Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

November the fifth is a memorable day, one where I usually find myself watching V for Vendetta with a big bowl of popcorn and some friends. But now that I find myself on the Coast of England and just a half hour away from the Bonfire Capital of the World – well, I decided I had to check it out. So last week, we did just that!

We headed to Lewes on the train after waiting in a relatively short queue. We even managed to snag seats, we seemed to be in the clear, and I wondered just how packed this celebration would be. It was packed. I’m talking 30,000 people. It was incredible, the tiny streets filled with crowds of bonfire goers, from tots to teens to grandparents. We made our way towards the parade, dodging drunks and people with flaming torches. The parade is made up of several bonfire societies, all of them dressed in different costumes. Some were simple, just striped shirts and maybe some face paint, while others were dressed as the Pope or Native Americans with massive headdresses. Basically, if this were to happen anywhere else in the world, there would be havoc and a lot of ridicule. But it’s been a tradition here for so long it’s just something to look forward to each year. And a good excuse to drink in public. How outrageous the event is is what draws the massive crowds. Also, it is a lot of fun, so long as you don’t get too offended.

Now, I had been warned about bangers but wasn’t sure what to expect. Until one landed next to my feet and exploded. I shrieked, covered my head and wondered what had just happened. Oh yeah, get used to that, it’s going to happen. A lot. Eventually the heat from all of the flames and the noise from all the bangers and fireworks blended into the night…it just became natural. And it was amazing, I really couldn’t believe my eyes.

So, if you were to go to this event uninformed about why they do it, you might be a little shocked at seeing burning crosses and the like. But if you know that November fifth was the uncovering of the gunpowder plot back in 1605 – yes, Guy Fawkes and his crew had plans to blow up the House of the Lords but were thwarted. So now we burn effigies, set off fireworks and get a little rowdy. It’s also quite anti Catholic, hence the burning/exploding Pope. Mind you, it’s definitely not as violent as it used to be, and I’m glad for that. Also, in terms of the offensive parts, it’s all meant to be in good fun, but I guess it would depend where you stand in terms of your religious and political views. I tried to not think about it and just experience the event with an open mind.

Here are some photos from Jack’s iPhone, quality isn’t best, but photos couldn’t do justice to how grand it truly was in any case!

Parade on Bonfire Night

Parade on Bonfire Night

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Excited

Excited

Big bad baby...

Big bad baby…

We ended our night at Commercial’s bon fire. They had several effigies, including the Pope, Guy Fawkes and what I believe was either Kim Jong Un or Kim Jong Il as a giant baby. It had missiles strapped to it’s giant pram. Everyone threw their torches at the massive pile of wood with Guy Fawkes sitting on the top. It had to be three storeys high. Eventually it was billowing a lot of smoke. Next came the fireworks, and the effigies blew up in a rather comical fashion. And the fireworks, they were amazing. Better than anything I had ever seen at any Canada day or Fourth of July celebrations. Sorry North America, but bonfire night really kills it in the fireworks department. And that was only ONE bonfire society. There were several more around the city.

All in all, a successful night. The train ride home was less than comfortable, as we waited for over an hour in a massive line full of drunk teenagers. But I was still basking in the glow of a great evening. I really would like to encourage everyone to make their way to Lewes at least one November in their lifetime to experience this evening. Just don’t take it too seriously. Oh, and have a few beers. Dodge some bangers. Laugh.

-M

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Just a wee dram – our holiday in Glasgow

In September we chose a rather warm climate, but last month we headed north to Scotland. The flight from London Gatwick to Glasgow International Airport was about the equivalent of flying from Toronto to Ottawa. And for the first time in awhile I was able to get off the plane without finding myself trapped in a massive line intended for “non EU passport holders”. In Italy Jack zipped ahead of me as I waited behind maybe 200 Americans who had arrived from New York, what luck.

We got in on a Sunday night with just a few days to spend in the city. We were lucky enough to have lovely friends – Miriam and Tim – meet us at the bus station in the city centre. From there the obvious next step was to find a pub or bar of some sort. They know all of the best spots. Our first stop was Nice N’ Sleazy, usually crowded but on a Sunday evening it was a lot more tame. My first pint in Scotland was not a Tennant’s, but that came a few days later when we found ourselves in a rather strange bar. We had a half and made a swift exit.

Glasgow seems to have some sort of reputation for violence etc, but I found the city to be full of kind people. What got me the most was the stunning architecture. Most notably, University of Glasgow. Walking through the Campus would probably make you think about Hogwarts and then make you wish you had gone to school in Glasgow. It made my University campus seem small in comparison, and certainly a lot more boring. But then again, a lot of things back home can seem “boring”, especially since history runs so much deeper in the UK.

While we did spend a lot of time checking out numerous drinking spots, we also managed to have a day where we wandered out of the West End. We were lucky enough to stay with Miriam and Tim in their amazing flat right in the centre of the West End, which, by the way, is probably the coolest area to stay in while in Glasgow.

So, we took a bus to Luss, which was about an hour. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we were dropped off outside the little village, where we walked down to Loch Lomond. The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond…

What a view. It was a foggy day but beautiful none the less!

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We then made our way back to some trails, where we hiked up some roads, going up and up. The hills were amazing, but unfortunately, we managed to take the wrong trail as recommended by Tim and Miriam. That was a bummer, but we still had a great afternoon and had plenty of good views. We also had numerous encounters with sheep and cows.

ImageImageAfter a day of hiking we had rather sore feet, but that didn’t deter us from going to, yes, more bars! I even managed to find a pumpkin ale at a place called Dram. That was very exciting, because I had been searching for many weeks at this point. We spent what we thought was our last day at a Botanics garden, which was amazing. I had never seen so many species of plants in my life. It made me wish I had my very own greenhouse. We also went to a nice little hidden tea house called Tchai Ovna. We would have never found it without specific directions from Miriam. We also checked out some cool vintage shops in the West End. Basically, I decided that I should live in Glasgow at some point. It was overwhelming how cool this city is!  Even though it rains and the sky is grey quite often, I found the people much friendlier than here in good old England. Sorry guys. It’s that Scottish charm that got me.

And the icing on the cake – our flight was cancelled. Which meant one more night in Glasgow. Could it be?! YES! So we had a chance to check out a really traditional night of Scottish céilidh music. I drank whisky and ginger, and wondered why everyone was so hard to understand. Were they drunk? Was I drunk? Or was I really that ignorant? I couldn’t understand the thick accents!

A man old enough to be my grandfather said something I couldn’t understand, grabbed me by the arm and swung me violently around in some sort of dance I had never seen or done before. Everyone was laughing, eventually the horror on my face turned into a smile and I was enjoying myself, despite being slammed into other men and women on the dance floor. I was mildly confused but also delighted to be taking part and having a truly authentic Scottish experience.

Here is where it all starts to make sense…sort of.

About an hour later they asked where we were from.

Canada, Tim and I replied. (Jack said England and was promptly ignored. It hurt his feelings.)

They just laughed and apologized. It turns out they had all been speaking Gaelic the whole time and thought we were from around there and knew the language. This was even more funny because Tim had mentioned earlier that my red hair may cause some locals to think I’m Scottish. What do you know, it did.

That was a great ending to our trip to Scotland! And yes, we will most certainly be going back.

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-M