Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lewes Bonfire

All across the country November 5th is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, but nobody parties quite like the folks of Lewes in East Sussex. So with friends Alan and Niki Living on Lewes high street it was time for Loz, Neil and myself to take a jangle and party on down along with the other seventy thousand revellers.

Now I'm going to be honest with you here, we cheated a little and drove down in the car. Call us lightweights you may but think on this; stock piling your motorcycle with beer, sausages and bacon, the tonnage of which probably equalling that of a steam engine is simply never going to happen when equipt with only a top box....... No the car was the way forward, especially as Neil and I could drink some beer whilst Loz was doing the gentlemanly duty of driving. Sat in the back of the car next to the beer supplies, offering Neil another beer led Loz to respond with something I shall not repeat but it ended in "off".

It's fair to say there's absolutely no chance of finding somewhere to stop in Lewes on bonfire night so Loz did some research and found an absolutely tremendous campsite about 7 miles out of town. Blackberry Wood is set in woodland and has private clearings for pitching your tents. Every clearing has a fire pit and the campsite has basic but very clean toilets and showers. We opted to use the outdoor showers which were basically garden sheds without a roof. Taking an outdoor shower this time of year is a bit on the chilly side but definitely invigorating.



We arrived around 5 o'clock on Sunday evening and after showing us to the campsite Alan very kindly got a campfire on the go whilst we pitched our tents. A few beers later we headed into town (for some more beer... obviously) where fire crackers and enormously loud bangers (known as rookies) were being lobbed like confetti all night long. Escaping the noise for a couple of hours we decided to pay the Shanaz Indian Restaurant a visit which dished up the best chicken madras with egg fried rice I'd eaten in a long time.


The whole town is littered with debris from the fire crackers.

After heading back to the tent around midnight it was time to light another fire, drink some more alcohol and discover that a mouse had eaten a huge hole in Neil's tent to get at our loaf of bread. Neil, slightly miffed with the little blighter immediately changed into combat survival mode, dousing the surrounding area of his tent with meths to confuse the scent of the mouse and arming himself with an aerosol of deodorant ready to open fire at a seconds notice. Of course Loz and I were deeply concerned over Neil's welfare and didn't find any of it in the least bit funny.


One large mouse hole.

The following morning it was time to light another fire and start cooking a serious full English breakfast. Loz decided a drop of rum in his cup of tea was the "breakfast of champions". It would be nice to say that all three of us did our share of the cooking but this wasn't the case. Neil managed, and with some success I'd like to add, to all of a sudden receive several long winded phone calls from work. It was a smart move but we had him rumbled..... No pulling the wool over our eyes! Which reminds me, waking up in the pitch black I heard Neil rummaging around outside his tent. There were pots and pans clinking, zips zipping and kettles brewing. The man's never right I thought. What the hell's he doing brewing up in the dead of the night outside in the middle of dense woodland. I contemplated that maybe he was on mouse patrol. I rolled over onto my right hand side to go back to sleep only to realise that it wasn't dark after all. It was broad daylight, and if the hood of my sleeping bag hadn't been covering my eyes I might have realised sooner.






Good old Tesco to the rescue.


Oh yes, it's all going on. There's no denying it.... You're impressed aren't you?

There are seven bonfire societies in total, Cliffe being the largest with over a thousand members, of which Alan and Niki make up two of the numbers. Lewes Bonfire Council acts as a forum for all seven societies.

On the 5th November every year the seven societies, Cliffe, Commercial Square, Lewes Borough, Neville Juvenile, Southover, South Street and Waterloo all parade in costumes through the streets with flaming torches and giant effigies which subsequently get blown up at some point in the evening. The Cliffe Society, amongst other things like to blow up the Pope every year for ordering the death of 17 protestant martyrs way back in fifteen hundred and something. If the 5th November happens to fall on a Sunday the bonfire gets moved to another day because apparently they're not allowed to blow up the Pope on Sundays.

It's at this point that I should be giving you some sort of history lesson on this crazy annual gathering of pyrotechnic lunatics but it's probably best to take a read of the Cliffe Bonfire Society website to get the gist of what it's all about.

On Monday afternoon we met up with Alan and Niki, had some beers and went for a walk around town before all the roads got closed off. It was interesting to learn that Lewes council have introduced parking meters all over the place. You'd have thought they'd have known better than to stick them in a town full of gunpowder wielding pyromaniacs. Up to now it's cost the council £300,000 in new meters to replace all the ones that have been blown up. It's no surprise there's no speed cameras in the area!


Alan doing a mighty fine impersonation of a pirate.
























The Cliffe Bonfire Society can be recognised by their black and white colours and the burning crosses.


This can't be a costume.... he really must be a pirate, no?














Another glimpse of Alan to the left of the photo. Slightly blurred I know but hey, if you were holding the camera and had to choose.........






We think this might be Niki's cousin.... To be confirmed.


The handsome chap with the gold hat is Niki's step dad.




A good indication on how rammed the town becomes.

The parades through the streets last from five o'clock to around half past nine. After that, each individual society heads off to their own fire sites where they light bonfires, let off colossal fireworks and generally blow stuff up!


Cliffe's Bonfire down at their fire site.

On the left hand side of the above photo you can just make out a sort of podium. This is where some raving suicidal nutcase dresses up as the Pope and does a speech whilst the crowd throw fireworks at him. I kid you not!


Guy Fawkes gets blown up good and proper. His head explodes first then the rest of him goes off like a bottle of pop.


Some of Cliffe's incredible fireworks.

An awesome display from the Waterloo Society can be found here. It's really worth watching it all the way through.

Once all the fireworks were let off and Guy Fawkes, the Pope and a giant seagull got blown to smithereens everyone headed back into the town centre to let off more explosions.









Sometime in the early hours of the morning, I'm guessing at about one o'clock they light a fire in the middle of the street. Once the bonfire prayer has been chanted everybody resorts to jumping through the fire whilst other people chuck bangers into it. Every time a banger goes off the fire erupts skyward and rains sparks and ash down on your head. All very normal behaviour for a Monday night in a town centre. To give you more of an idea there's a good video here from last year.






Shiver me timbers.

On Tuesday morning after cooking another proper chaps breakfast it was time to pack our tents into the car, head into town and say our goodbyes. We'll definitely be back next year, no question about it.

From all of us I'd like to thank both Alan and Niki for their lovely hospitality. Thank you so much for everything, not least the spread of top nosh on Monday evening. Oh yes and the Bonfire Boy beer, I've drunk it and it was very nice. Cheers.


*A quick note on the photos. All the above photographs apart from one (that'll be the photo of me) were taken by me. Recently I discovered one of my photos being used on another website. Whilst I don't mind people using my pictures it would be nice to ask me first. That way I don't get grumpy and send snotty emails asking for my picture to be removed. If you want to use a photo for something all you have to do is ask. :)

12 comments:

Peter M said...

Glad you all had a great time and the photos show that you did

Mike said...

You'll have to tag along next year Pete.

savannah said...

is this a mjor guys only trip. sugar? really does look as if ya'll have a seriously grand time! great pics, too!

Miss Understood said...

What a fantastic weekend. Love the photos Mike, but I do have one question...why didn't the egg fall through the holes in the basket?

Anonymous said...

Looks absolutely a great time had- the photos were a treat and I wont take one without asking, ha.
Fantastic!
Y;-)

Mike said...

Savannah - If we'd have taken any women with us there wouldn't have been any room for the beer!

Miss U - Sorry I can't tell you. Tricks of the trade and all that ;)

Anon - You're too kind.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

Hi Mike,

These pictures look great as is the write up.

Did you use the 50mm lens?

Mike said...

Digital flower Pictures - Yes I took them all with the 50mm. I set the ISO (ASA I think you call it) to 800, put it in manual mode, opened the aperture wide and took my chances. I made two major errors. I thought I'd shot in raw when I hadn't and I should have stuck my drive on servo because many of the shots were out of focus manly due to the very shallow DOF. Also due to the large crowds there's no chance of moving anywhere once you find a spot so positioning for the perfect photo is none existent. It was never going to be easy though. Roll on next year now I'm armed with a little more experience.

ellie said...

Looks like AGTWHBA (a great time was had by all) Love the EP (excellent photographs). Sorry to hear about YPGN (your pictures getting nicked. LYR (loves ya really) ;) x

Mike said...

Ellie - itiyttmoomtcu? lol

I take it you're taking the mickey out of my technical comment above? lol

Mustang said...

WOW WOW WOW.. thats all i have to say...

The fireworks look lovely. It is almost similar to an indian festival called "Diwali", also known as the festival of lights. There are plenty of fireworks lit up, sweets given around and merry all around.

Mike said...

Mustang - We never had any free sweets. I'm going to write a letter of complaint to the Bonfire Council.