The Bonfire – Guy Fawkes Night 1966

The Bonfire

I do remember one year, though, when the school decided to have a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night. There were no fireworks – just a bonfire, but we didn’t get much fun and this was a real bonus.

Life had become a bit more liberal in my 3rd year and Mick Wainhouse’s 4th year after the appointment of Father Fraser, from Glasgow, as Father Rector. Some of the Italian Fascist inspired rules had been taken out.

There had never been a bonfire before. Why would Italians celebrate Guy Fawkes night? If they have been told what it was all about they would have allowed it even less. Perhaps it had been explained to them and that’s why we had never had one before.

Bonfire of the Vanities

We had to leave, though, when it was time for Evening Service and bed. However, I couldn’t resist it. With a guy called Maurice Eaton, I got up out of bed after the priest, Fr Hicks, had finished his walking about, went downstairs and climbed out of a window to go and have another look at the bonfire.

To my surprise we were soon joined by Mick Wainhouse, Mick Palmer and Titch Carey. We threw fresh wood onto the bonfire. However, we wanted more action than that. Mick Wainhouse suggested that we go over to the farm, get some petrol, put it in bottles and toss them onto the fire.

I must confess I was more than a little nervous of this suggestion as, if we were caught, we would be instantly expelled. As well as being out after lights out, we would also have been stealing from the Verona Fathers’ farm.

Instant Expulsion

I remembered that in First Year a boy had been caught stealing. We were given a spine chilling talk by Father Pinkman who started by saying “We have a thief among us”.

They found out who it was and the Boy was instantly expelled. He had stolen one of the other Boys’ money – a fiver given to him by his mother. It was to pay for his keep. The Boy who had it stolen reported it missing. It was taken from his desk. A fiver was a lot of money in those days.

The priests gave the money back again to the Boy who had had it stolen. He asked how they had managed to get it back. “Don’t ask” he was told. It’s almost certain that what they had done was had a massive search of all the Boy’s lockers and desks whilst we were engaged elsewhere.

They wouldn’t have given a second thought to the impropriety of doing that. I bet they did it all the time.

The Boy who did it was instantly expelled. We never saw him again. We weren’t told that the thief had been caught but we could put two and two together.

So, I was pretty nervous.

Worth the Risk?

The idea sounded great but I didn’t think it was worth the risk.

But Mick did. He and one of the others, probably Mick Palmer, went over to the farm and brought back bottles full of oil. We put rags in them like Molotov Cocktails or Petrol Bombs and tossed them into the fire. I think I had read somewhere about how to make them.

Probably the next time Mick would see them would be when he was serving in the Paras in Northern Ireland, when they came raining down on them, tossed by rioting Catholics in the Bogside and elsewhere.

Next Suggestion

It was what he suggested next, though, that made me gulp.

He suggested that we would go back to the farm, take a couple of the hens there, bring them back and roast them on the fire.

This was so unlike him. I was shocked. Indeed I was extremely nervous about it. We had got away with the oil. They probably wouldn’t notice the oil missing and even if they did they wouldn’t think “some of the Boys must have stolen it, put it in bottles and chucked it on the bonfire”.

However, they would notice that the hens were missing. Mick and Titch were asking him what they would have to do. “We’ll wring their necks and put them on the edge of the bonfire” he said, “and then we’ll eat them”.

I was appalled. I had no great wish to have a couple of hens killed. I wanted even less to see them having their necks wrung.

And what if we got caught?

Neck Wringing

“Who’ll wring their necks?” someone asked.

“I’ll do it” said Mick.

I begged him not to do it. I told him that we’d all be in terrible trouble, but he was really up for it and thought it a great idea. He would definitely have done it, but by now the other two were having cold feet as well and talked him out of it.

Incidentally, I don’t think that we ever tasted chicken in the whole time we were there. That was reserved for the priests – although we did get boiled eggs. So, it would have been a real treat to taste some chicken, which we would have seen as a delicacy.

Encounter with Father Hicks

Incidentally, Maurice Eaton and myself had got caught going back in the window by the priest now in charge of the senior boys, Father Hicks. He thought of himself as a bit of a psychologist, although I think he had only read books on it.

He told us off and then let Maurice Eaton go. He kept me back. He said that it was because he saw remorse in Maurice Eaton’s eyes. He hadn’t seen any in mine at all, he told me in a highly accusatory voice. I then tried to look suitable remorseful.

He was right, though. I wasn’t sorry at all. I was only sorry that I had got caught. Mick, Mick and Titch had left before us. I think Mick had lost interest once killing the hens was overruled.

Pinkman’s Extended Infuence

He told me “Fr Pinkman has told me all about you”. I knew instantly that this wasn’t positive. Many of the Boys had been hanging around Fr Hicks who was just new to being in charge of the seniors. They were short of a father and wanted to be in with the new Father.

I wanted to be in with him too and impress him but I didn’t want to be as obvious as some of the other Boys. However, with those words of his I knew that there was no chance of that. Pinkie had marked his card on me.

There was no point in telling him that Pinkie was operating a vendetta against me, even after I left his charge in junior school, and explaining why he was doing it. I didn’t even understand myself at that age. It’s only now that I’m able to put two and two together and make five.

Cards Marked

However, I knew then that, our new father, the guy in charge of the senior boys had had his card marked as far as I was concerned and that I could forget about being a favoured ‘son’ the way I was with Fr. Cerea and that I would be henceforth plunged into the wilderness and forced to seek refuge for brotherhood amongst my fellow seminarians.

However, of my best friends Francis Locke had now gone and Frank McGinnis refused to talk to me due to my traitorous behaviour under severe questioning and getting broken by Pinkie. I was now hanging around with Boys that I wouldn’t have before, although I was still quite well in with the ‘in crowd’ which was mainly composed of Eddie Roberts, Fritz and maybe Bickers.

Father Hicks must have been watching for a while, when we came back in through the window, because he was waiting for us to come through the window. If we’d stayed on and killed the hen and cooked it he would certainly have seen that.

I suspect that we would all have been expelled. Mick’s life would probably have taken a very different path if he had been expelled whilst in 4th year rather than in 5th – but we’ll never know that. He didn’t do it in the end.

Expelled for Drinking

Letters were always sent home to the Boys’ parents when they got expelled – and they didn’t pull any punches.

It must have been a shock to Mick’s parents when they got the letter telling them that the son who was going to be a priest had been booted out for drinking.

However, if the letter had said that he was being kicked out for stealing a couple of hens from the farm, wringing their necks and roasting them on a bonfire they would have been shocked and appalled.

“What sort of son do we have that would do this?” they would have thought.

They would learn more about that in the future.

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