The fire which enlightens

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Is that Master Edward in a feather boa? Don't be daft, he'd never be seen dead in fishnets. They're all bloody pie-eyed those Londoners.  Think they're hiding any left-footers? I can smell 'em. 

There was usually a houseful, crammed into a little cottage on the green in Newick in East Sussex.  We always went down for Bonfire Night, bringing duvets, sausages and booze.  The cottage belonged to Edward's parents who lived abroad, and we took full advantage of it.

It wasn't a typical Bonfire night; Sussex has a long and proud history of rebellion and to this day Bonfire Night is a celebration of poking fun at authority, remembering martyrs and expressing anti-Catholic sentiment with vigour.

That wasn't of enormous importance to us in out twenties, though.  We cared much more about the hog roast and the enormous cold-fighting brandies Edward poured that made it possible to stand in the raised front garden and overlook the parade as it passed under our noses.

It was loud and colourful and occasionally sinister.  The village, plus other nearby bonfire societies, turned out in their hundreds, dressed mainly as pirates for some reason.  If you really care, I'm sure it will tell you why here.  They streamed below the fence, with blazing torches and blackened faces, singing rebel songs and chanting.  They dragged behind them iron trollies to carry the spent torches; the sound of  metal wheels cannoning off the stone roads was mediaeval.

Being rather giddy by the time the parade started, we often dressed up in the things we found in the cottage; one year, a girlfriend and I put on in full tropical officer's mess kit and took the salute from paraders.  Another, we set up the ancient gramophone on the lawn and wafted about in kaftans, waving cigarette holders and offering cherry brandy from hip flasks.  Often, we had to reassure any Catholics in our party and persuade them to come out from behind the curtain indoors.

The firework display took place on the green right opposite the garden gate; a closely guarded secret until it was lit, the huge wooden structure lit up satirical pictures.  A priest pushing a baby's pram, the Pope in a variety of vulgar poses, any politician who'd failed to keep his electoral promises and/or his trousers on.  It was mad, wildly insulting to many people and usually very witty indeed.  When the two-story-high bonfire was lit at last and the Guy thrown upon it, the baying was fantastical to hear.  We would usually retreat inside at that point, leaving the village people to dare each other to leap the flames and keep the torches burning.  It would still be smouldering the next day as went across the green for the papers, then carefully carried our hangovers here for the world's best Bloody Mary.

The anodyne, health-and-safety-bonkers display to which we take the bots these days is  a far cry from that pagan excitement. Last year, we had to stand miles away from the fire, no hog roast and no brandy; the fireworks just went off, nobody was pilloried.  I bet all the Catholics felt safe as well.


  1. We still burn witches down our way!

    1. I'm pretty sure we still burn them here too. I've got a couple ready for the next time we sling up the ducking chair.

  2. Ah, your England is the one of myths that we harken after over here.

    Why are you all so intelligent?

    1. I'll give you the myths, definitely. Intelligence? Hmmm.

  3. I think I'd best stay indoors. I may be lapsed but these pyromaniacs won't accept that as an excuse.


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