Gunpowder, treason, or what?
April might be the cruellest month, but November is the most depressing - a real downer where the exploits of happier summer days fall away behind you as your life rollercoasts down towards the dank depths of winter. November is a time to remember. It's also a time, watching clerks in their warm, dry offices, when you wish you didn't have to sweep streets for a living.
Guy Fawkes was a good guy - a down to earth Yorkshireman who miserably failed to carry out a plan that would (had it succeeded) have been one of the few worthwhile political manoeuvres of English history. Instead he is now annually burnt in effigy by generations of eager children.
Now it's coming round again. In Elland, West Vale and throughout the area in general it has long been progging (or chumping) time. If it is capable of being burnt and it is on the street, it will quickly sprout legs and scuttle off to parts unknown. As I sweep the streets of Calderdale I am coming increasingly upon broken bottles, spent fireworks and exploded boxes of matches, evidences of the previous nights juvenile cavortings. I cannot help but smile to myself. These cool dudes with their crop hip hop haircuts and brains to match know bugger all about bonfire night. In the days when plot night was 'plot night' no-one would even dream of setting off any fireworks before mischief night at the earliest. And what fireworks we had...! Cannons, Aeroplanes and enormous jumping rip raps. Fireworks that would make Rambo shake in his puttees!
My uncle Bill was an army sergeant who, in the 1950's, was stationed in Antwerp. On bonfire night he would come home on leave and roll up at my grandad's house in Girlington wearing a greatcoat with large, deep pockets stuffed with all manner of potentially lethal pyrotechnic devices, a half smoked capstan full strength dangling precariously (and dangerously) from his lower lip without any visible means of support, its gentle glow illuminating that hard stubble with which he was wont to give me 'chin pie'. Grandad would light the fire, mum would bring out the plot toffee, and Bill would get stuck into the airbombs!
Today it's a double standard. While it's quite alright for juveniles to play with explosive devices in Bosnia or Beirut, here in Britain fun with fireworks ist verboten. But then maybe bonfire night is on the way out anyway. Increased regulation has not only removed most of those fireworks that were worth setting off but has also reduced the choice available and has priced them out of the reach of many people. Nowadays bonfire night is spread out over umpteen different nights before and after the fifth, and consequently the effect and atmosphere has gone, along with memorable Guy Fawkes nights when you could see hundreds of twinkling fires piercing the darkness on distant Pennine hills, like beacons in the night.
Halloween, the hyped american import with its trick-or-treat nuisance, has further diluted the appeal of 'penny for the guy' Today's kids prefer the Goonies to Guy.
Those kids who have been dragging tree branches down the road for their bonfire have spread broken twigs all over the pavement - and guess who's going to have to pick them all up!? I should worry! At this time of the year the biggest litter lout is God. As the trees shed their leaves so the woes of a street sweeper become legion.. Everyday it's the same - leaves, leaves and more bloody leaves! Sometimes I wish a chainsaw could be included in my armoury of cleansing equipment. That would solve the leaf problem.... permanently!
The wind whips up my bin bag, fills it out like a sail, up ends it and promptly deposits my hard won litter all over the street where it is instantly snapped up and whisked away by the raw wind that scours the end of Southgate. I utter one short, unrepeatable word. I trudge on, and thoroughly, totally and utterly fed up, agonising as to why I should be so wasted on a job like this.
It seems to me that Yorkshire is still being made to suffer for its role on the events of November 1605. We are ruled by a government that seems to despise everything north of Luton. Working for the local council anywhere can be a harrowing experience these days, but here in hard up Calderdale, the 'hole in the doughnut' of local government funding, job prospects are fraught with endless pitfalls, both real and imagined.
Among street and toilet cleaners morale is at an all time low. Even at the best of times picking up litter and cleaning up shit is hardly one of the worlds most edifying occupations, but in todays political climate the gloom is increased by the threat of redundancy, and the prospect of lower wages and longer hours for those lucky enough to keep their jobs. Traditionally, the council has always taken good care of its workforce, but now, yoked to to free market forces and the absurd idea that collecting crap should be profit making, the newly privatised council direct services organisation is having to submit to practices normally associated with the cut and thrust of the private sector. This ultimately means less people doing more work for less money. The cuts are creeping up insidiously. Council vacancies are no longer being filled and if anyone leaves (a fat chance in todays job market) their positions will not be readvertised. Recently, everyone over fifty received a letter asking about how they would fel about voluntary redundancy and early retirement. Calderdale's finances are in such a mess at the moment that they are considering all practical means of saving money.