Sunday, 7 November 2010

Saying no to joylessness

Yesterday was the night that Luton council selected for iur great national  celebration of the torture and execution, by burning, of a seventeenth-century dissident. This, as I’ve pointed out before, is one of the great family events in the annual calendar of this quaint and traditional nation.

Fun for all the family

The commemoration is actually on the fifth of November, but the British are pragmatic people: we don’t feel obliged to commemorate anniversaries on the exact date but prefer to go for a convenient day close to it, and yesterday was a Saturday.

The dissident was Guy Fawkes, a Catholic, caught in the cellars of the Palace of Westminster with rather a lot of barrels of gunpowder (more than he could really pass of as needing for his personal consumption). The King and both houses of Parliament were due to meet the following day just above, and detonating the powder at that time would have had a very poor effect on the health of the assembled great and good. As well as being distinctly career-limiting.

So Fawkes got tortured and eventually burned, as did a number of fellow conspirators, giving rise to this delightful celebration where we light bonfires and let off fireworks.

Just what was he? A dissident, certainly. A martyr – to the Catholics, no doubt. A traitor – to the king and ministers undeniably. Maybe today we’d call him an insurgent, which is a bad thing if you’re with Nato in Afghanistan, a good thing if you’re with the Taliban. Overall, perhaps we can just say that he was a brilliant illustration that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

In any case, what he’s become since is a pretext for a good party, and this year was no exception. Generally, Luton is not a physically attractive town, but it does have some very good parks. Yesterday, Pope’s meadow, which is sandwiched between Wardown Park and the splendidly named People’s Park, was the site of a breathtaking firework display. We took our places in the crowd which must have been several thousand strong, and I think being there with them was part of the pleasure: the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the kids have to be one great contributory factors to enjoying fireworks.

But the best thing about the display was that fireworks serve absolutely no useful purpose at all. They cost a lot of money, and they’re gone in an instant, actually destroyed by the very thing that makes them a source of joy. Glorious, extravagant, pure pleasure.

That appeals to me more than ever in today’s atmosphere. The financiers are running Britain today. Though they precipitated today's crisis, and got the rest of us to pay for their failures with bank bale-outs, they've shown they know how to look after themselves: executive pay has risen by 23% in twelve months and bankers' bonuses remain at indefensible levels (which doesn't stop them trying to defend them). In between their trips to the Maldives or St Moritz, they keep telling us that the State has to spend less on things like schools and hospitals and libraries and public transport and decent policing. And jobs. And a government drawn from the same people has decided to do their bidding.

So congratulations to Luton Council for braving all that misery and spending the money on a few moments of pure pleasure in spite of the overpaid cheapskates. That’s just what the people who gave its name to People’s Park need right now, to give us a break from the bleakness ahead.

Besides, it was a great display.


Anonymous said...

You make even Luton sound like a fun place!


David Beeson said...

Even? Vibrant and exciting. Watch this space: more blogs to come...