It's getting close to my favourite time of year in Lewes. The signs are already there - smugglers on every corner selling programmes for their bonfire society, strange goings on behind the pubs they use as their bases, and Rocket FM has started up again.
This Friday (17th Oct) I'm going to the costume competition to get a better look at the characters that will be parading up and down the streets on the 5th.
Here's something I wrote about my experience of the 5th back in 2001, when it was still all new to me:
I got to the high street at around 7:00, just before the parade started. A very excitable Asian student was next to me in the crowd, sat on his friends shoulders filming everything with his camcorder. An old hippy with a guitar approached him and sang a short song about him and his camera. A little further up the road someone gave the international distress signal by releasing a rocket into the air, and was duly visited by one of the many policeman in the area.
After a couple of exchanges on mobile phones and some hand waving I met my friend Paul and soon the parade was underway. Flaming torches, beer, fancy dress, marching bands, crowds shifting like the tide as the parade came and went, while the tannoy shouted out instructions to move back. I didn't see many tableaux this year, just one of what looked like a cows head. The parade seemed to end rather suddenly just as it had got going. Apparently Cliffe burnt a giant effigy of Osama Bin Laden, but I didn't find out about that until I saw the review of tomorrow's papers on Newsnight.
On to the bonfire and the fireworks. The Waterloo society's site is close to my house and is free. One day I'll get tickets to see Cliffe's, but not this year. The parade must have finished early because they hadn't even set light to the bonfire yet. Paul was pleased to note that there was a big sign halfway up it saying "Hello Paul". How nice of them to wait for him to arrive before starting! We got a burger, hot dog and some chips from one of the vans - served by the most humungously fat red-faced man I've ever seen - and watched as the bonfire boys threw burning torches at the bonfire. The fireworks hadn't started yet, but plenty of people had brought their own. Eventually the Waterloo society procession marched in, led by a Bishop and three priests (wearing safety goggles) who started the fireworks display by standing on a scaffold pulpit flanked by two burning crosses. They set off bangers right where they were standing and to shouts of "Burn the Pope!" dodged rockets and bangers being hurled at them. Rather them than me! But I assume they knew what they were doing as it happens every year, and just couldn't help myself laughing.
The fireworks began with some of those floaty ones that drift down on parachutes. As the spent fireworks drifted into the crowd, eager hands reached up to grab them - and then pulled back suddenly when they touched the still hot firework. The smart people reached for the strings of the parachute. That's how Paul caught one. And so it continued into the night, with two other firework displays clearly visible through the one we were watching.
This morning as I cycled to the bus stop the fire was still burning, but by this evening the only reminders of what had happened were a pile of ashes and a few empty beer cans outside Tesco that the clean-up teams had missed.