Birth Health Life


Monday, 5 September 2016

The start of the Season

Summer begins to give way to autumn and August gives way to September with that sublime, mellow, honeyed afternoon sunlight peculiar to this time of year. Everything has given all its got, groaning with over-ripe fruit and going brown round the edges.  People feel the shift in the seasons, and before we had electricity,  daylight inexorably waning each day lead us to appreciate the life-giving warmth and light of fire.

Flaming torches in the dark sky are my earliest memories of bonfire marching. The feeling of being dressed in costume on a cold night, the smell of accelerant and smoke and cordite in the air. Standing cold and dark with an unlit torch in my hand,  the silent march around the dark corner reveals the bright torches ahead as the pipe band strike up.  A friend stands in the road with his torches, lighting our torches which illuminate the smiling faces around me.  Bonfire is my thing.  It's my sanity in this crazy disconnected world.

 Sussex Bonfire's history is long and full of rich local and national significance.  Going further back in time, it recalls the bone-fires, as older livestock  were slaughtered to save on winter feeding.   At all Hallows Eve, time stops for me and the veil is thin. Everything is dark and the earth has drawn her energies deep inside. In the chill and darkness and silence, we remember.  That is what we  do at bonfire, we remember our war dead, we honour them.  And then, just like the ancient Celtic fire festival of Samhain, we celebrate the warmth and light of fire.

Something old and Celtic and deep and pagan stirs within me on the nights that we process, sometimes for miles, through utterly dark, deserted country lanes, my people and I, carrying our torches. Folk might line the road, transfixed by the spectacle, but sometimes it's just our ragged band, rich and wicked under the hissing torchlight that keeps the dark at bay. I look into faces I know as office workers, taxi drivers, academics, nurses, labourers by day, who are now an entirely different and exotic cast of characters from another time.  I look into faces I knew as teenagers, who are now grandparents in their fifties and sixties.  Some of us are wearing some of the same costume as we did back then, all are still wearing the same smiles.

  In many ways, I could say bonfire is about the people in it.  Not everyone of course, like any family there are  some who try my patience to its limits and whom I just don't like.  No doubt the feeling's mutual.  Bonfire and me though, we go way deeper than all that stuff.  People, opinions, emotions, actions... It all fades in time, but the fire remains in the sky which is crusted with ancient stars seen through flame and smoke.  When I'm walking the road in my costume, with my torch, the feeling in me is one of timelessness.  I could be from any age, and I could be any age. I am connected with my ancestral line.  The sense of connection to the the tradition and to the people I bonfire with is insanely good.

  I could tell you about meeting those same faces in little villages, year after year, the laughter, the singing.  I could tell you about the sheer physical hard yard work, the coldness, the tiredness, the rain, the deadline, the diet of junk food and beer, the torch makers thumb and the hessian lung.  I could tell you about Sunday mornings in September, and October, down at the yard.  A big circle of friends, and sticks, and wire, and hessian, tractors, trucks, drilling, painting, creating. Creating something amazing so that we can burn it all and blow it sky high.  Chin-wagging stories of last night, of the out fires, the beautiful fireworks, or the coach ride home.  Chatter and laughter and tea and cake.  Busy hands and laughing faces, old boys in their eighties and nineties with all their bonfire stories, and little ones too young yet to make a torch, but who gather up the torches we've made and carry them to the growing pile in our shed.

I am so blessed to have this tradition and these people in my life, so blessed to see another September.

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