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Lewes Bonfire Night

Burning tar

Bonfire boys pulling carts of burning tar, waiting for the processions in Lewes to begin

Bonfire Night is on Saturday this year, and where better to head than to Lewes, where one of the country’s oldest bonfire festivities are still celebrated every year? The Lewes Bonfire is held annually on 5th November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, but Bonfire Night is not just about Guido Fawkes. The Sussex bonfire tradition originated from the Tudor times and commemorates Protestant martyrs as well as protests against unpopular figures and events. Fire processions were seen as dangerous expressions of the common people – in 1847 magistrates who read the Riot Act to the bonfire boys in Lewes were thrown into the river Ouse. Some still held processions illegally though, chanting “we wunt be druv” (“we won’t be driven”), and thanks to them the Lewes Bonfire Night is still celebrated to this day. It is the largest event of its kind in the county, and the largest in the country in terms of the number of people involved in organising and parading. I went to see the spectacle last year, on its 410th anniversary and would heavily recommend it – if you’re able to go despite the Southern Rail strikes, that is. Remember no trains are running to Lewes on the day of the event this year. On a normaly year however, around 50,000 people attend the event, so here’s how to make sense of the crush.

TIPS

  • Buy tickets for the Cliffe fire site (where effigies are burnt) a week in advance. Because they will be sold out by the day of the event. The Cliffe Bonfire Society has the most popular fire site due to their notorious effigies. Cliffe tickets last year cost £5. There are other fire sites though, the tickets for which you can buy at the gate.
  • Don’t travel by car. There will be no parking space.
  • Be prepared for loud bangs at any moment. People start exploding things on the ground from around 4:30pm.
  • Join the walking tour of Lewes if you arrive early. Last year the organiser ran 2 tours, each lasting roughly 1h30m, meeting at the train station at 3pm and 5pm. Payment proportionate to how much you enjoyed it is accepted at the end of the tour. For more information see http://www.meetup.com/guided-walks-in-BrightonandSussex/.
  • Don’t panic if you’re late to the event. The adult procession lasts for 2 hours (6:30-8:30pm; the children’s one is 4:30-6:30pm) and repeats its route several times. Participants may split to head in different directions but all travel down the Lewes High Street from the Tourist Information Centre to the Lewes Fish Bar. The big one featuring almost all the participants starts at around 8pm.
  • Don’t buy bonfire programmes at the first instance you’re approached. There will be sellers throughout Lewes, from several different bonfire societies. The programmes give you an idea of the tradition of the bonfire night, and that one society’s link to it in particular. Not all societies in general. More than one will claim to be the oldest. Programmes cost around £2 to £3.
  • Wear wellies. Even if it is not wet it will still be muddy at the fire sites and the parade route will be filled with rubbish.
  • Watch the procession from the junction where Westgate Street meets the High Street. That’s where all participants will pass through. It’s also where most of the policemen are, which means less shoving and rowdy behaviour allowed.
  • Look out for the topical giant effigies. Last year it was Prime Minister David Cameron, the then-suspended FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, and the former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Oh, and a record-breaking attempt by the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society to mark the 410th anniversary of the Lewes Bonfire Night.
  • Do walk along the High Street in between parade-watching. Residents may throw down sweets for the crowd from upper storey windows.
  • Don’t worry if it’s raining. Free rain ponchos will be provided at the train station. And no matter how heavy and long the shower, the show will still go on.
  • Leave at 9pm after the procession. By all means trudge through the mud at the fire sites to watch the effigies burn, but if you’re working the day after you’ll want to get home as quickly and cleanly as possible. There is no queue at this time, and you’ll be able to watch fireworks go off in the distance whilst waiting for the train.
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October Costume Spotting

Been busy this month so here’s a quick roundup of the one activity that unites all my October weekend experiences – costume spotting. From 1066 to the modern day to “out of this world”, I’ve spotted it all.

Armour and weaponry at the Battle of HastingsNorman soldier

I attended the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings re-enactment at Battle Abbey on Oct 16. There a Norman knight re-enactor told us the story of how the horse of William Duke of Normandy, a black Friesian gifted by the King of Spain, had its head lopped off by a Saxon warrior with a battle-axe. This was why the Normans briefly feared that their Duke was dead. What I appreciated most was the commentary delivered throughout the day, from the falconry performances to the battle re-enactment itself. One update to my primary-school-knowledge of the Battle of Hastings was that the long pointy shields, called kite shields, were used by both sides.

Brighton’s Snowdogs by the Sea

Snowdogs by the Sea is a street art exhibition from Sept 24 to Nov 27 which features 45 Snowdogs, “dressed up” by various artists, schools and other institutions. They are accompanied by 20 Snowdog puppies and will be sold at auction to raise money for St. Martlet’s Hospice, which has a store on Western Road minutes from my workplace! I saw my first Snowdog at Churchill Square, had to photograph one as part of a work-conference-challenge, and found one with my name at the train station on Oct 21. Find them all on the Snowdogs by the Sea Trail before the exhibition closes!

Cambridge gownsCambridge Tudor Bonnet

I found to my dismay that Cambridge academic dress is much more interesting than Oxford’s when I was given a walking tour of the city by my friend on Oct 22, a day when a graduation ceremony was taking place and gowned students thronged the streets. My friend explained that undergraduates wear gowns of different styles depending on their college. BA gowns have slits through which ladies’ can show off the outfits that they wear to formal dinners. PhD and MA graduates can wear festal gowns with strips of scarlet cloth on ‘Scarlet Days’. PhD graduates also wear a Tudor bonnet at Cambridge instead of a mortarboard (see inset). So much choice and variation, and to think that the only gown I own is a commoner’s one.

MCM Comicon at the ExCel in LondonWarhammer

The Comicon I went to with my friend on Oct 30 exceeded both our expectations. Having failed to look up where we were supposed to get off the DLR, I asked a family with a child dressed as Iron Man, but we found that there would have been no need – by the time we got off most people taking the DLR were in fantastical costume, to the extent that we couldn’t even tell if the policeman was a real one or not. I spent the day staring in awe at characters from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer (I almost got trampled by one giant mutant!), Overwatch, Team Fortress, Legend of Zelda, Suicide Squad, Deadpool, other Marvel Superheroes, DC Comic Superheroes, Disney Princesses, Assassin’s Creed, Pokémon, Sailor Moon, Doctor Who…but strangely not Game of Thrones. People in costume let you take photos with them too – who needs Disneyland when you can have photos taken with your favourite characters for free (with a £15 general entry ticket) here?

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It’s been a month since I left The Pigeonhole, a digital publishing start-up, so for Throwback Thursday I’m going to recount my unexpected moments there:

  • Stroking a taxidermied pigeon.
  • Setting a lunch trend.
  • Encountering questionable websites in my media list research.
  • Trying to concentrate with a dog’s head heating up my lap.
  • Arguing over Brexit with everyone but the dog.
  • Receiving a photo of a newborn baby in an email.
  • Eating “the best falafel in London”.
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Contently

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