Tag Archives: sussex

I’ve got chalk on my boots.

Its the season for fire and remembering so on Thursday I went down to Brighton with the idea of taking a bus to Woodingdean, where I lived when I was a child, and then walking over the Downs to Lewes to see the Bonfire celebrations.

The plan was all but scuppered by public transport. These things are so much harder when you get out of London (so at my age maybe can never leave London – how could I live anywhere else where there is no proper transport? I’d be trapped in a house unless I lived near a mainline railway station) It took about an hour and twenty minutes to get from my front door to Brighton Station. A bus and two trains. Then it took over two hours to get from the centre of Brighton to the top end of Woodingdean. There is only one bus from the station to Woodingdean, its called the 52, and it comes along hourly. I had to wait 35 minutes for it – or would have if it hadn’t been over a quarter of an hour late. (Maybe I could have gone down to St Peter’s and got another bus there but there was no sign or information at the station telling me that.) And the bus was full of schoolkids going home – who gets let out od school before half past three?

And the bus went all round the houses – up to Dyke Road through sidestreets, down the the Steine, along St James’s Street, and through Kemp Town streets that I have leafleted every house in, past the Royal Sussex Hospital (the last time I went in there it was to see my Dad die, about 19 years ago) uselessly in and out of the Marina (ten minutes without once stopping to let anyone of or off), up past St Dunstan’s and through Ovingdean, all round the back of Woodingdean almost to the top so I was about to get off – then it turned left, went down to Warren Road and then turned right back up Falmer Road – by the time I got up there it was after five and getting dark. So it took longer to go by bus from the centre of Brighton to Woodingdean than it did to get to Brighton from Lewisham, or to walk from Woodingdean to Lewes.

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woodingdean_7736 Langley Crescent, Woodingdean

So no time to have a look at any of the places remembered from childhood, and I make my way straight onto the hill, fail to find the path I am sure was there once that leads up to the radio mast at the top, and I don’t want to go down into what I still think of as just “The Valley”, where we used to play when I was a kid. The map calls it “Newmarket Bottom” and “Balsdean Bottom” and part of it is now a nature reserve called “Castle Hill” – none of those words we ever used when we lived there (thugh we did know of Balsdean Farm – I went badger watching there once) So I walk back down to Falmer Road and start again there.

The old road from Brighton to Lewes – called Juggs Lane locally for reasons supposedly to do with fish, a name we did use – starts at Warren Road on the Race Hill above Bevendean, opposite the second bend in the race course, and continues as a muddy track behind the older part of Woodingdean, the plotland bungalows from between the wars in streets like Seaview Road and Downsview Road (I thought those names stupid – they are streets, not roads, and where can’t you see the sea and the Downs from?) Then across Falmer Road and up across barley fields behind Woodingdean, incongruously though patchily tarmaced for the first few hundred metres (I guess it was from the War when presumably the radio masts at the top of the hill and further down on the path to the Valley were radar stations or forward observation post or maybe even anti-aircraft batteries) then just a chalk path along Kingston Ridge.

Navigating on the Downs after dark isn’t as hard as it sounds. There is enough light to see the shape of the hills against the sky, and chalk paths almost shine, so its not that hard to find your way. And, at least on the Brighton side, I’ve known these hills since I was a kid. I used to play up here when I was six years old.

Finding the way is not as hard as not falling over. When you get to the top of the hill you can see the lights of Brighton behind you and Lewes before you and a little later you see Kingston much nearer nestling in the side of its Down. A little Tolkieny moment, seeing Kingston from above, by the pale lights from house windows – no streetlights or moving cars or shop windows. Its not much more than a mile from tarmac to tarmac in a straight line and even in the dark you can walk it in an hour.

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It would be less than an hour if it wasn’t for the last couple of hundred metres. The path comes down steeply from Kingston Ridge to the village through a deep cut lane. In places the sides of the cutting are taller than I can reach – how many centuries of walkers does it take to wear the ground down ten feet?

There is a knack to walking on bare chalk that I picked up as a child but would probably be more difficult to people not used to it. There are also knacks to walking on grassy steep downland (stepping from hummock to hummock) and other ones for shingle and the wave-cut platform

Chalk paths form ruts and ridges easily. The tops and sides of the ridges are often at quite odd angles making it easy to turn your foot over walking on them. The bottom of the ruts can be full of exposed flint – which grips your boots well – but can also be very wet. Bare wet chalk is slipperly, slidy and claggy. The path is steep, maybe one in six or steeper. I walk slowly and carefully, almost falling over three or four times. At one point trying to hold on to some vegetation to steady myself I put my hand in what felt like a gorse bush. Maybe it was only a large burdock, it was too dark to see.

Its easy to see the path, its chalk. It all but glows in the dark. You can even see it by starlight. What you can’t see is what the dark patches are. In the dark a patch of grass, a heap of horseshit, and an eight-inch deep hole you could break your ankle in all look just the same against the chalk. And there are plenty of all of them on this part of Juggs Lane.

And then into Kingston (or rather the Kingston Ridge estate uphill from it) feet and ankles complaining (though it was my back that felt it the next morning) and suddenly the navigation problems start. Kingston is not the sort of place that has streetlights. Or even roadsigns. Its not designed to be easy for strangers to find their way about in. It is also just off the edge of my map of Lewes, but not shown in detail in my OS map of the Downs. It ought to be possible to find the other end of Juggs Lane (“Juggs Street” on the map) and so to Southover that way – but in the dark, I miss it. And find myself in a deep cut road with flint walls and many cars and still no street light. Which is one of two or three such roads in the area and I’m not sure which.

So, on principle, I carry on downhill, hoping to find the pub. And I do. I have half a memory, probably false, of the Juggs Arms (its all “Jugg” round here) being called something else and small and rural and frequented by farmers and retired colonels. Well, now its been extended and its got a restaurant and a car park and a large covered area and the customers seem like the sort of people who live in Lewes (if that makes sense) But the beer is good (Shepherd Neame – some sort of very hoppy ordinary bitter rebranded as Kingston Ale, and also Spitfire kept well) and the bar is warm and I have a couple of pints before setting off for Bonfire.

Lighting up

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There she blows barrells_7800

Ian Paisley International Airport.

No, there isn’t one. And there probably never will be in this world, though I could imagine an alternative Earth in which there was. Probably in a Ken MacLeod book.

Down to Worthing for my aunt Peggy’s funeral. A quiet affair, less then twenty people there and a few drinks suplied by my cousin back at his Mum’s flat. Some stressful things, and some buried bits of the past, mostly not talked about. It must have been a hard nut for the minister who took the service to crack, and I think he chewed it or even sucked at it more than he cracked it. Lots of unresolved old disputes and rivalries, most of which I have no idea of the source of, and most of which will now never be resolved because most of those involved are now dead.

OK, this isn’t an emo blog, or even a political one. Its about places and a bit about language and random encounters. And I’m not about to plaster rumours about my family history all over the internet.

So I’m wondering about accents again. Where they come from, how fast they change. My Dad’s parents generation all had strong South Tyneside accents when I was a child, even the nine or ten of them who had moved to the south coast forty years before I was born (which is why Jarrow or Hebburn sound like home to me – people speak in the voices of the aunts and cousins who used to babysit me and my brother when we were chldren). Yet that accent itself was probably only about a generation old when they learned it. My generation of our Brighton family mostly speak in a rather typical south-eastern urban accent, (what might now be called “Estuary English”, a term I hate), which sounds to most people a bit like a London accent. And our children are mostly posher than us, tending towards RP (but not quite getting there).

I wonder where and when that urban Brighton accent came in. Did anyone speak it in the 19th century? Or would Brighton people have had Sussex accents? As far as I can remember most people I knew in Brighton of my parent’s generation spoke it when I was a child, and at least some older ones (though it is hard to be sure after all these years). The “Estuary English” scare in the newspapers of about a decade ago seemed completely to miss the mark to me. Prescriptivists attacked urban south-eastern English as if it was some new-fangled slang threatening to overwhelm RP and kill off the real local or rural accents. But from my point of view they were talking about the accent I was brought up with. (I don’t think my Dad said “innit” but we did, and we said it in the 1960s) If anything the trend was the other way – older Brightonians sounded more “cockney” and more working-class than many of the younger ones. (But that is anecdotal and depends on our own class trajectory of course) Real Sussex accents seemed vanishingly rare in Brighton even in the 1960s (though I have overheard people using them at Plumpton races only an afternoon’s walk away)

I think I used to think of accents as diverging like a tree. But now itseems more like the way the sea sorts out the pebbles on Brighton beach. A wave of economic and social change passes over a city or a county or a country generating new accents and dialects in its wash, mixing people and speech together, and when it has passed it leaves them stranded as heaps or ridges of shingle, similar but different to the ones there before, arranged in new combinations whuich might last for hours or days or weeks or years or centuries.

I took the opportunity today to try listen to the voices of P and J, brothers, distant cousins of mine, just about the oldest surviving of the Brighton-born in our family. They have rather different accents from each other. One posher (though nowhere near RP), the other could easily pass for South London or urban north Kent. But I think I can hear the ghost of a Sussex accent in them, a little bit of the voice of their father, a man from rural Sussex. Their mother, who died recently, still sounded more Jarrow than Hebburn or Shields when she was in her eighties. She moved three hundred miles from home, her accent never moved even three miles in sixty years.

She was probably the last living person with any memory of my grandfather who I never met, and as far as I can tell almost no-one liked. I don’t even know what he looked like. Though I think I can guess. I saw a photo today of my uncle Joe (who died many years ago) and he looked astonishingly like my cousin Kevin. Both of them look quite like my Dad and his brother Fran (Kevin’s Dad) and also my own brother. Presumably they all got that look from somewhere, and I guess it must be their common ancestors, our grandfather and grandmother I never met. (Though I don’t look like that – I more resemble Mum apart from eyecolour and waistline and find myself reflected in all sorts of cousins in Scotland)

And afterwards in a car through Lancing and Shoreham to Brighton for a nostalgic drive along the seafront and a walk along the Palace Pier (the only one still more or less standing) taking in some bits of personal and family history on the way. The road goes all along the long lagoon of the River Adur and you can tell which part of the urban coastal strip you are in by the uses made of the lagoon. At the Worthing end it is filled in and made into a lawn. There are some beach huts and park furniture until a few huge vaguely gothicky-Arts-and_Crafts fake-timbered houses with pre-distressed rooflines and hanging tiles announce the begining of Lancing Beach. Norman Shaw come down to the coast and pupped with Arthur Rackham. Then a combination of unimaginitive recent blocks of flats and slighly less huge barn-like houses that seem to be an incongruous mixture of Swiss chalets and clap-boarded fishermen’s cottages. We try and fail to remember which one my aunt Vera kept a guest house in many years ago. The lagoon behind is now the Widewater, brackish and teeming.

Over the mouth of the Adur and past Shoreham Beach, which is marked by the sudden proliferation of houseboats, dingys and old leftovers from the pre-war plotlands, along with some much more imaginative modern blocks. Drive past a few very strange pubs I remember from years ago an lots of smallish 1950s and 1960s warehouses converted into either flats or furniture showrooms. Across the county boundary to East Sussex, which is at this point one of the most egregiously misplaced county boundaries in the country, cutting through both the port and continuously urban western extremities of Brighton, Whatever they say, Shoreham is a suburb of Brighton,

Then all of a sudden what remains of real industry, incongruously separating (for those who don’t know Brighton) horeham from Hove. Yes, there still are small coastal oil tankers, I saw one drawn up by the old Texaco oil terminal, it up by bright lights and with a huge NO SMOKING sign over the front of the superstructure, and ramifying manifolds of red-painted pipework and plumbing over the deck. And the timber yards are still where they were when I was a child, if a little smaller. And there is only one metal chimney on the new power station, not the two old brick ones I remember. We are passing Portslade.

The exact location of Southwick, Fishersgate, and Aldringon, is a matter for the Wise.

The start of Hove seafront is marked by beach huts and paddling pools on one side (the lagoon filled in yet again) and Edwardian “villas” Regency terraces, whitewashed flat-rooved portholed liner-style “modern” blocks of flats from between the wars, and small blocky 1960s hotels. The very last gasp of the old lagoon, the gap between the shingle and the mud, is occupied by the King Alfred centre, one of the most ugliest buildings in Britain. Swimming pool, bowlng alley and cheap cafes. Shiny and tempting when I was a kid, grey and falling apart now.

You can tell when you cross the border into Brighton. the shops are still open, the cafes full, and people don’t walk in the bike lanes. Though they do fight in the streets. The ruins of the West Pier are beautiful in the sunset, an unlooked-for unwanted glorious sculpture of tangled rust rising from the sea. There are people who want to preserve it as a ruin and I can see their point.

Park up in the darkness below the Promenade and terrace that covers the beginings of the cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea – no bare chalk till Black Rock, one of the greatest enineering triumphs of the early twentieth century, gicing the seafront a sort of three-dimensional feel no-where else quite has.
Then some fish and chips from one of the overpriced cafes near the bottom of East street (very authentic Brighton experience!)

And we drive our Mum back to where she is staying in Hurstpierpoint (“Hurst” the rather rah-rah locals call it), at the extremity of MegaVillage One. The last couple of miles are on the old road, one of those Wealden sunken lanes with a tunnel of trees, that are possibly the oldest human artefacts still in use in the British Isles. The houses by the side of the road are from the 1960s but the roas itself is perhapse three thousand years old or older. Our field boundaries are our history. the lines of the straight Roman roads were expunged centuries ago, but the landscape the people before the Romans knew – more likely the ones before them – is carved into the landscape by successive generations who walked the obvious way and wore their paths deep into the ground.

Got back to London just in time for last orders at the local

Sometimes pubs just work. And sometimes they don’t. Today was pub fail. I could have done with a lively chatty party feel. I could have coped with a quiet drink in the corner thinking to myself. What I found was a pub with only about eight or nine customers in it. A small gaggle of incoherently pissed blokes playing pool loudly – and ordering a minicab and then sending it away again because they’d either changed their minds about where they were going or were too drunk to have made up their minds in the first place – which must have pissed off the driver and certainly pissed off the barmaid because the mpore that happens the more reluctant the minicabs are to come when asked, and reliable cab numbers are a vital resource for a pub in London – the pubs and the minicabs have a symbiotic relationship and can’t afford to annoy each other.

And to one side of me D. and R., after an obviously bad day, sharing a tedious racist rant along “send them all back home” lines with passing digs at just about every ethnic minority they could think of – even the Spanish. Though mostly against black people. And at one point “I’d rather clean toilets than pay a black to clean them for me”. I didn’t feel up to saying “well bloody well do it then”.

And to the other side M., just back from a visit home to Northern Ireland, going on about how everything is more friendly there and how shit the English in general and Londoners in particular are, and how antisocial and unfriendly we are and how everyone treats her badly here and positively gloating about having been present for the thirtieth anniversary of the Warrenpoint ambush (which killed more British soldiers in one action than any war since has) and the murder of Mountbatten at Mullaghmore on the same day. It was grotesque and boring at the same time. If there was ever a moment I could have become an Ulster Unionist, that was it. And at the same time trying to make friendly conversation by asking all sorts of personal questions about my family which I didn’t feel at all like talking about. And she wonders why some people didn’t seem to like her and talk aggressively to her. And I wasn’t really capable of coping politely with that sort of conversation, speajing ill of the dead, so I popped out the back for a fag.

And heard another strange piece of found speech: “I’m leaking like a bitch” – from a drunk man who needed to go to the toilet a lot.

As for the title of this post – well some of Peggy’s family were over from Northern Ireland. Ballymeena and a bit of Portrush I think. I never knew I had a relative by marriage who was at school with Ian Paisley and actually knows him. Lets call her “T”. A strange feeling. Like most British lefties I was brought up with sympathies on the other side. I am told, though I didn’t hear it myself, that at dinner the night before T was complaining about about Belfast City Airport, now renamed George Best Airport (once upon a time it was called Sydenham Airport which sounds odd to an inhabitant of South East London). She hated the name. She said that George Best was an alcoholic, a drunkard, a waster, a violent man, whose liver transplant wasted an organ that might have saved a life, and a bad example of and to the people of Northern Ireland. She didn’t want to be associated with him. Why not, she suggested, name the airport after a decent family man? Someone who represented the best of Ulster life and Ulster values?

Who might that be? someone asked.

Ian Paisley of course.

It is reported that everyone else tried to change the subject after that.

Bonfire 2007 (3) The principle of the thing.

Thinking about it over the last few days, with and without beer, I now tend to agree with the idea that Bonfire is a practical demonstration of liberty. Despite the rather overblown flowery language some of the Lewes societies use on their programmes.

bonfire2007_4426 St Anne's Churchyard
Borough Bonfire 2007 bonfire2007_4427

Even – in fact especially – the burning of effigies of the living and the dead, offensive though that is. (This year Commercial Square burned a police superintendent on a rocket) It genuinely is a matter of free speech. If you are only free to say nice things you aren’t free. Free speech is the freedom to say evil and offensive things. Who would object to you saying only good things? If everyone burned in effigy was either safely dead, or obviously evil, then someone somewhere would be controlling who we are allowed to insult or protest against. If you can’t burn the Pope, who can you burn?

The same goes for meeting together in large numbers. Freedom of assembly and movement has to be the freedom to assemble in a way that might potentially worry or disturb some others. If you an only meet together in places where everyone agrees it is proper for you to meet, and in numbers that annoy nobody then you are not free to move and meet.

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bonfire_2006_barrells2174 Borough firesite
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Burnings aside (and Bonfire is a memorial to real people who really were burned at the stake in Queen Mary’s time) Bonfire is our carnival, our folk festival. For a value of “our” that is more or less limited to the people of the little blob at the bottom-right-hand corner of England between the Thames and the Channel, and most especially to those born or brought up in East Sussex. And its something we do in public, together. Not a display put on for us by local government or some charity or a private company (though all those are involved). Its not commercialised, packaged, or marketed (though plenty of people make a little money out of it, and why not?) Its something we do of and for ourselves.

And its something we increasingly DON’T do. Public bonfires are dying out, being replaced by managed and controlled firework displays. I love fireworks but they aren’t the whole point of the thing, they are an added extra. Not that many people have bonfire parties in their own gardens any more. When I was a kid there were bonfires all over Brighton. Private ones in gardens – my parents had a Bonfire party every year when we lived in Woodingdean in the 1960s – but also communal ones. On open land outside the council estates, one more or less on the Downs, even one on the beach,. I think there was sometimes one on the Level. These were not, as far as I could tell, run by committees or some organised charity or other trying to raise money. None of your “British Lions” or Heart Foundations or whatever, worthy though they might be (I hated it when the Heart people hijacked the London to Brighton bikeride). They seemed to be mainly built by boys a little older than me nicking old furniture from dumps (and from the next estate’s bonfires) And we stopped doing it. Sometime in my teenage, the practice died out.

Bonfire, 2006 Shaking hands with the bishop (Bonfire, 2006)
Someone blew something up... bonfire2003_1887
bonfire2003_1905 bonfire_2005_scared.0777

Which I think is why so many Brighton people go to Lewes, even those of us who no longer live in the South Country. Its the one place we can carry on participating in something we were brought up to and have been doing all our lives. Even if only by standing at the side of the road and cheering.

Talking of which, when one of the bands stopped outside St Anne’s and played God save the Queen and some of the crowd joined in, a man standing next to me raised his fist and gave us a verse of the Internationale. And it wasn’t even me 🙂

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Tom Paine's House Cliffe banners 2006
Bush, Blair and the UN Tom Paine's House

Bonfire 2007 (2) Lewes, Fifth of November

Late into town because of an apparently insanely intrusive policing policy at Brighton Station. Crash barriers and a huge snakey queue and passengers allowed on to trains in dribs and drabs by police or security staff at the carriage doors. I was queuing for over an hour, during which two trains left, one little more than half full, the other with at least some empty seats in every carriage, wile hundred of passengers were made to wait on another platform and watch them go. Then we finally got let onto a third train – and that was as crowded as the 08.27 to Charing Cross. Standing room only, aisles full of people, a dozen or more packed into every doorway. And we took over half an hour to get there because they were only letting people off the trains piecemeal at the other end – things were even more tightly controlled at Lewes, the Station Road being divided into four narrow paths by barriers forcing us to walk very slowly, and a complete line of police shoulder-to-shoulder at the bottom of Station Street by the Lansdowne Arms (which is where I would probably have tried to go on any night but Bonfire).

On the whole it was an astonishingly well-behaved crowd. Are people so passive in other countries? But I hate to think what it might have been like a few hours later when a lot more drink had been taken. What looks like a pointless bureaucratic irritation to a sober man at 6pm can seem a lot more like police provocation to the same man drunk at 11pm. Maybe next year I’ll change at Hayward’s Heath!

bonfire2007_4422 Queue at Brighton Station

These things go in cycles. Apparently 1906 was a bad year. In the late 1970s and early 1980s things were quite tolerant. Then there were concerns about Cliffe’s reputation, and too much drinking, and too many oiks like us coming from Brighton and crowding out the pubs, and the usual fuss about rookies and rousers (i.e. home-made, or at least home-repurposed, bangers and jumping-jacks, although rather louder than the little fireworks that most people associate with those names). So they started to close the pubs one by one until the only place you could buy a pint in the centre of town (without being invited to the landlord’s private party) was the bar of Shelley’s Hotel (in these more tolerant years its the only place you can’t) Security became harsh in places, lots of police blocking the roads, barriers everywhere. Nothing very bad happened. So they relaxed a little in the 1990s and opened the bars again. Nothing very bad continued to happen.

Sometimes a clampdown is kicked off by a couple of Friday or Saturday Bonfires in a row, where the crowds are typically larger. Or by a change of guard at County Hall, or a new Chief Constable, eager to make their mark (that’s the rumour about the current situation) But after a year or two of nothing very bad happening the police begin to notice that large numbers of locals think they are behaving like prats and pull back a bit. Or take part in the marches themselves and start having fun. And it is rare for bad things to happen. Sussex Bonfire people tend to look after their safety rather well and the marchers more or less always know what they are doing, as do most of the regular spectators – and they (we) are a lot more used to it than people from some other parts of the world.

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Anyway, I was about two hours late, and there was a huge press of crowd (more or less surrounded by police) completely blocking the way to the High Street. So I worked my round it and along Grange Road and then up the hill by St Pancras and Rotten Row and the little twitten that goes by St Anne’s Church, so I got into the churchyard just a few minutes after the Grand United Procession started.

St Anne’s churchyard is just about the best place to see the GUP from in some ways. I rarely manage to get down that far – we’re usually coming from the other direction, and have a few pints in one of the pubs further up the street. The church is at the top of the bottleneck in the High Street – a turn in the road, a steep place, a narrower than usual street – so its hard to get to other than from the back.

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And while I was there I met an unexpected friend, a crystallographer who used to work at our college and whose parents live round the corner in St Anne’s Crescent. So I not only got to see the procession but had some rather nice lentil soup and mulled wine – but I had to leave to get further up the hill in time for another drink with the friends I had been expecting to see (and was staying with) before we saw the Borough procession on their way to their firesite.

As always the Borough fire site was wonderful. A REAL BONFIRE! And because we are so high up the hill, with a view all over town, we get to see everyone else’s fireworks as well, as three or four displays compete with each other and bangs and flashes echo off the Downs and the cliffs. I guess this year Borough was probably the loudest, and maybe the prettiest with at one point some sort of red and gold flares shooting across each other trailing showers of sparks in front of more or less continuous wall of pink flame. Cliffe as often the most spectacular with some huge aerial bursts that cast clear shadows in the crowd around me perhaps two miles away. And Commercial Square (I think – their firesite was in a close line of sight with another) maybe the flashiest, sending up rings and targets and a couple of times writing “2007” in the sky with bursting mortars.

bonfire2007_4460 Borough firesite

Borough firesite bonfire2007_4474

(As usual lots more pictures if you select the links)

Bonfire!

And so to Lewes for the 2006 Bonfire.

I’d thought of all sorts of clever bloglike things to say but I’m knackered so I won’t.

Just that East Sussex is where we do Bonfire properly. And sad to say, Lewes (almost) the last place in East Sussex .

So here are some smallish cutdowns of the 200-odd pictures I took. Some of the larger originals can be found at http://ccs88.ccs.bbk.ac.uk/places/lewes/ at least for a while

bank with banners cliffe bridge with banners
tom paines house meridian pub

Some banners, Tom Paine’s house next to the Rationalist-Unitarian chapel, and the Meridian pub, an hour or so before sunset. If you look very carefully in the picture of Cliffe Bridge (or the much larger ones here) you can probably find the what must be the last “No Popery” banner in England.

burning barrells bush un
procession ghost band

Same location, an hour or so after sunset 😉

Must be the only place in the world you can see neo-pagan morris dancers, techno-drumming new agers, and a gay samba school in the same march as a William of Orange banner.

I realised later that I ought to have taken a photo of people placing using the (occupied) police car we were standing right next to as an improvised bar and convenient place for beer glasses.

borough firesite borough firesite
smoke look behind you

Fireworks and smoke a tthe Borough fire site.. The ones at the top were about 100 metres in front of us. The ones in the bottom right hand puicture were abotu two kilometers behind us in the valley. Big mortars!

borough fire borough fire
borough fire borough fire

And the Bonfire itself! It was rather big. I couldn’t handle standing as near as those folk in the bottom left picture are. Too hot!

Duck Soup

And wonderful soup it is. I just made it. I cooked a duck yesterday, A wild mallard I accidentally bought – I’d intended to buy a fish pie but there wasn’t one in the shop and I got carried away. I suppose it goes along with the pizza I accidentally made last weekend when I intended to bake some cheesy bread rolls for breakfast, but didn’t have any yeast (well I did really but I couldn’t find it because it was hiding behind some rice and beans) so I made some soda bread – sort of cheesy scones – but I ended up with far too much dough (even though I didn’t use the big mixing bowl) so I squashed the rest out flat and baked it in a pan in with tomatoes and more cheese on it so it was a sort of pizza and actually quite nice – but anyway, it was quite a small duck and I ate most of the obviously eatable bits (though I have a little plastic tub of slices for lunch) but I boiled the bones and left-over bits with some garlic and carrots and green beans to make a stock yesterday and I’m now eating a large mug of it with peas and a potato in it and it is lovely duck soup.

But anyway, it makes a nice end to a long day that’s not as relaxing as it should have been. I took the day off work and we went to the races at Plumpton. Lovely weather. The lack of autumn continues. Hot sunshine when we left this morning. It hazed over later and the weather was perfect for racing – neither warm nor cold, dry, but good going. The Downs were beautiful as always silhouetted against the sky with layers of blue-green scrub cumulating over the scarp, the sunset wonderful huge and bulbous, the rooks redolent of Not Being In London, the oak trees just turning colour, though the ashes and thorns are as green as in June – with golden keys and dark red overripe berries.

OK, we bet a little. Or rather gambled. No serious attempt to win. And no winnings at all (which is probably good, from the point of view of reducing the temptation to do it more than twice a year). Abigail wanted each-way bets on horses with interesting names or jockeys with pretty colours. I was into putting money on whatever the best-priced believable horse that wasn’t the favourite was. A bookies dream. They dine out in their holiday homes in northern Cyprus on the backs of punters like us. Though she did suggest backing a no-hope horse (no form, almost no races, amateur rider) in one handicap hurdle each-way at 22 to 1 and I put a tenner on to win (because each-way is a girly bet) and he came home second, so had it been each-way we’d have paid for the day, and I’ll never be allowed to forget it. So it goes.

And we missed the train back to London because we were admiring the horses back from the last race – astonishing amounts of sweat and steam and foaming at the mouth, *and* overhearing a stereotyped explanation from a certain mildly well-known jockey to a trainer as to why his mount came fourth – even though everyone else connected with it seemed to think it was a decent result – so we shouted over the railway track to ask the crowd on the other platform when the next train to Lewes was, and it was coming now, and it seemed better to dash over the footbridge and have a pint in the Lansdowne Arms than to wait another fifty minutes for the London train, but we missed the next train from Lewes so went back to the pub and had another drink, and didn’t get back to London till after 9, and popped into the local for another quick one but got into an argument about cheese sauce (to roux or not to roux?) and ended up back home after midnight.

But the duck soup was really nice.

And I’ve just finished it, so I’ll stop now.