Thursday, 20 October 2011

Not painting the banisters

Someone recently asked me if I live on the Forth Bridge. I think the question was prompted by the fact that I always seem to be decorating. Dear friends, I can state quite categorically that I do not inhabit a Scottish railway bridge, but rather an Edwardian house by the Sussex shore that is in need of a lick of paint here and there. And I'm not always decorating. On some days - today, for instance - the sun was shining, so I went for a brief trundle round our local shops.

There often seems to be a kind of contest going on between the shops in Seaford. Earlier in the year many of the traders had circus-themed windows, featuring clowns and the like, and I suspect there must be a prize for the best dressed shop. At the moment, their theme is Hallowe'en, so pumpkins, skeletons, ghoulies (not a misspelling) and ghosties are much in evidence. But I was rather disappointed to see that our local funeral directors seem not to have joined in, however. As I mused upon the kind of display they might usefully have created, I bumped into a couple of programme sellers from the Seaford Bonfire Society.

Today marks the first procession of the newly reformed Seaford Bonfire Society. At around 7pm a motley group of pirates, smugglers (or Seaford Shags) and wreckers will , for the first time since 1977, march with blazing torches from their headquarters, through the town centre and on to a field close to Martello Tower no.74, where there will be a bonfire and firework display. There is a great tradition of bonfire societies in Sussex, most of which march to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of the 'Popish Plot'. It is our avowed intention to watch the celebrations tonight, and perhaps partake of a few glasses of ale thereafter. After purchasing my programme and exchanging pleasantries with a medieval lady and a female smuggler with a Jack Russell terrier, I met Mrs H and we betook ourselves to a salvage yard somewhere near Heathfield.

Salvage yards are fascinating places; full of stuff that the likes of you and I (or probably more likely, our parents) ripped out and threw away years ago. As a child of the sixties, I remember the television programmes featuring Barry Bucknell, the first TV DIY star. Mr Bucknell showed his viewers how to cover up an ugly Victorian panelled door with hardboard, and how to rip out those dreadful old fireplaces and install a nice electric fire their place. And now we're spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds to have them put back in. We were quite fortunate; in one of our spare bedrooms, behind a sheet of hardboard, we found an intact Edwardian cast iron fireplace, complete with grate, tiles, and the remains of the last fire.

Anyway, this salvage yard was a veritable treasure trove of old fireplaces, butler sinks, ancient doors, massive oak beams and reclaimed floorboards. One of the most interesting items was what appeared to be the cast iron columns that would originally have held up the glass canopy of a Victorian railway station. We were looking for a fender - one of those metal contraptions that fits around a hearthstone - but sadly none of the size we required were to be found today. There are plenty more salvage yards to go round, so that will be a task for another sunny day when I'm not giving the banisters yet another coat of paint.

After our foray into the world of salvage and reclamation, we drove home via the coast road through Eastbourne. The early autumn sunshine sparkled on the sea as trippers sauntered along the promenade or took the air on the pier, pensioners dozed in the sun-rooms of the seafront hotels, and ice cream sellers made the most of the unexpected warm weather. I'm told that these decent temperatures will be with us for a few days yet. It'll help the paint on my banisters to dry a little faster.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Beer, bells and badges

I like beer. And I like living in Sussex. So I suppose I should regard myself as exceptionally fortunate that I live in the county that is home to a beer to which I am particularly partial. I speak, of course, of Harveys beer. Harveys was founded in 1790 and is still, I'm pleased to say, going strong. And it was to Harveys brewery in Lewes that I and my morris dancing compatriots made our way last Saturday to dance in the Old Ale.

Dancing in the Old Ale has become an annual tradition, and this was my second visit to the festival, having been dancing with Long Man for just under two years. Long Man and other morris sides entertain the crowds, Harveys (by whom we are sponsored, incidentally) lay on a plenteous supply of Old Ale and a buffet lunch, and there is more dancing and general merriment in the afternoon.

After our first dance, I was called forward by the foreman (our 'dance master', if you will), who announced to the assembled public that it was time to present me with my badges. Our Squire (the head of the side) shook my hand and awarded me the much-coveted badges. For a morris dancer, being given your badges is a significant event. It means that the side's 'officers' believe you have reached a satisfactory enough standard to be awarded full membership. So, for the first time on Saturday, I was able to dance with my badges. And The Hat!

Of course, this is just the beginning. I still have a long journey to be anywhere near as good as the long standing members of the side, and there are still many dances from various traditions to learn and retain. But I am extraordinarily proud to be a member of the side and to wear its badges.

Oh, and the beer was pretty good on Saturday, too.