A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Remember, remember – what exactly?

Neil Pickford stokes the fires
It was an annual treat for me – my short walk up to the Westwood to watch thousands of pounds of much-cherished money going boom, splutter, whizz and bang in just a few minutes, leaving only spots in front of the eyes and an slightly sweet acrid smell in my nostrils and clothes. By the sound of it I wasn’t the only one enjoying Guy Fawkes night this year – in fact the crowd noise from the massive but distant bonfire spoke of many thousands of happy families, enjoying themselves in innocent pleasure.
Even the thought that my cats were probably cowering at home did little to dampen my spirits because I know that my cats are quite capable of being terrified just by the noise of food landing in their bowls. Switch on the kitchen light when they’re not expecting it and you will see an instant feline freakout. A single cough can induce a spasm and just walking into the same room elicits a worried glance that seems to say: “We know you’ve fed us and stroked us and loved us for many years, but you’re going to start torturing us any second now, aren’t you?”
Poor, pathetic, paranoid pussycats.
Back on the Westwood I was having a moment of connection –the zeitgeist (a German word meaning ‘the spirit of the moment’) was of complete happiness, of relief, of release, of innocence.
And yet the reason we were there was because a Catholic was painfully burnt to death after merely attempting what many of us have secretly considered – blowing up the Houses of Parliament.
But we forget that, most of the time – in fact nowadays most displays don’t even burn an effigy of the person after whom the night is named and the once-familiar sight of kids demanding ‘Penny for the Guy’ beside a badly=made representation  of a human being now seems extinct.
It’s a pity really because I pushed a wheelchair containing my well-wrapped-up mother-in-law into town the other day and was confidently expecting to get some loose change chucked into her lap, but no luck there.
Anyway, while I waited for the display to begin my mind started to roam, and I slipped into a parallel universe (again).
As an aside – I once heard that someone had split the population of Britain into two classes – those who watch soap operas such as EastEnders or Coronation Street, and those who watch soap operas like Star Trek and Doctor Who. Any member of the latter clan will know what I mean when I say I slipped into my ‘evil beard’ identity. As I already have a beard then casual viewers can only tell the two versions of me apart by the fact that the evil one will be darker and neatly trimmed.
(To those of you who watch EastEnders I can only apologise because you won’t have a clue what I’ve just been talking about – however I hope it will sufficient for you to know that I am about to embark on an emotional journey of exploration, and will want to come with me.)
But I digress.
I pondered what might have happened in a parallel universe where Guy Fawkes had succeeded in his part of the plan to obliterate pretty much the entire controlling elite of British society. In effect, what was being attempted in this single explosion was the equivalent of the Russian massacre of the Polish military elite in World War II plus shooting the Queen and all her family, plus all the heads of the police and legal forces, MPs, owners of Premiership football clubs, along with a few Lord Richard Bransons and Duke Alan Sugars for good measure.
The Catholics believed that this would be a good thing as it would enable them to bring back the old religion that worshipped using the icons and relics of saints as means of attracting the attention of God.  This was a society where the priests were a learned elite, separated from the common herd (i.e you and me) by the fact that they were much closer to God and so should be allowed to get on with religion on our behalf.
It would also mean that the divinely blessed remains of St John of Beverley would still be worshipped in their gold-boxed reliquary behind the high altar in the Minster, regardless of any change in status as a patron saint of England (see my previous contribution to the world of learning and controversy on that subject). This would have also pleased the lovely group of Russian Orthodox worshippers who came to pray at John’s tomb on, would you believe it? Guy Fawkes’ Night. As I described the development of the Church of England away from its Catholic roots one of them said to me: “You sound as if you are sorry that this all changed.”
Ummm – no, not really, although I accept that, whenever anything changes as radically as the church did in 1550 you will throw some good stuff out along with all the bad. Certainly the Minster lost a lot of beauty in the process. But I also believe the gains were worth it – and I may just go on about that -= and the Industrial Revolution – in my next outpouring.
Until then, you can always argue with me at or

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