Today is Guy Fawkes Day in England, and Clock Change Eve in America.
It’s Clock Change Eve because tomorrow is, this year, the first Sunday in November. Clocks resume approximately natural time, meaning that midday is when the Sun is highest, after being an hour ahead of natural time since March 13.
You are supposed to turn your clocks back an hour at 2 AM on Sunday. Reasonable, in a way, since few people are doing anything else after 1 AM and so they don’t get to disagreeing with each other about the time. Perhaps some literal law-abiding souls do wait till 2 AM to carry out the rite, but most of us do it on Saturday before going to bed. Or else much later on Sunday, on realizing that we’re now out of step. Perhaps the Sunday rule was chosen because Saturday is a day when more people than usual are up past midnight, so they may, if not too drunk, turn their watches back at 2, and stay up for another hour.
Twilight scene at the same clock time on November 5 and 6.
It’s Guy Fawkes Day (otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night) because it’s the 411th anniversary of one of the events most undeserving of being commemorated: November 5, 1605, when my misguided and courageous namesake was arrested, to be tortured to death two months later.
He joined a conspiracy to kill the Protestant king, James I, and replace him with a Catholic queen. They rented a basement under the House of Lords and stashed gunpowder there – nowadays they would have used a ticking clock. Guy volunteered to guard the place, and was caught. The parliament decreed an annual day of thanksgiving, with a compulsory church service; it became a divisive and frequently violent Pope Day; is now an atavistic outdoor revel in which the figure of Guy is burned on a large bonfire.
“Remember, remember / The Fifth of November, / Gunpowder, treason and plot…” The sects and the monarchs, the merciless justice, they all might be better forgot.
When I was leaving Manchester, we had to get rid of a small piano that had been given to us and that nobody would take. It went onto the Guy Fawkes bonfire and died with a last twangle of chords.