Last week it was Guy Fawkes Night. This is a UK event dedicated to bonfires and fireworks, to celebrate the failure of Britain’s most notorious traitor, Guy Fawkes – who, along with 12 other men, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the king in 1605.
Unfortunately for Guy Fawkes, he was found in a cellar below the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder (you don’t want to know what happened to the conspirators). For more than 400 years since, bonfires have burned on 5th November to mark the failed Gunpowder Plot; it’s traditional to put a ‘Guy’ effigy on the fire before setting off fireworks, and, for many years, children would wheel a homemade fella around in a wheelbarrow, asking for a ‘penny for the guy’. (I think this died out in the 80s, after health and safety regulations kicked in to stop kids using their pennies to get their hands on fireworks.)
Just so that international readers are completely clear about how eccentric the British really are: A modern-day Bonfire Night can include the burning of an effigy of a living political figure. Prime Minister David Cameron got it, so did Angela Merkel (chancellor of Germany). This year it was the turn of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
Here in the desert, you obviously have to try that bit harder to keep these traditions alive – so while our friends and family back home were attending organised firework displays at the weekend, we got busy making our own fire for an impromptu Bonfire Night with marshmallows in the desert.
I say we, but it was DH (from the US, but an Anglophile, having attended boarding school in England) who did most of the work, gathering wood in the daylight in preparation.
That night, the full moon shone bright, and the perfect, desert weather brought a fair few people out to the dunes – either to camp, off-road in 4x4s or just soak up the moonlight at the end of the working week. In the distance, you could just see the twinkling Burj Khalifa standing tall, and every now and then the purr of a quad bike rang out across the still night.
We even had hot dogs, although I’d say it was the toasted marshmallows – with their warm, spongy, gooey centres full of sweet, sugary flavours and crunchy edges (there’s marshmallow, and then there’s toasted marshmallow. Two entirely different beasts) that were the biggest hit with the children.
Lucky kids, getting to celebrate traditions from three different continents.