned festival.
Trick or Treat
Another favoured trend that up until Covid had become extremely popular, is trick or treating. But contrary to popular belief, this is not an American import either.
Our pagan ancestors left a food known as soul cakes outside their homes for the lost souls roaming the earth, so there would be no need to enter the house in search of food. This combined with the tricks that people would play on each other, evolved into the trick or treating we know today.
Scary pumpkin faces are a common sight around Halloween, whilst the pumpkin itself is an American import, the Jack o'lantern stems from a story of an Irish man by the name of Jack, who was so mean and miserly he was not allowed into Heaven. He played so many tricks on the devil that he was not allowed into Hell either. So, he continues to wander the earth with his lantern looking for a place to rest.
England still has a large number of pagans and druids and the people that follow this way of life see themselves as being closer to and more attuned with nature and the seasons.
The British Druid Order (BDO) is a shamanic animistic Druid group open to everyone or there is the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids that is an initiatory order open to any faith and who claim to be the largest Druid organisation in the world.
It is little wonder with our pagan past remaining firmly locked in our current day that the ghosts, apparitions and spirits continue to spook even the bravest amongst us.
So hide your black cats, prepare your soul cake sweets and sit out the night of demons, banshees and mischievous spirits.
Alternatively, look for a slightly different sort of spirit, and have a jolly good heathen knees-up!
The British Druid Order (BDO) www.druidry.co.uk
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids https://druidry.org
My walk to work is generally a very pleasant one but then I am lucky enough to live in the Pearl of Dorset. Although the joy has been dampened over the past 18 months as I find the now ingrained custom of distancing yourself from others, both physically and mentally, quite alien to my personal bonhomie. The social rift that has been created by the enmity people now seem to feel towards one another, I hope will gradually mend over time.
And that’s the thing about the Jurassic coast, coastal erosion aside, it stands there like a battle weary sentinel who has seen it all before and who watches from afar with the wisdom and knowledge that only comes with age; never offering advice or making recommendations, just doing their thing as they were millions of years before the human race came on the scene and as they will long after we’ve gone. There is something solidly reassuring in its unwavering permanence all of which I take in as I stand gazing out to sea, trying to absorb the vast openness before heading down into the enclosed underworld of my cellar office.
You see I often have enough time to wander down to the sea because of parking; in order to get a parking spot on one of the few remaining streets in Lyme that doesn’t have restrictions, much to the chagrin of the residents, I have to get there just after eight before the rest of the local hospitality trade arrive. Of course, I could and really should, walk to and from work, but the half hour run down hill in the morning is counter-balanced with the hard slog of the return journey back up the hill at the end of the day, and that’s the killer.
Anyway, having inhaled the salty aromatherapy of the fresh sea air, I turned on my heel and headed to my place of work and as I walked along one of the paths, my peripheral vision detected an elderly but spritely chap walking along an adjacent path that would soon converge with mine.
In the spirit of all things covid and not wishing to invade his space, I reduced my speed but evidently he was of the same mind because our paths literally crossed, or to be more precise, joined, but in the spirit of glasnost and perestroika, we said our ‘good mornings’, that I was about to follow it up with a very straightforward, ‘I will speed up so we don’t have to be within any kind of unreasonable proximity’, but my thoughts of observing covid protocol were quickly erased as he immediately struck up a conversation and we exchanged brief observations of the awful weather.
Then not wishing to curtail this newfound freedom of actually speaking to a stranger, he asked if I lived nearby, and I, not wishing to fess up to my laziness in not walking the distance, told him that I lived in nearby Uplyme to which he replied he had holidayed there once in the hot summer of 1976, “it was so warm, I remember asking if the caravan was always so stuffy.”
We both laughed in that gentle quietly polite way you do when something is mildly amusing, but by then I was caught in the riptide of this nouveau social interaction, and I shared with him that I also remember that year as I was a young child living in Nottingham at the time.
This casual exchange took on that kind of comfortable camaraderie of strangers who are just being friendly. Remember those days? Then in the last few yards that were left before I reached my destination, he gave me a Kodak moment, telling me his life history in the space of three minutes.
Southampton born and bred, following a near miss when a bomb had fallen but not exploded, on a house two down from them in 1941, his father decided to send him somewhere safer and with relatives in the area, sent him to Chideock for the duration of the war. After the war he returned home and in adult life spent 30 years working in London but ever since that evacuation, he has returned to Lyme often because he loved it so much.
I was very reluctant to cut the conversation short, I had the feeling that he, like me, wanted to be liberated from the binds of the social sterility we have been conditioned to adopt and would have happily continued chatting for some time, and this reminded me, not for the first time, that we all have a story to tell, but sadly many of them will never be heard, especially in the wake of our covid enforced social deprivation.
So next time I shall throw caution to the wind, welcome the opportunity to reach across the corona abyss with a cheery ‘good morning’ and happily delay my descent into the gloom of the office for the chance of enjoying an exchange of what used to be normal human interaction.
Redundancy. A word that reverberates with definition; each letter stubs you out with cruel finality, its centre exudes words like dunce, dumb, done.
Redundant. You are surplus to requirements, any use you may have had, is no longer required. The weight of the letters ‘d’ and ‘t’ tell you that you are now a burden.
If ever there was a word that wreaked the effect of its purpose, then that is it.
To those who have been on the receiving end of this judgement, of which there have been many thousand during COVID-19, the attempt to reassure with platitudes such as ‘it’s not you, it’s the position’ or ‘it’s not just you, everyone is effected’, can sound superficial and bromidic.
There can be many reasons for redundancies and sometimes it may simply be used to dispense with people and there are those who have suffered the experience more than once. Some may see it coming whereas for others it is a complete shock. Then there are those who may be pleased by the prospect and/or opt for voluntary redundancy.
According to the government’s Office for National Statistics, redundancies reached a record high between September – November 2020 with 14.2 per thousand employees being affected. Compare this with the financial crash of 2008 when the rate reached 12.2 in every 1,000.
Since February 2020, the number of payroll employees has fallen by 828,000.
Surprisingly there has conversely been an average increase in pay of 3.6% but that has been driven by the reduction in the number of lower paid employees.
But there are some who question the rationale of redundancy.
Dr Madeleine Petzer of the Liverpool John Moores University, ‘Victims, Survivors and Envoys’ cites a number of specialists:
Braithwaite et al (2005) found that most studies on the success of redundancies as a costsaving strategy tend to challenge the validity of a reduction in personnel more than support restructuring. Gandolfi (2008) argues that there is significant empirical evidence to propose that the ‘consequences of downsizing are negative at best and disastrous at worst’, with Henkoff (1994), Cascio (1993, 2013), and Brockner et al (1985) agreeing that the research regarding redundancies has proved consistently that the anticipated benefits of redundancies have not been realised.
But no matter what is opined, it has been widespread. It can of course be an opportunity to do what you have always wanted or dedicate more time to a project you have been putting off because you were too busy with your job. But if you have financial commitments that relied on an income, the stress of finding a new job on top of the multi-pronged COVID assault, can be too much for some.
Redundancy is known to affect a person’s confidence and self-esteem and whilst it is easier to deal with mass redundancy rather then just one person, it is still compared with a bereavement and the emotions that go with such a loss.
So how do you pull yourself free of the misery that many are finding themselves?
There is no secret formula and definitely no, ‘one size fits all’ because every situation is different and each person an individual. But what you can be assured is this is mass redundancy on a global scale, so we really are all in this together.
Times will continue to be tough for weeks to come but personally, I think we have reached the top of a very steep climb and we are making our way back down the other side. Nothing will be the same, the seismic shift in life as we knew it means the social and economic landscape will look and behave differently.
You may find a work opportunity that closely matches your pre-COVID role, but the chances are you will have to rethink. But that is no bad thing, if there is one thing we have all learned it is what we really need and what can we do without.
I have a hunch 2021 will see a few changes for us all but it’s up to each of us to redesign, restore and rebuild our lives crushing the ruins of redundancy underfoot.