Tyne (English version)

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Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I know of no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

In 1605 Guy Fawkes, together with a number of accomplices, conspired to blow up three dozen barrels of gunpowder in the cellar underneath the House of Lords in Westminster. The plot was aimed at the State Opening of Parliament. The Kind and large numbers of parliamentarians were supposed to die. The plot was uncovered and failed, Fawkes was taken into custody, tortured in the Tower of London and later executed for treason.

Ever since, 5 November is celebrated in England as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. A bonfire is built, beer and sausage stands erected, music is provided by the local band and at six the fire is lit. Later there is a fireworks display. Until a few years ago, Guy Fawkes was burnt in effigy.

Thus far straightforward historical folklore. Lately, however, a new chapter has been added to the Guy Fawkes story, a chapter that from my point of view does not fully cohere with the historic figure of Fawkes. All over the world, protesters against totalitarian regimes, inhumane business bosses or greedy bankers adopt Guy Fawkes as their patron saint by wearing his mask. It did not make any sense to me or some of the people I talked to about it. But soon after I had published the German version of this text I had three readers making useful comments on what was puzzling me. It seems the protesters are not so much referring to Guy Fawkes the historical person but rather to Guy Fawkes the comic book and film hero of V for Vendetta. In fiction – more so than in reality – Fawkes successfully blows up Parliament fighting for the liberation of an oppressed people. Well, it would be interesting to do some more analysis into how the Guy Fawkes meme has changed. As we know, the same person can be a terrorist to some and a freedom fighter to others.

This afternoon we visited Dan in Lincoln. His house is typically English. One door, two windows, when you enter you immediately trip over the sofa and if you’re lucky you end up on it in a comfortable position from which you can – without getting up, mind you – reach around the corner into the kitchen to take a bottle of beer from the refrigerator. A door behind which you reckon a broom cupboard or a larder opens up to reveal a staircase leading to the upper floor. I need to climb the step sideways lest I get stuck. Once upstairs I feel relief at being able to stand up straight without touching the ceiling. However, everything is very homely or if you prefer, gemuetlich. In a word: hobbity.

Nevertheless we left quite soon to lunch at Angel’s café. It was so crowded, however, that we did have to look for an alternative. We found another Café where we took seat on separate tables at first, but soon the one next to ours was vacated and Dan and Carl could join us.

There I was victim for the first time of that famous biting English politeness which enables the English to smile you in the face while they, in effect, say “F**k off”. The tables in the eatery were placed quite cramped. I was a tad in the way, balancing Alexander on my lap. The waitress addresses me with a smile, “Could you please move your jacket out of the way?” The thing is that my jacket was over the back of my chair. By removing it, all that would have happened was that the chair which was the real obstacle would become visible. The waitress must have known that the garment’s mere removal from the chair would in no way have facilitated the flow of waitressing traffic. Therefore the superficially polite request was in reality the English way of telling me off. What she actually said was, “Move your fat arse out of my bloody way.”

Wolfgang Koydl states in his “Fish and Fritz” that England is called England because it is the Land where everything is eng (German for cramped): streets, shops, restaurants, pubs. At first I had dismissed this because after all Koydl writes from the perspective of someone who moves from the United States, where everything is bigger, anyway, to London. But after moving around England for a few days now, we also get this impression. Be it yesterday, shopping for Emil and Theo’s school uniforms in Grimsby or be it today, sauntering through Lincoln, you always feel like you are in the way. Anytime you turn around, you bump into something or someone. And if you do and the person apologises saying “Dreadfully sorry, Sir,” what they actually mean is, “Get off my back you bloody fool.”

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One Response to “Tyne (English version)”

  1. blog.kurpierz.de » Blog Archive » Tyne Says:

    […] Click here to read this article in English. […]

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