Archive for Lewes

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on November 5, 2014 by telescoper

Tonight is a big night for the town of Lewes, which is just up the road from the Sussex University campus at Falmer. The traditional bonfire night celebration draws thousands into the town. I won’t be going, as I have too much work to do and in any case the combination of huge crowds and fireworks is not one that I find particularly attractive.

The occasion for the festivities is of course Guy Fawkes’ Night, which celebrates the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was supposed to light the blue touchpaper on that occasion and it has been a tradition to burn his effigy on the bonfire on the anniversary of the attempt, every November 5th, while letting off fireworks. It’s all a bit more involved in Lewes, where many different figures are usually burnt in effigy and there’s a lot of dressing up and parading around to boot.

When I was young, Guy Fawkes’ Night was the thing we celebrated rather than Halloween. Although we didn’t put on anything as elaborate as the Lewes event, most families held their own bonfire in their garden and fireworks could easily be bought from local shops who stocked up at this time of year. Since we had open ground right in front of our house, we had very big bonfires where I grew up in Benwell which lots of other kids came to. The number of private bonfire parties has decreased markedly since then, owing to safety concerns and they have largely been replaced by large scale organized celebrations.

Another tradition associated with November 5th also seems to have died completely. When I was a kid the thing to do was to make an effigy of Guy Fawkes (called a “Guy”) and parade him from door to door asking for “Penny for the Guy”. The idea was if you had an impressive effigy, people would give you money which you used to buy fireworks for the forthcoming party. Of course you were hoping for a bit more than a penny.

I suppose that this tradition has been displaced by the American import “Trick-or-Treat”, which I think is a shame. It’s true that many bonfire celebrations have an unpleasant anti-catholic undertone which is a reminder of the religious intolerance that blights much of British history. But although it may be an ugly history, but at least its ours. Next thing you know we won’t have Guy Fawkes’ Night at all; we’ll have to call it 5/11.

I remember one year spending ages making a really good Guy with a head made from papier mâché and plasticine for his eyes, nose and mouth. I was really proud of him, especially when he sat on top of the huge pile of wood that was going to form the bonfire. When it was lit – which happened before the fireworks started – the heat from the flames started to melt the plasticine features of the Guy.

The other kids rushed around in excitement as the adults sorted out the Roman Candles, Catherine Wheels and the rest of the soon-to-be-ignited pyrotechnics, things that would go bang and whizz though not necessarily in that order.  But I stood transfixed, staring at the Guy. After a few minutes I started sobbing and ran to my mum in anguish as molten plasticine dripped from his eyes.

Guy Fawkes was crying…



Death and Other Inconveniences

Posted in Biographical, Brighton with tags , , , on April 7, 2014 by telescoper

It would be an exaggeration to say that this has been a good day. It started in Cardiff when I got to the Central Station and discovered that my train was late. It was only 12 minutes late, in fact, which isn’t at all unsurprising for Late Western. Nevertheless I was a bit annoyed that the 12 minutes turned into 20 minutes and that the Train Manager never once offered an explanation or apology on the entire journey into Paddington.

I did eventually find out the reason for the initial delay via Twitter. Earlier there had been a “person hit by a train”. My irritation turned to deep sadness, at hearing yet again that coded message indicating a death by suicide.

Sitting on the train I remembered seeing fallen cherry blossom in Bute Park. The morning rain had brought it down. That would provide a much more poetic excuse for late running than the usual “leaves on the line”, a poignant reminder of our mortality and all that. I didn’t realize how apt that would turn out to be.

After arriving into Paddington I took the tube to Victoria and had only a short wait for a train to Brighton. All went well until we reached Gatwick Airport at which point we were held at a signal for some time. The train manager then announced that the train would be diverted via Lewes and would therefore be late. The reason? Unbelievably, another “person hit by a train”, this time near Hassocks. Two in one day. Grim.

The train reached Lewes but didn’t stop at a platform but up a branch line some distance from the station. The driver changed ends and we went through Lewes station again without stopping, this time on the branch line to Brighton. We then passed Falmer (my intended destination) without stopping too.

Soon we arrived in Brighton, and I had to get another, stopping, train back to Falmer. I got on the next one, which sat for 20 minutes without moving. Diversion of all the mainline trains onto the Lewes line was causing congestion. As time ticked away I was starting to worry I would miss my 5pm lecture. I decided to give up on the train, left the station and proceeded to take the Number 25 bus to Falmer from the nearest stop.

That turned out not to be a wise move. The bus managed to travel a few hundred yards only before the driver announced that the Lewes Road had been closed by the Police owing to an “incident” at the gyratory system beside Sainsbury’s. We sat on the bus for a while just south of the area that had been cordoned off and then the driver told us the inevitable news that the bus was terminating and we all had to get off.

The main bus garage lies on the Lewes Road just north of the gyratory system, so I thought there was a chance some buses might be operating the other side of the blockage. I went to investigate.

As I skirted round the police cordon I counted at least ten police cars scattered about, along with two large vans. Armed officers were swarming around, and some were on the top of the Sainsbury’s building. There was also a uniformed officer with a loud hailer. Apparently someone, apparently armed, was inside one of the nearby flats. I didn’t hang about to find out more.

There were no buses northbound that I could see, and by now it was pouring with rain. I couldn’t see any possibility of getting to campus with my luggage, so decided to give up and go to my flat. By now my phone battery was nearly flat so all I could so was leave quick messages on Twitter and Facebook, before it croaked, to say
I was cancelling my lecture.

As I write the incident at Lewes road appears to be continuing, but at least nobody seems to have been seriously hurt.

I’m of course very disappointed at having had to miss a lecture, and some other things I wanted to do this afternoon but the three events that impinged on my journey are of far greater consequence for the people affected than my own inconvenience. It’s no doubt been a rougher day than I can possibly imagine for a great many people today.