31. Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Trip Start Apr 19, 2011
Trip End May 25, 2013

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Where I stayed
Mikeīs house
What I did
Lewes Bonfire Night

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, November 6, 2011

I had high hopes for our first foray into the English countryside, a first weekend out of London. What eventuated was a heady mix of Guy Fawkes processions, barrel races, fireworks and bonfires, mixed in with some time in the countryside, traditional English pubs, the bright lights of the Brighton Pier, some great English hospitality and a fair bit of English hostility.

Nearly three hours after Blair picked up the car, he finally managed to find his way to the flat (a whole two miles away) and pick everyone up. Katy, Mat, Roy, Amanda, Blair, and I all piled in to the car and it was off to Lewes. Fifteen minutes from Brighton, Lewes isnīt known as a tourist destination. However, a lovely young Englishman named Mike whom we met while in Malta, had told us of the Guy Fawkes traditions in his hometown and offered us room to stay in his parents home in the countryside. So it was to Lewes we went.

And I must say it was a fantastic decision. As they close the roads early to prepare for the processions, we had lunch in The Old Ship, a pub close by (where Amanda was dragged along the carpet by some manīs labrador) before driving straight to Mikeīs parents place. They welcomed us with open arms, even though Mike was not home, they had no idea we were coming, and Mikeīs mum had just had a hip replacement four days prior. With the population of the town expected to swell from 16,000 to 60,000 for the eveningīs antics, we paused only to rug up before heading straight on in to town to ensure we found a good spot to watch the processions. 

As it is pitch black by 4.30pm, we arrived just in time to see the young upcoming processionists racing burning barrels down the narrow lanes. What followed next can only be described as ridiculous. Burning torches and burning crosses were carried by people from villages around the area. They were dressed in stripes, as Vikings, as Tudors and Stuarts, war heros, smurfs, Indian chiefs, and gothic skeletons. For the next three hours the parade kept coming from all directions. There were pipe bands and effigies of Guy Fawkes, Harry Potter, and Rebecca Loos. Old ladies threw fireworks at people, others held fireworks in their hands as they went off in every which direction. Processionists threw bangers at peoples feet and although it was fun at first, the ache in our eardrums was giving everyone a headache. We spent a lot of the parade with our fingers in our ears. Unfortunately, that didnīt block out the noise of people refusing to take a photo for us, or some incredibly rude English people the age of my parents telling us to "f*ck off" when we were sheparded in front of them by crowd control.

Following all the processions we wandered to Waterloo Park, the site of one of the six bonfires, as recommended by our friend Mike. And although we had to withstand the Arctic wind, it was well worth the wait. As we munched on hot donuts and drank hot chocolates with whipped cream, that we bought from some extremely grumpy rude English people, the processionists arrived to light the biggest bonfire I have ever seen. Effegies were burnt while what I believe may be the greatest fireworks show in the world took place right above our heads (think the All Blacks winning the World Cup combined with New Years in Sydney at the millenium, combined with ... well it was REALLY good!), and some guys dressed up as popes had bangers thrown at them while they stood on a platform surrounded by burning crosses. No OSH in sight tonight. I canīt believe we only saw one ambulance and one firetruck.

Arriving back to Mikes place around midnight, we sat around chatting with Mike and his friends and eating pizza into the wee hours.

After a good nights sleep, Mike took us on a tiki tour through some very narrow country lanes for an Autumn walk alongside the river, where we jumped in cowpats, picked field mushrooms, and generally enjoyed a bit of fresh air. Naturally, we worked up an appetite for yet another big Sunday lunch in a country pub. Great company and great food in front of a roaring fire. The day was almost perfect apart from the rousing we got from some middle-aged English lady who came storming out of the pub to yell at us for patting her Labrador.

Then it was time to say bye to Mike and his friends, as they went to catch the train home. We took the liberty of the car to head for an afternoon in Brighton, we where wandered along the pier and had a look at all the bright lights and rides. Log flumes and roller coasters, dodgems, and a haunted house ... things you donīt traditionally associate with going to the beach. By 4.30pm it was dark and everything was closed so back to London we went.

All in all I have to say it was a great weekend and heading to Lewes for Bonfire Night is well worth the effort. We were extremely lucky to have no rain and some very hospitable hosts. Despite this, the one thing really marring my experience of England thus far is the locals. With Mike and his family as the exceptions, it's hard to know who you can trust. Watch out for the many people that attempt to jump the queue and beware of people that appear on the surface to be normal upstanding citizens. They are unpredictable and itīs best to steer well clear!! I am now vehemently denying I have any English heritage whatsoever.

Rating out of 10: 9 (on Bonfire Night!)
In a word: Bizarre
Something interesting: In Lewes, Bonfire Night commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake for their faith during the Marian Persecutions, as well as the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
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