Guy Fawkes and the Minstermen

November 29, 2019

A Saints fan in York. It’s game day!

There are known knowns when Carol and I travel, and there are known unknowns. There are also, I suppose, unknown knowns, although I’m not precisely sure what such things might be. But my favorite attractions in traveling are the unknown unknowns. Unknown unknowns are what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld identified when explaining why his and Cheney’s Iraq War was not the cakewalk they’d promised it would be. For me, unknown unknowns are the unique and worthwhile experiences a given destination might offer had I taken the time to consult a travel guide before arriving. Sometimes unknown unknowns turn out to be significant, such as arriving at Big Ben in London to find it fully ensconced in scaffolding, or discovering the Winston Churchill’s War Room and Downton Abbey’s real life Highclere Castle sell out well in advance of the day you had planned to attend. Then there are the unknown unknowns that turn out to be completely unexpected, but wholly enjoyable surprises. It’s for these, that I maintain a steadfast reluctance to plan ahead or try to learn anything much about where I’m going until I get there.

Guy Fawkes’s birthplace, now a pub and inn

We’d arrived in York on November 5th, also oblivious to the national celebration known as Guy Fawkes Night that had its origins in York. Also known as The Gunpowder Plot, the celebration that includes fireworks is in memory of the failed attempt to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. Fawkes, born and raised in York, was caught guarding the barrels of explosives in the basement of Westminster Palace. Tortured and scheduled to be hung, drawn and quartered, one account has it that he fell off the scaffold and broke his neck, saving himself from the planned horrors to which his crime had condemned him. His birth home is now a hotel and pub, and there is a walking tour of sites related to Fawkes’s time in the city.

Guy Fawkes’s childhood school. Bet he paid attention in chemistry class.

I’ve never been much for fireworks, though I could immediately see that Carol was. My issue with fireworks is the same as my issue with the beach: both attract crowds that seem to revel in creating snarls of traffic gridlock. With an infinite view of the sky and perhaps thousands of miles of coastline available to them, fireworks and beach people will choose to coagulate at the very same spot and at the very same time to watch brightly colored gunpowder explode, or to simply sunburn while staring blankly at waves rolling in to shore, while their butts fill with sand. I don’t get the attraction to either, and fortunately, the fireworks were clearly visible from our accommodations, and it was too cold to go to an English beach. Carol was happy with the sky show, and therefore, so was I.

About 100 yards or so down from our York accommodations was a venerable old football stadium known as Bootham Crescent. Home to the sixth division York Minstermen, the stadium had been scheduled to be demolished earlier this year. Delays in opening a new stadium in another part of town, plus a win the previous week in an FA Cup match, the Minstermen now would be playing at home instead of away on the following Sunday. All Carol and I had to do now was extend our stay in York an extra couple of days, and we’d be able to scratch another unknown unknown off our list (the first being getting seats to Hamilton in London earlier in our trip).

Man in the middle is “Steve O,” the crowd’s favorite and the most immobile man in football.

We found a place about four doors down on the same street. It was smaller than the apartment we’d been in. I say small, and maybe I’m exaggerating, as long as you don’t characterize having to step out in the hallway to allow your roomie access to the bathroom, and you use your suitcases as steps tools, even though there’s nothing in the room you need to reach up for.

There was no advance ticket sales for the game. You paid cash to a dickensian troll huddled in a metal cage beneath the stands of the wooden stadium. Carol was fascinated to read that men peed against a wall in the men’s room, but it simply was a metal trough like you’d see at, say Wrigley Field.

The weather held mild and sunny, and the only disappointment was our Minstermen lost 1-0 on a lackadaisical showing. But the after game crowds of home fans, caps pulled low over hard gazes cast at the taunting of the winning fans, threatened an outtake from Green Street Hooligans that more than made up for the slow play on the pitch.

Carol, I believe, has come to see that I’m the new unknown unknown in her life.


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