Weekend Break, Bonfire and Kipling

11 Nov

We arrived back from a long weekend away late yesterday afternoon. England is a small country, but to travel between small towns can take ages, as the roads wind endlessly and all sorts of delays can occur; for road-works, tractors, school runs and weather. Our journey down to Kent was mostly painless, and the area where David and Debra and Rebecca live is delightful and countrified. Rural Kent still exists, and together with most of Sussex, Hampshire and even part of Surrey, forms a distinct region. If you are annoyed with the all-snouts-to-the-trough attitude of Westminster and the City, don’t extend your ire to the rest of the south east.

On Saturday we visited Rye for the bonfire ceremony / celebration. This is an East Sussex speciality, where Lewis, Hastings, Rye and other places compete to give the most spectacular and worrying bonfire and fireworks, Until recently Lewes used to burn the Pope in effigy. All this to remind people of how an act of terrorism was foiled on November 5th, 1605, when Guido (Guy) Fawkes was arrested while minding a large number of barrels of gunpowder placed under the Parliament buildings, just prior to the opening by King James 1st (England, he was James 6th of Scotland). All the worthies of the nation were to be there, and a coup was scheduled for the time immediately after the explosion.

Masked and painted revellers marched through the narrow streets brandishing flaming torches, drummers drummed and a fire breathing dragon completed the parade. Then down to The Salt where a large bonfire had been built. The torches were tossed onto the bonfire, and as it flamed a firework display lit the sky. Thunderflashes echoed around, sending gouts of wet mud into the air. The entire event was a release valve for the anarchy in us all, and a Health and Safety nightmare. Long may it continue.

On the Sunday we visited Batemans, a National Trust property that was Rudyard Kipling’s house. He brought in the furniture and decorations and reorganised the gardens and grounds. The place positively reeks of his personality. At a time of reflection for Remembrance Day, it is also a stark reminder that the great poet of empire lost his only son in the Great War.

I shall be reading more of Kipling’s work soon. He was a much more complex writer than the jingoist he is often made out to be. He knew the value of perspective and how travel broadens the mind. Billy Bragg slightly misquoted Kipling in one song. The real verse is this:

Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro —
And what should they know of England who only England know? —
The poor little street-bred people that vapour and fume and brag,
They are lifting their heads in the stillness to yelp at the English Flag!
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At a time when the yelpers are voting for UKIP they should know that Kipling would not have agreed with their narrow-minded view of the world.

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