Bonfire Night in Lewes: nothing prepared me for Matt Hancock and his naked companion | Zoe Williams

I was moderately positive that I may dwell my complete life with out agreeing as soon as with Jacob Rees-Mogg, and I almost made it; then he stated he cherished fireworks. Unhappily, I additionally love fireworks. This 12 months I went to Lewes in Sussex, which is just like the Glastonbury of setting hearth to issues, the pilgrimage of the really devoted, the place the place there are too many firework shows for a firework lover to see all of them, though in contrast to at Glastonbury, you possibly can concurrently hear all of them.

I had by no means been earlier than, and had heard a lot about it that I used to be afraid it may not meet my expectations. It seems that in case your expectation is that a whole lot of issues will explode, it’s nearly not possible to be disillusioned. “Good servant, unhealthy grasp,” they all the time say about hearth, forgetting all the opposite jobs it might do: wonderful avenue entertainer, suspense-builder, child-minder. I noticed a four-year-old carrying a flare significantly longer than their very own leg; that child was undoubtedly not about to misbehave or take a break to eat raisins.

You couldn’t have this a lot incendiarism with out a whole lot of planning, and it takes all 12 months, with a Captain of Effigies, a Captain of Torches and a Captain of Fiery Items. It seems like a circle of managerial hell, the place three individuals have been given broadly the identical job, and spend the remainder of their careers engaged solely in schemes to tear one another down, however as a result of it’s a leisure exercise, it appears to work. Additionally, you must assume twice about making an enemy round this a lot petrol.

In addition to, the chain of command is absolutely clear: the Captain of Effigies is king, since that is the place you get to take the nation’s temperature. You possibly can dispense with opinion polling and simply sit in for a 12 months on the Lewes effigy conferences, to see the place individuals actually are on the problems of the day. However you do should put the hours in. In case you weren’t in the room the place it occurred, you haven’t any probability of deciphering them.

Ridin’ with Rodin … the Lewes Matt Hancock effigy. {Photograph}: Neil Corridor/EPA

So in addition to a Boris Johnson and a Rees-Mogg, there was a Dominic Cummings, carrying glasses, having a watch take a look at. So much to unpick, right here – why was the optician carrying nothing however a lab coat and a loin material? Or was it a nappy? The message was fairly clear, although: we’ve had sufficient of your bullshit, Cummings, and simply because we’re about to set hearth to it, that doesn’t imply it’s forgotten.

Matt Hancock, in the meantime, was modelled after Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss, with a naked girl draped throughout him, and right here the symbolism actually broke down for me – was it really his girlfriend, or was it the beleaguered NHS, or was it the ailing nation, and can anybody hereabouts give me a fast low-down on what Rodin’s authentic message was, as which may assist? No person I used to be with on the time may, as they have been engaged full time making an attempt to determine what number of tons of potatoes the chip store had obtained by, relative to a daily Friday.

A crow-masked man in spiritual robes was holding a large needle over a globe, however – right here we go once more – was the globe the virus or the Earth; was the determine an avenging angel or a bringer of dying; and what have been we cheering after we set it alight? Had we by chance joined an anti-vax protest? Oh, and there was Joe Biden, however he was both a hen (Afghanistan?), or a turkey (basic, light-hearted anti-Americanism).

There’s a distinct segment life lesson, right here – that papier-mache is an extremely difficult medium for biting political satire. However I can nonetheless draw broad conclusions: everybody’s sick of the federal government, and all its many tendrils; they’re additionally fairly sick of the pandemic; they actually love setting hearth to issues.


Jacob Rees-Mogg, by the way, concluded his paean to gunpowder by asserting nobody wants an Oliver Cromwell-style government, “cracking down on each potential little bit of enjoyable that individuals have”. In actual fact, Cromwell, whereas closely anti bears and Christmas, was advantageous with fireworks however it is a characteristic of recent Conservatism, redirecting civic discontent wherever however the place it belongs. The individuals of Lewes aren’t having any of it.

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