The Siege of Lewes or ‘When Satdi Comes I’d Stay Home if I were you’…

So, fellow Bonfire Boys and Girls. We meet again. And this year, whilst there is still unfinished ‘Oggy Business” to conclude – and you know who you are Eastbourne BS –  I am currently creatively occupied by the proposed ‘Siege of Lewes’.  Or what some of us prefer to think of as ‘A Bit Of A Lock-in’ since that suggests grand larks and shenanigans rather than the sort of besiegement that involves the need to eat cats and tolerate being picked off by snipers. Not that there hasn’t been sniping. As will become evident.

Why, you might ask, is this ‘Siege of Lewes’ shizzle even on the cards? Isn’t Lewes always a bit of a challenge to get around on the 5th November? Aren’t there always too many Simpering Fools with selfie sticks leaping into the path of the processions so that they might capture their final act of foolishness on Instagram? Well yes. All that. But this year there’s more.

It’s a SATURDAY for starters. Never the best day for the 5th November to fall upon because a Saturday encourages ridiculously large crowds. Many many thousands more people fetch up than on a weekday Bonfire Night. This multitude add nothing to the event. They certainly add nothing to the smooth running of the evening since there’s nothing helpful about throngs of confused onlookers who remain baffled by the whole evening and can’t understand why the evening that appear to contain such promise and wonder actually consists of getting trampled on as they crane to get a sight of the proceedings. Why, they wonder, has nobody arranged Priority Seating? Or online booking? Or a trolley service of organic sushi? Or moved the whole shebang indoors once the rain set in?2005-2This year there’s the added bonus of a train strike. And yes, it is a bonus. Because for what seems like forever, the Bonfire Societies have objected – obviously to zero effect – to the train companies advertising Lewes Bonfire Night across their networks and beyond.  ‘Come to Lewes – it’s not to be Missed!’ their posters insisted. And to make sure nobody missed their chance, the train company laid on extra trains. Loads of extra trains. And once Bonfire Night appeared to have vanished into an enveloping darkness that the visitor wasn’t party to, the queues to catch these trains stretched half-way back up to London.

But that was then. Nowadays the rail network is operated by Southern Rail. Or SASTA (Southern Are Sorry To Announce) or Southern Fail or any number of other names designed to describe the shockingly incompetent piss-poor excuse for a train service that this shambolic bunch of fuckwits, jokers and charlatans pretend to operate. Given their track record with trains (and yes, that is a dreadful play on words) it is no surprise that the relationship with their staff leaves a great deal to be desired too. Hence the train strike on the 5th November which is a series of similar actions called by the RMT over the past few months. The main effect being, somewhat bizarrely, that the trains have often been more reliable on strike days. Even more bizarrely, the Government have allowed Southern to keep their franchise which suggests that this is an attempt to break the unions while using fare paying passengers as pawns in their game.

Lewes, County Town of Sussex. Vintage BR Travel poster by Terenc

Lewes – don’t bother to try and go there by train

But less of the politics and more of the Bonfire…because as soon as the latest round of train strikes were announced there was anguished reporting about the awfulness of no trains on the 5th November. BBC South East sent a series of shivering reporters to stand outside deserted stations to ‘Go Live’ for the late night news. From these reports we learned that ‘organisers had been spoken to’ and they were ‘very concerned’. Allegedly.

Which is odd considering how cheerfully the announcement was received by most of the people who could truthfully be described as ‘the organisers’. If Bonfire had organisers of course.

As Bonfire Night approaches, further details about the strike and access to the town have emerged. There will be the usual road closures and access to the town will, as always, be very limited. This year the tunnel will also be closed and the road closures will operate from 5pm until 1am. No trains will stop at Lewes from 12 noon on the 5th. This, in a nutshell, is what constitutes the so-called Siege of Lewes. Bring it on, I say and I am not alone. Although I would qualify my approval with the hope that everyone directly involved in Bonfire is able to get into town to enjoy what could be a very fine night.

However, given the potential that the Siege of Lewes presents, I’ve been a tad dismayed to discover A Disgruntled Bonfire Minority who appear to measure the success of the 5th in Lewes by the number of spectators in attendance. Thus the town will be ‘dead’ without incoming crowds of 50,000 and the subsequent atmosphere so dull that it will hardly be worth bothering to drag oneself over to the form up point since all that’s on offer is a night of boring old processing around the tumbleweed-strewn deserted streets of Lewes.

This is the Lewes that has been unhelpfully labelled the ‘Bonfire Capital of the World’ apparently. A description of the town which does nothing to discourage the desirability of the 5th or anything to encourage any understanding of it. Instead, it suggests a place to tick off on a bucket list of destinations. Lewes coming after Las Vegas but before Madrid. Whereas actually, on the 5th November, it should come top of the list called ‘Places I Live Nowhere Near and Need Not Clutter My Head With Any Knowledge Of Today’.

All this ‘Bonfire Capital’ malarkey goes hand in hand with the mistaken assumption that this year’s 5th will be fatally flawed by a diminution in spectator numbers and that, as ‘Bonfire Capital of the World’ we must prove ourselves worthy of that title and show ourselves off to all comers.  All sentiments that I’ve seen expressed this week. And all misplaced. Because we have nothing to prove and we are not some sort of sideshow for the world to wonder at either. For sure, let us never accept the dangerous principle that A Bigger Bonfire Night Has to Be A Better Bonfire Night.

I remember the words of the legendary and late lamented Keith Austin at a public meeting of Lewes Town Council back in the early 1990s. They had made epic fools of themselves by attempting to hold secret meetings with other authorities in order to manage Bonfire Night without the involvement of the Bonfire Societies. Uproar ensued but the Bonfire case was put in a reasoned manner. Until some foolish councillor suggested that if we didn’t pipe down, the Council might not grant the necessary Road Closure Orders for the 5th. Keith was unmoved “Go on then” he said “You do what you want. But you wont stop us. We’ll walk anyway because we can. Because we do Bonfire for us. Not for you and not for anyone else.”  Words that are as true today as they were then. We do it for us. Spectators are fortunate if they get to see what we do. They don’t have a right to be there and even if the train strike and road closures prevented every single visitor from getting into Lewes we’d still walk. Because we can.

So we should embrace the ‘Siege of Lewes’ as the opportunity to spend Saturday 5th November celebrating the Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in the traditional, incomparable and glorious manner that is ours alone.

But with the serious stuff dealt with,  let me direct you towards some splendid, rib-tickling pre-Bonfire entertainment. Click on the image below to visit the Facebook page recently described as “What happens when an Entire Town goes trolling”…

(Note: Opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of any organisation I may be involved with.


Watch The Wall My Darling While the Tabs Go By…


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As Rudyard Kipling didn’t say on the morning of the 5th in Lewes when the various Bonfire Society tableaux were trundled to their various destinations. Or in the case of at least one, temporarily left in the bus station to ponder, thoughtfully on its fate while an army of snappers and tweeters rushed to reveal what was once the Best Kept Bonfire Secret. Because Once Upon A Time, the very idea that the subject of the tableaux would be shared beyond a select few In The Know, was unheard of. Programmes would reveal the tab title but this was always pleasantly cryptic and allowed much pondering but no certainty until The Great Reveal. Which to many of us was the moment that the tab was moved into its place in the procession on the night of the 5th. A moment well worth waiting for and made all the better by the waiting. Delayed gratification being a great trick if you can do it.
Unfortunately, tableaux gratification is rarely delayed nowadays and this can be blamed on several factors. Ignorance and Social Media being the prime suspects.

Because not so many years ago – in 2009 as it happens – it was perfectly possible to take a Gigantic Astronaut waving the Stars & Stripes for a walk through Lewes on the morning of the 5th without attracting any great attention. And certainly not the sort of attention that would see its creators receiving death threats before teatime.

This latter situation occurring in 2014 when some cockjuggler at East Sussex County Council decided to misuse their access to the council’s Twitter feed to post a quickly snapped shot of an effigy of the then Leader of the Scottish National Party that was slowly making its way up the town. The media furore that followed this act of crass stupidity was quite epic. Suffice to say, the Leader of the SNP did meet his fiery fate but not on the 5th November. Because, as nobody ever needs reminding, Being Druv is not something up with which we’ll ever put. Regardless of how much the media would like to think we can be influenced differently.

And of the media, their assumption that we might have any need for them presumably goes to explain why, every year since the Beginning of Time, editorial instructions have been handed down to the spotty-faced, fresh out of Journalism Skool trainee to ring all the bonfire societies to ask the traditional question “Who Are You Burning, This Year?”. To which they get the traditional answer which isn’t “Gosh, thanks for being so interested! We’d love you to come down to the tab shed every Wednesday for the next couple of months so you can report progress in your paper”. No. That definitely isn’t the answer. It’s usually much more succinct and concludes in “Off”.

Unfortunately, what passes for much of the media nowadays is something politely called “Citizen Journalism”. The more realistic description being “Any Fuckwit With A Phone Camera’ and sadly every fuckwit has a phone camera nowadays. And a Facebook/Twitter account. So when they aren’t posting Minion quotes or clicking on dodgy videos they are ready – with a positively incontinent keenness – to answer the call to “Share Your Lewes Bonfire Pictures”. Thus an early morning sight of a bonfire tableau going about its business is going to send these Intrepid but Desperately Amateur Reporters into a state of orgasmic snappery.  And, fellow Bonfire Boys & Girls, there’s not much that can be done about it since we aren’t about to return to the old-fashioned state of affairs that would have seen any picture taken on the 5th November in Lewes not being ready for collection at Boots until some time after Robertsbridge. Neither are we about to see the demise of social media any time soon. In fact, I’d postulate that Facebook would certainly survive the Zombie Apocalypse given the cognitive abilities of so many of its current users.

Which is what brings me to the issue of Ignorance. Because sadly, people are ignorant of how things are done. They might be paying their bonfire society subs but they don’t know how to behave. In some cases, their leadership doesn’t know how to behave either so for sure, if they can’t clutter their heads with an understanding of Bonfire how the hell can their members? Nonetheless, I would still suggest that there is complete intolerance of any so-called Bonfire Boy or Girl who reveals the tableau before its Due Time by posting pictures of it anywhere. They should be shamed. Publicly.

But that said, to return to this over-sharing of tableaux, what is to be done? Because they have to be transported through the town ready for the night and they can’t travel in kit form like some sort of flat-packed but explosive IKEA bookcase. It’s also completely unrealistic, in Kipling’s words to expect the populace to “turn your heads” as the tabs go by. I think we have to accept those things over which we have no control but strive to promote the delights of waiting for that Great Tab Reveal moment. All good things really are worth anticipating. In the meantime, perhaps there’s a greater role for tarpaulin too.lewes2015-206PS. The Cliffe’s Tab Captain was rather pleased to learn that this sight of his team’s splendid representation of the unspeakable Sepp Blatter (pictured above) actually made me sick. Clearly, when faced with such a realistic encounter it was more than a person’s stomach could tolerate.  I wasn’t quite so delighted since this unexpected reaction put an end to my 5th at the desperately early hour of 9pm. But I made up for things at Battle where I bonfired Like There Was No Tomorrow!

Blessed Are Those That Knoweth A Tradition When They Seeith It


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This morning saw me up before what passed for a very murky Dawn. Into Lewes I needed to get in order to commune with a Posse of Archbishops and Clergy. Not because I feared for my Immortal Soul but because I did fear the wrath of My Chairman if I had to confess that I’d been idling away at home dreaming of tomorrow’s delights rather than photographing this morning’s splendid doings. This morning’s event being the epitome of how Lewes Bonfire Traditions are created. In other words, we’ve done it once, liked it and shall now insist on doing it until time immemorial. Because it has become Traditional.bishops2015-50I refer, on this occasion, to the Bishops’ Breakfast. An event introduced last year by the Archbishop of South Street Bonfire Society who invited the Archbishops and Clergy from all the Lewes Bonfire Societies to a ‘Degustatory Synod’ (that’s how we speak down in South Street) at our HQ, The Snowdrop Inn. This United Degustation was so enjoyed that the participants determined that it was now a tradition that must continue. To ensure its continuance, Commercial Square immediately offered their HQ, the Elephant & Castle as the venue for the 2015 Breakfast which would also be held on the 4th November.

That day having dawned (murkily as mentioned earlier) I joined our Archbishop & Clergy on the Cliffe Bridge where we admired the Cliffe boys erecting their banners. (this isn’t an innuendo, by the way) before a spot of posing for my camera then a head off Up The Town. As is always wonderful in Lewes, the appearance of 3 gloriously attired clergymen evinced precisely no interest from passers-by. Save for one enthusiastic soul who wound his car window down to shout, cheerily  “Burn The Pope” as we steamed, breathlessly up School Hill.

Having been warmly welcomed by Commercial’s Archbishop, the port was passed and pictures were taken. As has also become traditional, the relevant Society photographer stages a nice little tableau-vivant – I did the Last Supper in 2014 – and this year the Archbishops were invited to replicate that well known picture of Guido Fawkes and his co-conspirators.
bishops2015-58The Bishops’ Breakfast is a fine occasion. It unites the Societies and it is also OURS (I use that word in a collective context). It is not inclusive beyond Bonfire and is not for being understood or for being explained. It is simply for being done. Which very much sums up the Best of Bonfire.

Inexplicability is at the heart of many of our traditions and this makes them all the finer a tradition. Of course we do certain things for very clear reasons – Celebrating The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and remembering those Lewes Martyrs who gave their lives for our freedom to worship (or not) as we chose. But just as we aren’t prepared to Be Druv, we aren’t always prepared to explain either.

My morning was rounded up by rounding up the Archbishops and Clergy on the pedestrian crossing by the Elephant & Castle. Because what’s a photographer to do but replicate another famous image when you have such perfect ingredients?
If anyone wants to see the full series of pictures from this morning, they are here on my picture site.

I shall now be going missing For The Duration as I’m decamping to Lewes. Tomorrow I shall wake up to the best sound in the world – the traditional maroon that stirs the hearts and lifts the spirits of every Bonfire Boy and Girl because it signals that the Glorious, Wonderful Fifth has dawned. I hope you all have a safe and splendid time. I can be found thirstily engaged “Down The South Street End of Town’ should you wish to offer refreshments.

(Readers may note that this is a somewhat lyrical little entry. This is merely a brief break in tradition. I already have a couple of little topics that need attention. Starting with whichever buffoon in the media thought that an article entitled “The 6 Craziest things they do in Lewes on Bonfire Night”  would ever be worthy of anything beyond arse wiping. And not very efficient arse wiping at that.)

The Bonfire Burns a Little Less Brightly Now – Farewell Dear Friend.


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Awoken this morning to the very sad news that a dear chum and fellow Bonfire Boy, Peter Donaldson had died. A long-standing and hard working member of South Street Bonfire Society and an enthusiastic supporter of Firle, he’ll be tremendously missed by everyone whose lives he touched.

As the ‘quintessential voice of Radio 4’ he’ll be remembered by many. But some of us remember the less public side of him.  Always a kind friend, always ready with a quick-witted comment, always with a smile on his face and usually with a pint in his hand! Of course he’s irreplaceable because men like Peter are a one-off.  Bonfire has lost one of its true characters today and our bonfire will burn just a little less brightly at South Street. Tonight we dedicate our Badge Night to him and the Captain of Ordnance will ensure appropriate tribute is paid.
So farewell, dear friend. Until we meet again in The Hereafter – which some of us are convinced is a fine hostelry where Another Pint is always being poured and Time Is Never Called. So we’ll see you in the Front Bar, Peter….

Bonfire On Tour – Oh do fork off….


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If a Brief History of Bonfire dissuades yet another bunch of DFLs from coming UFB for the night in order that they can “See the Pagan Fire Festival and Watch Them Burn Catholics” then I’m all for it. Perhaps we shall be saved from the sight of yet another group of uninformed Cackbadgerati armed with selfie-sticks and poncy little ‘Film Me and My Screeching Hipster Chums Getting In The Way of The Parade and Broadcast us LIVE” apps. Perhaps they might just stay home and drink craft beer instead.

But when I say ‘Brief’ history, that’s what I mean. Some historical perspective and perhaps a nice flask of tea down at The Priory Ruins after a gentle stroll around the town. In the daylight. And anywhen anyone fancies this sort of thing. Provided it isn’t after dark on the 5th November. Like right in the middle of Bonfire Night.  As currently being advertised Elsewhere On The Internet where punters are being encouraged to sign up for “A Torchlit Tour of Bonfire Night”.

Because this sort of unnecessary interactive tourist experience is not a bit of history that might usefully clutter the heads of the UFBs but instead, is something likely to end in confusion and being shouted at by marshals. Only I don’t see how any group of Bonfire Tourists – dressed in the sort of costume that has yet to be adopted into the ranks of any bonfire society since nobody has got desperate enough to replace glorious, traditional bonfire fancy dress with a nice, sensible, Lands End fleece and anorak – is going to wander around the town bearing a flaming torch without someone trying to take it off them. There’s only one Torchlit Tour of Lewes occurring on the 5th November and we’re not taking bookings for ours.

pitchforkThe more I think about this latest Fresh Hell, the more the idea of the “Blazing Pitchfork’ appeals. Even better, several hundred Blazing Pitchforks all of them wielded by a crack team of Bonfire Boys all specially selected and all with the customer service skills of Malcolm Williams (a reference that some of you will understand). Suffice to say, nobody would hang around to complain that they might not have had their fiver’s worth of ‘interactivity’ (or indeed anything else since they would be consumed by the desperate hope that they might get back to Platform 4 alive and in some control of their bowels) when faced with the massed Pitchforky ranks of the Bonfire Evacuation Squad.

All sorts of nuisances could be efficiently swept out of town by the Bonfire Evacuation Squad – motto “FORK RIGHT OFF” – who would immediately come to the aid of anyone who might have lost their sense of direction and found themselves in the Wrong Place at Entirely the Wrong Time. Like Lewes on the 5th November….

But of senses of direction, it would appear that some folk are already A Little Lost. Perhaps the fog was so thick the other night that wrong turnings were taken? But just so there’s no further confusion, let’s consider boundaries for a moment. Only they exist for a reason. As does ‘territory’. None of it is delineated by late-night, pointy-hatted lurking around.  Especially when the boundary in question isn’t that of the pointy-hatted to lurk around on in the first place.  Hence dead of night visitations. So Know Thine Own Place and, with respect, fork off back there. Maps can be supplied.

And You can Stick Your Glow-sticks where the Glow Don’t Shine too…


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A bit of a continuation from yesterday’s theme here but how cheering to see that Littlehampton Bonfire Society plan to give unauthorised street traders the bum’s rush. This is an admirable stand that could do to be copied by all Sussex Bonfire societies.
Screenshot 2015-10-29 13.19.54
What is it about Bonfire that makes these chancers think they’ve got automatic and free entry? In my (occasional) role as Press Officer for a small, rural bonfire society, I’ve had a series of (usually spectacularly illiterate) emails over the years telling me that some pedlar of unwanted novelties is going to be “at ur parade” at which they will sell Pound Shop products at Fortnum & Mason’s prices. I then ask them what percentage of their takings they will be giving to the bonfire society. If they respond at all, it is in a manner that suggests I’ve asked them to sell their own grandmothers rather than make a modest contribution to the organisation that has made their activities possible in the first place.

Truthfully, I care little that they take umbrage and sod off. Because I don’t want them there in the first place. Bonfire has managed to survive for hundreds of years with the only “Glow In The Dark” necessary being provided by the fiery torches held high by the Bonfire Boys & Girls.
hastings2015-174So good on you, Littlehampton. I hope you have a fabulous night on Saturday. For sure, it’ll be all the better without unauthorised street traders taking advantage of your bonfire night and I reckon you’ve set a fine example.

PS. Of events on Saturday, I’ll be Up North spooking the locals. So you’ll have a little rest from these ramblings. But I’ll be back very soon. I’m not prepared to miss a moment of the Best Week of the Year in Lewes!

Roll Up, Roll Up! – Bonfire For Sale!


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Having had my attention drawn to several seasonal merchandising ‘opportunities’ this year, I’ve pondered on just what (as referred to thus on the wireless) a ‘Bonfire Gift’ might be and I’m visualising a brightly coloured, tiny little box that contains a self-inflating Bonfire procession – with optional papal effigy. But I may be wrong…

Instead, I rather suspect that a ‘Bonfire Gift’ is some sort of ‘Jump On The Bandwagon’, type souvenir that does nothing to enhance the enjoyment of Bonfire but everything to empty your wallet. The sort of ‘Happy Holiday‘ object that is created to ensure that virtually no day on the calendar can go without being observed by money changing hands. That’s your money, that is and their hands.

It’s important, at this point, to draw a very clear line between this type of blatant commercialism and ‘Bonfire Essentials’ or Bonfire Promotionals. Because everyone needs Bonfire Essentials. Which is why we’re lucky enough to have some very talented people in and around Lewes who can supply them.  Leatherwork, hip flasks, costumes and accessories, both new and second-hand and all readily available. As is the range of items that come broadly under the heading of ‘promotionals’ which are produced by the respective Bonfire Societies and sold to members to raise funds.

I also bet I don’t come from the only Bonfire family whose members (and friends) make sure everyone is well equipped with home-made refreshments and ‘firewaters’ for the hip flasks – Bonfire Essentials at their best. I’ve also been involved in the design and production of various subversive (or just plain mystifying) limited edition bonfire badges. Indeed, I don’t have left and right jacket lapels, I just have Tolerant and Intolerant sides.

No, it is not ‘essentials’ of which I speak. It is, firstly, randomly and badly produced ‘themed’ ‘Bonfire Gift’ shyte like this that I am taking issue with.
keep_calm_by_focusing_on_bonfires_mug-r02c9b5b14ce847279cd5416f1a2744c4_x7jsm_8byvr_324Only what part of the ‘Bonfires’ do the producers of this abomination intend we should focus on? The top of it, perhaps? Where they can be espied, jostling for position amongst the other ‘Cockjugglers of Bonfire’? (Note that I refer to them thus because I don’t actually think they deserve the more esteemed rank of ‘Enemy’.)It’s bad enough that anyone is still peddling this Calm Down Crap – so last decade – but at the very least you could start by producing something that made any sense at all and at the same time, you could space the text properly. Like you could have ‘focussed’ on the design niceties perhaps? But trust me, this mug is not any sort of ‘calming’ influence and quite frankly, you’d have to be a mug to want it.

I now move onto the more sensitive topic of ‘Speaking For Everyone’ in the interests of making a few bob for yourself. Into this category I put the sort of ‘Yourselves’ that come up with a wizzo idea to bang out a whole series of generic bonfire products, some of which might appear in the colours of all the societies that Yourself isn’t a member of. Societies which aren’t going to be benefitting from any of the proceeds either and all of the products to be sold by the ‘Bawl Out Your Wares’ method without the benefit of a trading licence.
This type of ‘Bonfire for Sale’ caper is a remarkably quick way to get up Bonfire noses especially since there are sound reasons why the different Bonfire Societies in town wish to retain their individuality. There’s actually no such corporate identity as “Lewes Bonfire” and whilst it might seem like a perfectly grand idea to brand Lewes as the alleged ‘Bonfire Capital of the World’ quite honestly, it’s just another silly catchphrase. The sort of banal, lazy slogan which might go down well with anyone straight off the 18.47 from Victoria or tourists who can’t bear to go home without some sort of Replica Kit but does no more than advertise what most of us don’t want advertised in the first place.

Selling Bonfire is not so much a cunning piece of entrepreneurialism but much more a half-baked scheme that could easily sell us down the river. How gleefully the authorities would rub their hands if they were ever to discover that, by default, we’d happily adopted a single identity. No longer would our strength come through the unity of the individual societies, instead, we’d have turned into one giant Turkey that had just volunteered for kitchen duties on Christmas Day.

Mind you, I’m still thinking there must be a market for a Blow-up Bonfire In A Box.

Bonfire Rules! – Because it’s not about Rules it’s about Traditions.


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No, this little essay isn’t about rules. Let alone any alleged ‘Rules of Bonfire’. Because the day that we stop respecting tradition and replace it with some sort of grim rulebook is the day that I’ll open a humourless emporium somewhere Down The Town where I’ll sell hand-woven kale and quinoa sandwiches on vintage plates at only £6.99 a pop. Provided I can grow a hipster beard first…
rulesIt has come to my notice that some readers assume that I write from a place of Utter Negativity. Also, that some of us Dedicated Bonfire Practitioners want to impose a set of unwanted rules on Boys & Girls Who Just Wanna Have Fun and thus suck the joy out of the whole event.

This, with respect, is bollocks. Really it is. Because one of the many joys of Bonfire is the lack of A Rulebook. The sort of Comprehensive Rulebook that is hand-painted on vellum and stored in the Bowels of the Town Hall. From where such pertinent queries as “Can I wear a Captain Sparrow costume to torchmaking?” are ruled upon by the Ancient & Venerable Keepers of The Bonfire Rules. All of whom are direct descendants of Oliver Cromwell or Banana Bill Penfold.

And why is there no such rulebook? Well, for starters, it’d be fairly contradictory if a way of life (Bonfire is far more than a mere activity) which has, at its very heart, the principle that “We Wun’t Be Druv” was ever prepared to be ruled by rules. But also, because over hundreds of years, Bonfire has become infused with traditions that signpost the way that certain things are done. Sure, Bonfire Societies do have rule books – most of them concerned with the administration of the Society and covering matters such as motions to AGMs or the constitution of the committee – but tradition reaches the parts where no rulebook can ever reach. Because, as an example, it’s tradition that determines who goes where and why. Or why they don’t. Traditions, of course, never having to be hundreds of years old. Sometimes it’s just enough to do a thing once. But the important thing is to be aware that traditions exist for a reason and quite often that reason is entirely compatible with the survival of Bonfire.

It’s not negativity that makes me value tradition. It’s because I want Bonfire to remain Bonfire. I don’t want it replaced with some sort of municipal ‘Novemberfest’ with one jolly but heavily policed, LED-torchlit parade down to The Paddock where a small bundle of kindling will be lit while we chant The Carnival Prayers (first verse only) before concluding proceedings shortly before twilight with a feast of toasted kale and quinoa sandwiches. Because actually, that’s the sort of thing that happens when people start thinking that that they Know Better than to clutter their heads with the need to respect tradition.

Sometimes, when something is really significant, it’s about a whole lot more than just having fun and really, you shouldn’t need a rulebook to work that out either.

‘Oggy, Oggy, Oggy’ – Out! Out! Out!


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I’ll be blunt here. Anyone who chants this inane drivel in a bonfire procession needs to report to their Firesite Captain and ask if they could be placed atop the blaze. If this cannot be arranged then the least they can do is remove themselves immediately from the procession, return home, give their bonfire costumes to someone more deserving and in future, use these dark bonfiery nights as an opportunity to stay home and do A Nice Jigsaw. Or some other pursuit coming under the heading of ‘Playing With Themselves’.
This may sound harsh. It is intended to be. Because this creeping ‘Oggification’ simply shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s isn’t ‘A Bit of Fun’, it isn’t ‘Entertaining The Crowds’ (a topic I have already visited), it is making utter buffoons of yourselves and, by association, the rest of us.

Consider, for a minute, why we so dislike so much of the media coverage about Bonfire. Most of it is lazy, sensationalist reporting that appears to have been composed by copying and pasting every cheap reference in the Thesaurus of Tabloid Journalism.  The result being that our celebrations are so often painted as a carnival. Starting with the ‘parades’ that we don’t have.

This media ‘carnivalisation’ is, of course, enhanced no end by people in striped jumpers shouting nonsenses and bouncing around like they were celebrating a low-budget version of Mardi Gras. ‘Oggy, Oggy, Oggy!” they gibber. “Oi, oi’, oi!”, seemingly unaware that they are advertising Cornish pasties as well as their ignorance of bonfire.

There have always been ‘Little Pockets of Oggy’ that have emerged from time to time. But little pockets is all they were and could be dealt with by an offended sniff (I can do this). However, at Hastings Bonfire Night recently I was quite horrified to see an entire bonfire society oggying away like utter fools. Worse, they were directly behind and the colours of their stripes looked alarmingly like ours under the hideous street lighting that rather blights urban bonfire processions.

My attention was drawn, today, to a proclamation ‘elsewhere on the internet’ that a particular bonfire society has banned their members from engaging in this awful practice. I doubt the veracity of this claim since I suspect there’s an element of self-promotion at work. However, it would be a dreadful state of affairs if Official Words ever had to be said about something so self-evidently inappropriate. Bonfire People should Know These Things!

So, where has this creeping infection of ‘Oggy’ come from? I fear (and I say this carefully since I am not unknown on the percussive front) that as well as a basic lack of understanding, the very constitution of contemporary processions may be a significant factor. Back in the Days, we had the sort of traditional bands and marching music that stirred the feet but kept the traps shut. To come down School Hill to a full-on rendition of “Sussex By The Sea” was so wonderful that it was almost unbearably joyful! Likewise, thundering up the town to ‘Blaze Away’. Memories that money can’t buy, these are.

But there aren’t the number of traditional marching bands nowadays and those that are around aren’t necessarily keen on Bonfire. Which is why the job of the Captain of Bands gets ever more difficult. A procession without bands is no sort of procession at all. And in the absence of bands, there’s now drummers. Sussex having more drummers, I would respectfully suggest, that any single county probably needs.  I say this even though I am a drummer. I’d also say that there are some absolutely terrific drum bands out there who I am always happy to see at Bonfires.

However, what happens when you almost entirely replace marching bands with drum groups is that you get a whole different sort of ambience to a procession. Especially when you’ve got a whole lot of samba in your ranks. Because samba gets the feet dancing and involves whistly, shouty, waving shaky things around sort of percussion. From which it is quite easy for the Cornish Pasty Purveyors to assume that all this lively Brazilian-style malarkey is merely an overture for their Silly Symphony.

You can’t turn back time so far as bands are concerned, though. Nor is this an anti-drummer rant. It is a comment on Sheer Bloody Ignorance! Only it’s pointless to start talking about getting rid of drummers (and let’s not forget that ‘Out East’ bonfires have had drummers since time immemorial and I defy anyone to say that Battel Bonfire Night is anything other than traditionally and terrifically atmospheric!) when what you actually need is to get rid of inappropriate gibbering in the walking ranks. And the cluelessness that goes with it.

In conclusion, I put it to you, dear readers, that, beyond The Bonfire Prayers and that traditional exchange which starts “What Shall We Do With Him?” there are no ‘bonfire chants’ and no need for any. The sheer, glorious, authentic sound of Bonfire is surely music enough to our ears? And no, we’re not here to entertain and we’re certainly not here to sell Cornish Pasties. Although I am a tad peckish right now…

But Will I Like it? or Hold On A Moment and I’ll check my Crystal Balls …


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A lot of yesterday was spent answering questions about Firle Bonfire Night. I expect this. It goes with the job of Doing The Social Media stuff. Many of the questions are eminently sensible – despite the fact that the information they require has already been provided and is but a quick link away. Other questions are downright barmy.
Top of yesterday’s list in this respect was when I was asked “But Will I Like It?”. To which there is no sensible reply since I am not clairvoyant. Personally I can’t see what’s not to like about an evening of torches, processions, fire and a top-notch fireworks display. Even one that may contain rain and will definitely involve mud. But then perhaps I am biased.

I mean, what’s not to like about this? (Firle fireworks 24 October 2015)12188138_10156286764720121_3266367382803145052_o

However, I am increasingly bothered about this Sense of Adventure Failure that seems to have infected so many lives nowadays. How can you know whether you’ll like anything unless you give it a go? And what’s the worst that can happen if you go to a village bonfire night and take agin’ it? You go home. You can then put the kettle and your slippers on (taking care not to confuse the two) and grizzle cheerfully about the ‘wrongness’ of everything you were presented with.

There’s plenty of options to go for – too hot, too fiery, too muddy, not enough Glow In The Dark Men, wrong sort of Burgers and, best of all (and this was a real complaint I received a couple of years ago) that the aerial fireworks were too noisy. My complainant assuring me that this cacophonous intrusion into the night sky was entirely unnecessary since surely fireworks didn’t need to head upwards with such a ‘whoosh’. let alone conclude with an unpleasant bang. I didn’t bother to argue. How can you argue with someone so deluded and so lacking in knowledge of How Explosive Things Work?  So I said I’d pass her complaint on to the Captain of Fireworks. He took it as seriously as I had. I offer all this up merely as evidence that Not Liking Something isn’t the worst thing in the world. It can provide all sorts of people with all sorts of entertainment.

Now admittedly, some things are dislikable. I can think of quite a few.  But I’ll restrict myself to Croatian tea (abominable excuse for this fine beverage), shopping as a leisure activity and Ladies’ Nights. This latter being the sort of malarkey up with which I will not put. Not least because if I ever wanted to spend an evening in an ill-lit room while an oiled gentleman prowled about waving his inadequately encased genitals in my direction then I’d draw up a shortlist and do the interviewing myself. Not pay someone £25 for the privilege of watching a scabrous youth with a spotty bottom and Shoe Zone footwear pretend that he is some sort of Sex God. Pshaw! Sex Pest more like.

Importantly, though, while I may dislike these things, I have experienced them so I am drawing my conclusions from an informed place. If you have never been to a bonfire celebration then there’s no point in asking the person stuck in front of the official Bonfire Society Facebook page whether you will like it. They don’t know. And truly, it won’t break anyone’s heart if you decide Bonfire isn’t your cup of Croatian tea either. You’ll just leave more room for the aficionados who won’t have their view excluded by someone whinging about getting their Louboutins muddy. Or their £300 coat singed by a stray ember.

Although while we are tackling social media (and I warn readers that this may not be the first and only time we discuss this topic) it would really help if people realised that there isn’t going to be any sort of Live Feed provided during a Bonfire Night. Oddly enough, the participants and organisers are right in the middle of the action once the evening kicks off. We aren’t kicking our muddy heels bewailing the fact that nobody wants to know whether there are any cheeseburgers left. Or whether it’s worth going to the lavatory right now or should they wait until after the fire is lit. Or whether it might rain again in half an hour.

Honestly, people, we are out there experiencing the event in real life. I strongly recommend you do similarly. Or at least get yourselves home and settled round the home fires with the laptop so you can compose the sort of complaint that guarantees the rest of us amusement for years to come. Now that’s what I call real post-Bonfire entertainment!