Whilst driving back from a meeting earlier today, I detoured via Littlehampton seafront. The autumn sunshine had brought out a wealth of half term visitors to the beachfront area. Children playing, dog walkers exercising their pets, lots of last chance ice creams consumed in the pleasant warmth of the sun’s late glow. What I was after, however, was the chance to see the size of a manmade structure. It is a few days before the Bonfire Society’s Torchlight Procession, culminating in the throwing of the torches onto the huge bonfire which precedes the wonderful firework display by the beach.
Throughout the week locals arrive with their various car and van loads of items for burning. There are a fabulous team of volunteers who man the bonfire 24 hours a day to ensure that no one sets it off before the big event. Sussex loves its bonfire celebrations. The different societies from both west and east visit each other’s special evening starting in early October. Most people would be aware of the Lewes parade on 5th November – http://www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com/events/ , but to me an LA resident all my life, there is something magical about our night. Always the last Saturday in October, the town really shines.
I smile to myself when I think of all the past special moments created by this rather bizarre celebration of a failure. The failure to blow up those in power. When else has an abject failure been so well represented every year for hundreds of years?
As a child I used to freak out at the rather macabre costumes worn by society members, the bones and skins made me hide behind anyone available! The anticipation, the waiting in the throng of people-lined streets, luminous bands, warm drinks and a chill in the air. Nothing sums up the procession like the smell of the burning torches, flames etched against the night sky, with embers flying randomly like sprites. The noise of the bands, the ‘tinging’ of the instruments was music to my ears. We used to save all our coppers to throw into the collection pots, choosing who should have our bounty very carefully.
A walk following the procession to the beachfront was always breathtaking. Watching each torch being hurled onto the bonfire was exciting. As the fire took hold, the dancing flames become increasingly mesmerising, so much so that you realised the intensity of the heat meant it was time to move.
The first whizz of a firework made all the thousands of people stop and look up….up into the night sky. I was always apprehensive as a nipper that the fireworks were going to fall on me as they cascaded out into the deep, dark sky. The sounds of ‘ooo’ and ‘ahhh’ sound comical to write, but in reality were just the noises of pure happiness from all around.
For those couple of hours each year, the town comes together. Those who are new, old, young or those visiting. We all share in the enjoyment of failure. We join a collective worship. We smile, we laugh, we are happy.
Those moments are priceless.
Come along – http://www.littlehamptonbonfiresociety.co.uk/
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY
and…. stay SAFE