No, this isn’t another “24 Hours” post, though if you haven’t posted yours yet, there’s still time.
These are the minutes of the annual meeting of the UK/US Forum members, southeast chapter, more informally known as me, Howard and Molly getting together for a couple of pints. My wife has attended in the past, as has Mrs. Howard and an occasional guest, but the three of us form the core group. And so, finding myself without adult supervision on a weekend in mid-October, I decided to nip over to Lewes for another meeting at the Dorset.
Lewes is a fetching, mid-sized town with a castle, a bustling main street and a river running through its center. It’s friendly, negotiable and has so many landmarks it is impossible to get lost.
I got lost.
Somehow, I missed the castle and the river and ended up walking out of town on the opposite side from where I wanted to be. I eventually had to ask directions from a woman in a Volvo who was kind enough to direct me back toward Lewes’ town center and the Dorset pub.
One day, I will discover the secret of travelling around Britain without getting lost.
I still managed to arrive at the meeting bang on time and, after order was called (two pints of Harvey’s and a lemonade), we got down to the business at hand. (Once you reach a certain age and imbibe a certain number of drinks, this business generally centers around the appalling state of the young people today; I won’t bore you with details.) Later in the afternoon, however, when the pub suddenly filled with people dressed as cavalry officers, WWI soldiers and smugglers with their trademark striped shirts, discussion turned toward the upcoming Guy Fawkes festivities. And before events became too blurry to recall anything, I learned a thing or two about the Bonfire Night.
The first thing I learned was that the guys in the striped shirts were supposed to be smugglers. Prior to this, I was unaware that smugglers had a uniform and that it consisted of a striped shirt. (Good thing I never applied for a job as a smuggler; I would have failed the interview the second I walked through the door wearing a charcoal grey suit and maroon tie.) I also learned that dressing up is a big part of the bonfire celebration, which mirrors our Halloween tradition nicely, though they leave the ritual shake-down of the neighbors to the Americans.
There are, it turns out, a number of Bonfire Societies in Lewes, alone, and Bonfire Society chapters in nearly every town in Sussex (and, for all I know, Britain). In fact, there are so many Bonfire Societies, that they begin having bonfires as early as August. This allows each society to put on a bonfire and invite all the other bonfire societies in the area to the party, which having them all on the same night would preclude. For reasons that I don’t recall, Lewes is the Big Daddy of bonfires and the actual 5th of November Bonfire Night is always held in Lewes and, from all accounts, it is a thing to behold.
If you like a party and don’t mind being in the center of a crowd of about 75 thousand, torch-wielding people, I recommend you go there; it will be an experience you will never forget. If, on the other hand, you shy away from that sort of thing, you’ll have to settle for talking about it in a pub with people who live there, like I do.
When it appeared that the beer garden and pub could not hold any more ersatz smugglers and cavalry officer, they suddenly disappeared.
“The bus must’ve arrived,” Howard explained. “They’re going over to the bonfire in Hastings tonight.”
From there, my meeting notes get a little wooly. The only thing I am certain of is that I managed to find my way back to the train station, and negotiate two connections on my return journey, without getting lost.
I think I’ve finally uncovered the secret of travelling around Britain.