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Jon Teamlaverne Jon Teamlaverne | 10:58 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

Flaming Tar Barrels


Flaming tar barrels! It sound like the sort of thing Alf might say on Home and Away, but these are real life, big old barrels coated in tar and then set alight. So, what do people do with these barrels? Well, you're probably assuming they run away from them and take cover, but no, this being a crazy West Country bonfire tradition, they actually pick them up, put them on their back and run around town with them.


Yes, this truly nuts tradition takes place in the town of Ottery St Mary in Devon (birthplace of the poet Coleridge - trivia fans) on Friday 5th. It's been going on there for as long as anyone can remember. Apparently it used to be just rolling the barrels through the streets and then one year it became picking them up and running with them. Now that's what I call evolution!


Brilliantly, it's not just big tough men who do this, there's a run for the kiddies earlier in the day with child-sized flaming tar barrels, later there's medium ones for 'women and youths' and then it builds up to the 'gert big unz' for the blokes - these have to be seen - they are genuinely huge barrels billowing out flames as the men run through the crowds.


It's pretty spectacular and exciting - one of those great British country traditions. The website reminds you that you go there at your own risk and they're also asking that, if you go, you remember to make a donation to their collectors - they had problems last year that have upped the cost of their insurance cover.


Click here to see a Youtube video of the flaming barrels. It is of course sound-tracked with The Prodigy's 'Firestarter'!




I'm finding it very hard to let go of Halloween (my favourite festival) and this is an event that keeps the spirit going (no ghost pun intended!).


Witchfest is happening at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon in Surrey on Saturday 6th Nov.


It's billing itself as "the largest Witchcraft festival held in the World within recorded history" (clearly there were some massive witchfests before history started being recorded) and is a chance for witches, those curious about witchery and, perhaps, just people who have read Harry Potter, to gather together for witch-based talks, workshops and entertainment.


When we're talking witches here we're talking followers of the religion of Wicca as opposed to just people who like going around wearing pointy hats (though there may be a few of those). There are talks from various pagan and Wicca exerts (including Prof Ronald Hutton who was a lecturer at my university), witches, a model/actress who's in a very low budget film about witches and a bard - so a varied bunch.


There are workshops, including a wand workshop and a Muggle Magic workshop for kids.


The evening's entertainment proves the overlap in the Venn diagram between witches and Goths. Headliners are Gothic stalwarts Inkubus Sukkubus, a new band called Cellar Door who sound alright and others (including the bard). It all finishes off with a good Goth club night called The Witching Hour.


I like these sort of conventions - it's always fun to tap into a sub-culture - and if you're part of that sub-culture it's a great chance to meet up with other aficionados.


Tickets are still available - they're even cheaper if you become a member of 'The Children of Artemis'...


Fireworks and Bonfires!


If flaming barrels and witchcraft don't float your Guy Fawkes night, there are, of course, plenty of other options. There may not be as many fireworks displays as there once was (thanks to the recession and health and safety legislation!) but there are still loads:


Of course this weekend is all about fireworks and bonfires. There are fireworks displays all over the UK. Some of the most impressive ones are Carlisle on Saturday (35,000 people and a 40ft bonfire); Bute Park in Cardiff also on Saturday; Edinburgh - who are holding with tradition and doing it on Friday the 5th - there's big displays at both Meadowbank Stadium and Musselburgh Racecourse; Stockton on Tees in the North East and Roundhay Park in Leeds, both also on Friday. Of course there's hundreds more across the country, big and small, but I can't mention them all here.


Probably the most famous bonfire celebrations in the country are in Lewes near Brighton on Friday 5th. The bonfire traditions in Lewes date back to the 17th century and actually started out as protest riots. These days there are seven different bonfire societies keeping the tradition going, marching though the streets in costume and often hitting the headlines for the effigies they burn on the bonfire (previous victims include Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair and traffic wardens). Because of its reputation it gets incredibly packed and I noticed on the website the organisers are actually urging non-locals NOT to come! If you choose to risk it though, as thousands do, it is meant to be an amazing experience.


London has it's fair share, such as Blackheath, Battersea Park and Victoria Park in Hackney - here's a list of them http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/london-fireworks-displays.aspx - but there's an event that looks a lot more interesting than your average fireworks display that's caught my eye...


Master Shipwright's Revelry is an alternative bonfire event described as being for those who want to "avoid the hordes of hotdog munching, banger throwing, feral kids".


It's held in the historic Master Shipwright's Palace in Deptford and spreads across the house's grounds, unique wooden theatre and ballrooms. It's organised by The Magpie's Nest Folk Club and South London folk club Kit And Cutter, and there's a great line up of folky bands including Spiro, Louis Killen and The Princes in the Tower - an offshoot of one of my favourite bands Circulus, 'the country's premier neo-medieval psychedelic folk rock band'.


There are also bands from Niger and Bulgaria, storytelling, Morris dancing from all-female troupe The Belles of London City, food, real ale, fireworks and a "fire-lit ritual for a drowned sailor with full river burial procession", plus lectures on Guy Fawkes and London's river faring traditions.


It's £15/£10 to get but sounds worth it to me if you fancy a more unusual bonfire night experience.



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