Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lewes Bonfire / Night of Agony

Lewes Bonfire

Lewes Bonfire procession, Lewes, East Sussex, UK

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.

Mrs Strong and son at Lewes Bonfire, Lewes, East Sussex, UK
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.

Fireball on Bonfire Night outside the King's Head, Lewes, East Sussex, UKI 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.

Lest We Forget firework display at Lewes Bonfire, East Sussex, UK

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!

Banner reading 'WHY' at Lewes Bonfire, East Sussex, UK 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.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

On The Wagon / On The Razz

On The Wagon (Thursday, 2 November 2006)

Leamington Garret I am off the booze and have been for a week. The point of the exercise is to recover my health which has been getting steadily worse over the past two months. I want to be better by my birthday - 22 December.

I have a terrible cough and chest infection for which I do not want to take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. My back injury is also showing little sign of improvement.

So I have been stuffing myself with vitamin tablets to try to bolster my immune system, and doing pilates back exercises. I feel a bit stronger and healthier, although this week has been very bad for sleep.

It has been a miserable time overall. Last week my holiday was wiped out by having to move all sorts of stuff between addresses while feeling tired and poorly.

This week, the personal stress has mounted up.

The Landlord, Rigsby, is threatening to send bailiffs into the Leamington Garret (don’t ask) and the lights have gone out on the eight flights of stairs up to the Garret (so it is back to using candles).

The prospective tenants who phoned up about the soon-to-be spare room in the Garret have either been appallingly rude. Why are there so many total scumbags in Royal Leamington Spa? What has gone wrong with this attractive little Midland town?

I am having big problems with the London Garret; and bicycling back from work is like peddling into a black hole - even with lights you are as blind as a bat.

Talking of the blind, the people from the blind shop on Leamington Parade have - with the aid of their enormous metal bin - been blocking access to the yard behind the Garret where I keep my bike, despite a massive notice that reads: 'Keep Clear!')

I wrote them a note which started: ‘Dear Blind People!'

Part of the reasons I have gone on the wagon is that things have been going badly wrong and I want to get a grip. It is only partly working!

The problem with not drinking is that the evenings seem to stretch endlessly ahead of you. It is so tedious.

I have had a crystal clear head through not drinking and enjoyed the mornings far more than usual (there was also an amazingly beautiful sunrise, pictured above and below).

I have been thinking faster, albeit not as creatively, and do not get my words twisted up when I speak. My memory is more retentive and generally I am more together - if less happy.

Tonight in the Leamington Garret I have been trying to write two poems – one about being On The Wagon and the other about Lewes’s Southover Bonfire Society – called Advance Southover Advance.

I am struggling with both (that lack of creativity while sober). Seven lines have been written of the latter (and some research done).

Nothing has been achieved on the former.

I gave up eventually and went down to the Jug and Jester. Without the benefit of copious quantities of lager or cider, I cannot say I felt comfortable at the jam night.

Knocking back cola and orange juice and lemonades, I took a few photographs but quit the joint when the music got a bit modern jazzy. I do not dig modern jazz, man.

Outside, it was brass monkeys, without my beer overcoat!

On The Razz (Flashback to Sunday, 23 April 2006)

4.31pm. The Lansdown Pub, Lewes

My back has been murder. I suffered such a massive spasm a few minutes ago at the house that I feared I would have postpone my return to the Leamington Garret.

I am holed up here in the Lansdown with a large, medicinal whisky until my train is imminent.

Yesterday I went out drinking with my old neighbour who is currently renting a dinky little house in Sun Street, Lewes.

I embarked on a mini-trawl of the licensed premises of Lewes to find him deep in conversation with an ex-militaryman/skinhead-cum-builder at the Brewer’s Arms. The three of us had a good old chat.

My intrinsic fear of military personnel of the shaven-headed variety turns to enthusiasm and admiration when I am in drink.

When time was called, my friend suggested we adjourn to the Lewes Arms for a late drink. My arm around him, we hobbled over there and sunk another three pints of loopy juice each.

It was great night with a great guy.

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