I was called to London to advise on a group of barrels blocking a passageway in the Houses of Parliament. I arrived to find a man with a fine moustache and beard sitting on a pile of barrels in one of the underground cellars of the Houses of Parliament. The conversation proceeded thus:

“Are these your barrels, sir?”

“No, they belong to some friends of mine who are planning to cause an explosion of interest in the next day or two.”

“I should warn you, sir, they are blocking this common passageway and are a hazard to passers-by.”

“They are meant to be a hazard, that’s why they are here.”

“This is a deliberate flaunting of regulation 12-GT-23862e -23221 and so I must issue you with a removal notice forthwith, please have these barrels removed from this location within 24 hours.”

“The plan is for these barrels to be gone this time tomorrow – if you come back in 24 hours the barrels will have gone as will the passageway and the whole building in fact.”

“I will comeback at that time and issue another notice if what you say is untrue. My next question is what do the barrels contain?”


“Do you have an explosives license for the gunpowder?”


“In that case I must issue you with a Failure to Possess Explosives License notice GR8273-yy3372y. How many barrels do you have here?”

“I am not 100% sure – there’s about 36 I think.”

“That exceeds the maximum amount of explosive one person may possess, so I must issue you with a KHJH(72228)-uu666dvkkk notice requiring you to sell 25 of the barrels in the next 7 days or face a penalty for every day thereafter when you still have too much explosive in your possession.”

“Oh damn, but if I cause an explosion with those 25 barrels will that absolve me from that particular law.”

“It would because the gunpowder would no longer be in your possession, but I must warn you that gunpowder can cause powerful explosions and must be used carefully – we wouldn’t want anyone to be injured would we?”

“That would depend on your point of view.”

“If you are intending to cause some injury to a person or persons unknown, I must remind you that this is against statute ESG5422-73vw.”

“Is it really – well I will be careful where I use the gunpowder.”

“And what material are the barrels made of?”

“Wood – I think it’s oak?”

“Under statute 19282-yyedd it is illegal to use oak as a storage vehicle due to the shortage of trees because of the latest blight – here is a notice for you to sign indicating your intention to transfer the contents to leather barrels within 4 days.”

“Do you have a pen?”

“Here you are.”

“Thank you, and there’s the signature.”

“Oh Guy Fawkes, well that’s a nice name – one other thing Mr Fawkes, I see some of the gunpowder has spilled on to the ground from each of the barrels and appears to have left a trail to the doorway. I must warn you that contravenes directive GAVKI-736362 regarding the handling of explosives in a confined space. I must ask you to clean that up in the next hour or I will have to report you to the clerk of the building. This is a hazard – just think one spark could set the whole lot off, especially with the extra tinder that’s lying around. Imagine if that caught fire – there’d be an almighty bang wouldn’t there?”

“There certainly will be – I mean would be yes indeed there would.”

“Now do you have the correct gloves and face mask to handle explosives? Ideally you should wear a nose protector too – can you show me your protective clothing?”

“I don’t really have any other clothes other than the ones I am wearing – is that a problem?”

“Yes, of course, inhaling the powder could damage your lungs and could affect your health.”

“I think that might be the least of my problems – if things don’t go our way we will be hung, drawn, and quartered.”

“Well, if that does happen make sure the hangman is licensed to operate as a hangman in that borough – you could prosecute him if he’s not and he ends up botching the hanging leaving you injured.”

“I think the drawing and quartering will probably close that avenue of prosecution for me.”

“Wait, there should be a window open in here to provide adequate ventilation otherwise there could be a build-up of noxious fumes that could cause a flash fire if someone brings a lit torch in here. Is there a window or another door even that could be opened?”

“There’s not really, I think the barrels are blocking the window to be honest with you.”

“Are they now – well that’s in contravention of the law of ancient lights for internal lighting which states that people shouldn’t block out natural light by placing large objects, in this case 36 barrels of gunpowder, in the way of the light coming in.”

“It’s night time.”

“But these barrels have been here for a few hours, so they were here in the daylight.”

“The state opening is today, so in a few, short hours there will be sunlight flooding through this whole area.”

“Well, I do hope so we wouldn’t want to cause an explosion would we?”

“Not at the wrong time, no, that would be unfortunate.”

“You would be prosecuted under statute TRKHY-382892 failure to control the environment of your explosives.”

“I am not sure who would prosecute me as I would be blown to smithereens.”

“You would be prosecuted in absentia and the fines would increase for every day you failed to come to court.”   

“Is that an hereditary fine, passed down to my next of kin?”

“It is Mr Fawkes – please provide the next of kin just for this eventuality.”

“It would be my mother’s sister – my Aunt Gertrude.”

“Thank you Mr Fawkes, I think that’s everything for now, but I will check back in a week’s time to make sure the changes have been made.”

“I probably won’t be here then.”

Extract from the diary of a Health and Safety Time Executive – HASTE