Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, remember, the fifth of November!

It is still claimed by some that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 might have succeeded if Dame Dorothy Selby, then living at Ightham Mote, had not sent an anonymous letter to her kinsman Lord Monteagle, warning him not to attend the state opening of Parliament. When her role in the subsequent betrayal was revealed, it is said that friends of the plotters took a deadly revenge by walling her up alive at Ightham Mote.
This lurid tale soon crumbles away when you gaze at the portrait of the elderly Dame Dorothy in the Great Hall at Ightham Mote. The costume of the small boy at her side clearly indicates that the portrait must have been painted a good three decades after the Gunpowder Plot was first exposed. Furthermore, Dame Dorothy has a splendid tomb in the local church where she was buried in 1641.

Here am I a poor old guy,
Legs in the bonfire,
Head in the sky.

As a child, Bonfire Night meant watching fireworks from a safe distance in the back garden, whilst gamely waving a sparkler in a bemittened hand, before trooping back indoors for baked potatoes, baked beans and bangers (sausages). The last bonfire party I went to as an adult served similar food but rather more sophisticated beverages than steaming mugs of tea for the adults. More aware of the potential for accidents than I ever had been as a child, I hovered near the back door, ready to dash back into the house at the first hint of danger.

When I got ready to leave, it was too late to catch a train so the then Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea gallantly offered to drive me back home. He did not have sat nav in his car as he did not believe in it. He asked if I could read the road map. I do not believe in reading road maps when a car is moving and with only the dim street light to see by. As it was his girlfriend’s car, the Mayor had no idea how to operate the internal light, which meant every now and then we had to pull over and get out of the car to try and read the map. Getting to and then across the Thames was straight forward. South of the river we became lost. He had never driven in  South London, before preferring to drive or be chauffeured around the Royal Borough itself. I was only used to being driven along South London roads in a bus. Consequently, the only routes I knew were bus routes and there were no buses around to guide us in the right direction. Through trial and error we finally found our way to my house, several hours after we had first set out. The poor Mayor then had to drive all the way back to Chelsea to snatch a few hours sleep before attending an official function that morning. It is a great pity he never became Mayor of London. I am sure I could have come up with tales  for the tabloids as fanciful as anything told about Dame Dorothy.