Lewes Bonfire / Night of Agony
Lewes Bonfire was an extraordinary experience, made even more so this year because of a strange succession of events.
When I dropped into the King’s Head last week to pay my subs, I half-jokingly said to the Chairman of the Southover Bonfire Society that we needed a Southover Bonfire Society Poem.
He was enthusiastic about this idea. So during last week at the Lewes Garret, I tried to write one. It did not come easily. Cycling to and from work I worked out a sort of chorus but the verses would not come.
Travelling between the Leamington Garret and Lewes Garret on Thursday night, I made a great effort to finish it.
I showed the Chairman the revised poem on Badge Night (the evening members of Lewes bonfire societies get accredited to march) on the Friday and he and his co-conspirators were very keen.
He said he would read it the following night after the vicar had spoken outside the War Memorial in front of Southover Church (St John's, Southover).
This came as quite a surprise to me. I’d half-expected my poetic efforts to be discarded.
Lewes Bonfire Night was 4 November - as the town will rightly not celebrate on 5 November when it falls on the Sabbath which it did this year.
It was a perishingly cold night. I put on six layers of shirts and pullovers before traipsing with my Beloved and daughters to the gathering point, the Swan Inn, in Lewes.
I guess Southover Bonfire Society was 300 in strength this year – twice as many as last year when the Society – motto: Advance Southover! - had reformed after an absence of decades.
The reception from Southover folk not marching was excellent. Most house doors were open; people were waving and cheering. Soon we were back at the King’s Head for some sustenance. I recognised Macer Hall from the Daily Express who out his with wife and family.
The next march took us round another part to Southover and back to the Church. I became aware of marchers – children and adults - throwing bangers all over the shop. There is certainly a division of opinion on the banger question within the Society. (Later in the night it got even worse and some people in the procession were getting really cheesed off).
Standing in front of the War Memorial, the Rev. Steve Daughtery – Rector of St. John's, Southover, and a fine and plucky chap – preached passionately against political correctness, lambasting public organisations that play down, re-name or ban Christian festivals. He said later he had found it a 'bizarre' experience. He did extremely well.
A bugler then played the Last Post and the society chairman introduced me to read the new Southover Bonfire Society poem Advance Southover! Advance!
I shouted it out as loudly as I could, standing on the wall, looking from flank to flank of marchers with their flaming crosses.
The moment I finished someone lit the Lest We Forget memorial display behind me and a rocket shot out of it and hit me in the neck.
I was felled from the wall with an ‘Oh, F***’ My neck felt like it was on fire!
It is still sore. The burn will take weeks to heal. It is only a flesh wound, though, and, hey, how 21st Century poets can say they’ve been wounded in action!
Night of Agony (Flashback to Easter Bank Holiday Monday, 17 April 2006
Weythel holiday cottage, Wales. The night was torture. Every now and again I would turn in my sleep, stir and wake in absolute agony, screaming out because the pain was so great. The cocktail of pills and booze had clearly worn off.
I feel now in the morning as if I have gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime. My eyes are black with tiredness. My entire frame aches. How the journeyman must suffer!
What kind of holiday can we have when I have an injury as debilitating as this? Reaching the acme of mountains or yomping across rough terrain is unconscionable for me at the moment. Even moving around this wee dwelling requires gritted teeth. To make matters worse, the weather is fickle, starting bright, now inclement.
Midday. Have walked into the village, over the stream and up and down the bracken hill. The pain was exquisite. If I could have bottled it, it would have fetched top dollar from masochists on eBay! I cannot recollect discomfort like it.
All the same, I enjoyed the walk. After the rain it was wonderfully fresh. The darling buds were out. The air clean, moss flourishing on the north side of tree trunks. We did not meet a soul. The people of Britain are increasingly concentrated in the cities which relentlessly mushroom out annexing the green fields. In 100 years’ time, what remains of the countryside will be empty except for holiday homes and traffic wardens.
I have read Ten Songs from the Collected Poems of W H Auden. It is good, in a camp vein. I have now moved on to Twelve Songs - the ninth of which is Stop All The Clocks of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.