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Remember Remember the 5th of November…

by John Connolly 


…Gunpower, Treason and Plot. Indeed, the nation celebrates the capture, torture and subsequent execution of Guy Fawkes by throwing mini rockets at cats, air bombs in pubs and bangers into crowded bus stops. At least that’s what I did in my youth. The best thing about ‘Bommy Night’ (spelt Bonfire, bastardized to Bommy, go figure, I blame the proddy education system that Guy Fawkes’ plot would have over run, selah!) was that he half term school holidays always fell the week leading up to the big night. For the younger element this meant more time to collect bommy wood, more time to cadge money off people with the time honoured ‘Penny for Guy’ and of course more time for mischief and mayhem with illegal fireworks. Here’s my guide for enjoying the fun packed Guy Fawkes traditions.  


Collecting Bommy Wood 

Liverpool was pretty much still a building site in my youth. There was no outside investment tarting up the thousands of disused houses in and around Toxteth and Aigburth, converting the large Victorian houses into flats and calling them pseudo trendy names like ‘Liberty Village’ or ‘The Left Banke Project’ back then. The empty houses were a veritable goldmine of combustibles. The best items were door, the more doors you had, the better. When comparing your bommy with another gangs, the first question was always ‘ow many doors ‘ave ye got?’ The big arl house banisters were also ideal for the centre pole, which, as any veteran campaigner will confirm, are essential. Throw in furniture, tables, chairs, the odd three piece suit and you’ve got yourself a decent bommy.


Now, not only did you need a safe place to stash your collection, you also needed the stash to be guarded, usually by the hardest lad in the troop who would be absolved of collecting duties to mind the shop. Our resident ‘cock’ would turk the local slag on one of our bommy destined couches while we were toiling away in derelict houses (to be fair, we’d all get a go on our return, though rather than forming a queue, she’d makes us race with our trousers down, a first come first serve basis).


Many times your hard work could be undone by a marauding gang stealing your stash. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, being the raider and raided and I can tell you, seeing a months work undone by a raid is hard to take. All that sweating, carrying mouldy timber and flea bitten furniture across the barren landscape like a Pharaohs army to build the pyramids, getting splinters, being chased by irate tramps whose squat you’d raided for pissy mattresses wiped out was a gut wrenching affair.



Penny For The Guy or ‘Guying’ 

Stuff an arl pair of Fruit of the Looms with newspaper, throw some wellies on for the bottom half, rob your sisters novelty giant teddy bear and throw donkey jacket over it for the arms and torso, slap a mask on from the joke shop and hey presto, you’ve a ‘Guy’ or beggars dummy! Now this concept/tradition I can’t understand, we want to burn our effigy of Mr Fawkes but we also want to beg for him? Maybe it was for his defence team, who knows? Anyway, set up a good pitch, usually outside a local drinking snug and beg away. If anyone actually did give you a penny, you’d usually scorn the tight fuckers. Like the bommy wood stash, you were under constant threat from older harder chaps taking your hard begged dosh. I’d usually promise the local hardcase a few air bombs if he promised to slap any would be thieves. Any moneys raised were of course squandered on illicit fireworks, which we’ll touch on next. 



To me, this was what it was all about. For some reason (money), a shop on Rose Lane would sell fireworks to anyone. For me, it was a two bus journey but worth it. Mini rockets and air bombs were the ultimate. Mini rockets were cheap, unpredictable and fun…a bit like Veggard Heggam. We used to fashion a launcher from a discarded Mr Freeze stuffed with paper, a ploy used by the Mujahideen (it’s a common known fact the CIA shipped thousands of Mr Freezes to Afghanistan during their conflict with the Ruskies, particularly Coca Cola flavour, symbol of the free West). Snap the stick off the rocket and throw it in a crowd to see gets their ski jacket or eyebrow singed by the wayward firework.


One year at the Sefton Park firework display we caused quite a brouhaha by firing mini rockets at other kids who were in the trees watching the display, imho much more entertaining than the laser accompanied firework display played out to the strands of the Superman theme. Oh yes, I loved fireworks. School corridors/classrooms, buses, pubs, libraries, subways etc. none were sparred my pyrotechnic chicanery. Some WW2 vet playing his Tuesday night dominoes probably thought he was back at Anzio as we unleashed a barrage of air bombs into the lounge.


Mini rockets in a phone box was probably the Michael Angelo, the face of abject horror on the occupier was worth the entrance fee. Women were spared, we usually picked on boho Lark Lane types in long coats who couldn’t afford a phone in their bedsit. Yes, I was a twat, but a happy twat. So there you have it, keep you cats and dogs insides, keep you whit’s about you when playing darts, don’t use public telephone boxes and stay out of the trees during the Sefton Park display.



The Bonfire  

Ah, the fire itself. If it’s on a school day, we’d usually sag school off to build our behemoth. All that hard work would pay off as the bonfire took shape, an art form in itself. We’d usually keep aside a few extras, like a few couches to sit on then wait for night fall to light the bastard. Of course you still ran the risk of getting your bommy hijacked so it still had to be guarded )I can remember coming home from the pub years later and stumbled upon a fully erected bommy set up on 4th November! Schoolboy error that was duly punished by yours truly).


The evenings festivities would kick off with the lighting of the bommy, Guy ceremoniously atop of the blazing structure and all manner of fireworks whizzing dangerously overhead. As the blaze would die down, the older lads would turn up with weed and spuds as the younger brethren would jump over the fire in some sort of Wickerman ritual (miraculously, the odd melted trainee was the only casualty on my watch). I don’t know if kids still collect bommy wood, the majority of bonfires these days seem to be organised affairs, they don’t know what they’re missing!





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