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When I was a lad in Western Australia, the fifth of November used to be an eagerly awaited event. That was Guy Fawkes Night, commemorating the apprehension in 1605 of conspirators who plotted to blow up the British Parliament, and were hanged and quartered.

Just the sort of thing a young Flysa could get excited about.

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The Catholic conspirators lead by Fawkes, placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in an undercroft beneath the House of Lords in order to assassinate the Protestant King James 1 during the opening of Parliament, and place his young daughter Elizabeth on the throne as a puppet Queen.

This was the result of the persecution of the Catholics by King James. The conspirators were betrayed, following which Fawkes was arrested, tortured in order to force him to reveal the names of his co-conspirators, and all four were put to death. Fawkes escaped actual hanging by falling from the scaffold and breaking his neck. His accomplices were partially hanged, taken down from the gallows while still living, disemboweled and had their genitals cut off before their eyes, and were then decapitated and quartered.

Fawkes was spared this torment, but his body was cut into quarters for exhibition in different locations around the Kingdom as a warning to others. It makes me wonder what they would do to us today if we decided to tell Parliament to take a hike. 

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In those halcyon days of youth seventy years ago, we all had our bonfires with an effigy of the leader Fawkes called the Guy, Catherine wheels, roman candles, rockets which you could shoot nearly out of sight, and humungous bungers which could blow your fingers off. We plotted to light our childhood enemies’ bonfires before they could and shot rockets out of empty beer bottles at them.

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not really a photo of Flysa. This image was not endorsed by him or anyone on this site. I don't know how it got here....

There was no control, and while there were casualties, it was marvellous pre-nanny state stuff. Those were the days when men were men, and wussy politicians a thing of the future.

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In those never to be repeated days, the sun never set on the British Empire, as was evidenced by the overlapping red areas in our school atlases. We believed that most of the world's Asian problems were fixable by a little judicious shelling from a gunboat by the British, or by the deployment of a column of troops to hang the offending leader from the nearest tree.

 

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It is difficult to believe how much the world, and in particular Australia, has changed. Our leaders then were real men. The great John Curtin who guided us through WWII was a Prime Minister who smoked, wore a hat, and did not knuckle under to anyone. Those were the days before, by a quirk in the Constitution probably overlooked by our founders, a fringe party would be able to dictate policy by reason of having a number of senators not voted for personally. I could not imagine the imperious Sir Robert Menzies giving the time of day to the Greens.

When we used to go into town from boarding school on the tram with our weekly pocket money of a few shillings, there was a talking set of weighing scales in the main street controlled by some type of spinning disc.

 

It was the first portent of the wizardry to come that I can recall seeing. One would stand on the scale and insert a penny, the little disc would spin, stop and then an undecided stentorian voice would recite your changing weight – six stone three, five stone four, seven stone eleven and so on and so on.

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Most schoolboys over fourteen were in the cadets, and it was commonplace for young lads to be blazing away on the rifle ranges with World War I Lee Enfield .303 calibre rifles which kicked like the proverbial mule. We practiced on Vickers machine guns, Bren guns, Thompson submachine guns and mortars, all with live ammunition. On the way home from the annual cadet camps, public transport was full of uniformed boys, small and large, carrying their rifles, albeit with the bolts removed.

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Then there were the dog wallopers. They were employed by mercers who stood their bolts of cloth on the footpath in order to attract passing custom, to deal with miscreant dogs who stopped to cock a leg over the merchandise.

The majority smoked cork-tipped cigarettes. Society women used long cigarette holders. It was only later that filter tips were introduced, presumably in an attempt to combat carcinogens. Smoking was the norm in trains, buses, and planes. In some railway carriages, it was difficult to see through the smoke. Seat belts in cars were non-existent, as were random breath checks.

Was it in need of reform? Probably, but as the saying goes, give them an inch and they will take a mile. These days, parents can’t even give their misbehaving offspring a time-honoured smack, without being hauled up before the Beak.

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Then again, perhaps my generation was already on the way to the super-nanny, as the generation before even sold mixtures containing morphine and heroin for teething babies, and recommended alcohol for nursing mothers in order to increase milk production.

Anyway, the fifth of November was a cracker of a night. 

 

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