Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fire!

I've loved fire ever since I was a child. Tank battles between toy soldiers weren't quite the same unless some lighter fuel was involved, and I particularly enjoyed turning Jiff lemons into mini flame-throwers. So what better place for a pyromaniac to live than Lewes? Every year the town stages a spectacular procession, in which hundreds of people from different bonfire societies march through the town in bizarre costumes, wielding flaming torches.

It's a wonderful evening, but the Lewes Bonfire Night procession draws too many visitors for the town to cope with and many find it a rather claustrophobic experience. However, two weeks earlier there is another parade, which is a sort of dress rehearsal for the main event. It is not on the same scale as November 5th, but in many ways it's far more enjoyable and is, as the League of Gentlemen would say, a local procession for local people:





There are so many things I enjoy about the Lewes bonfire processions: the noise of the drums, the heat of the flaming torches as they go past, the cavalier attitude towards health and safety, the feeling of anarchy the grips the town, the sound of burning wheelbarrows as they rattle down the hill, the eclectic mixture of costumes and the unpredictable choice of music.

Is it any surprise that the God of Hellfire himself - Arthur Brown - lives in Lewes? Only last year, he managed to set fire to his hair (again) at a local concert. Ideally, I would like to see every procession end with a performance of Fire:

8 comments:

Richard de pesando MA(RCA) said...

I had friends stay over for the Hastings version last week...they went home unnerved and a bit frightened, I don't think they were expecting some of the 'stranger' sights!!!

Kate Lord Brown said...

I remember attending one of these years ago ... it had all of the sound and fury of a proper pagan celebration, unnerving but exhilarating. I seem to remember rolling tar barrels - or is that somewhere else?

Jim Murdoch said...

In my first novel I describe a bookshop as "…a bibliophile’s paradise. And also a pyromaniac’s, come to think of it." Considering how you describe your house and your predilection for igniting combustible materials I should imagine your wife sleeps very lightly nights.

JonathanM said...

Sweet Jesus! Are the people of Lewes raving mad?!

Lucy Fishwife said...

I have a friend who shared an accountant with Arthur Brown - he said it always used to make him laugh to see the series of big serious lever-arch files on the shelf saying "Arthur Brown, Crazy World Of"...

Steerforth said...

Richard, I've had similar experiences with friends, who felt that they'd stumbled into a Wicker Man meets the KKK scenario.

My neighbour had an even worse time. She invited some young black South African lads along to it. They seemed to enjoy the evening until a bonfire society went past with all of its members blackened-up as Zulus. They left shortly afterwards.

Kate, yes, they do roll tar barrels.

Jim, you should see the number of smoke alarms in this house!

Jonathan - you're quite right. They're barking mad, but in a good way.

Lucy, I love the image of the lever-arch file. I wonder how much money he's made?

Kate said...

Back before he went round setting fire to his hair, Arthur Brown was an English teacher at my dad's old school (but apparently not for very long...)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Brilliant photographs! I only once got down to see the spectacle when my distant cousin Margaret-Doreen was alive, but it is indelibly burned on my memory.