Contains one mild expletive – mine.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
What a febrile world is social media.
Yesterday was 5th November if you hadn’t noticed – Guy Fawkes Day. Gunpowder, treason and plot. Bonfires and fireworks from Penzance to Stornoway and most places in between. Kids small and large ooh-ing and aah-ing at municipal and community displays lighting up the autumnal night.
But stop. What is this? Another dastardly insult to the proud Scottish nation from those nasty racist English, in particular the good if hitherto unknown folk of the East Sussex town of Lewes.
For they have the biggest and best bonfires of all. They make a veritable industry out of it. Think Notting Hill carnival. Think the Siena Palio. Think Rio carnival. For Scots, think Up Helly Aa.
Organised groups from different areas of the town and nearby places compete to put on the best displays for their own special 5th November, which as well as Guy Fawkes commemorates 17 martyrs burnt at the stake in the town in the 16th century. You can read all about the Lewes bonfire celebrations here.
Best of all, and I do mean best as you will see, they construct effigies of famous people, parade them through their town and consign them to the flames. No one powerful seems to be immune from the jollity. On a quick search of Google Images I spotted David Cameron, Angela Merkel, the Pope, Colonel Gaddafi and Barack Obama.
Only this year they made a fatal mistake. Two of their bonfire societies chose to construct effigies of Alex Salmond. Here’s one of them.
I only found this out yesterday morning when Twitter and Facebook came alive with denunciation:
- the images were offensive
- they insulted our first minister
- worse than insulting Alex Salmond, they included ‘treasured national symbols.’ One was the Loch Ness Monster, an imaginary creature invented in the 1930s to boost tourism
- the same effigy included a ‘Yes’ badge and the legend ‘45%’ on a wooden spoon, belittling the democratic triumph of the Scottish people in their independence referendum (mathematical note to offended parties – 45% is less than 50%. If you get 45% of a vote it’s not a triumph, you’ve lost)
- and so on and so on.
To prove the iniquity of the whole enterprise someone condemned the ‘racism’ of an East Sussex County Council tweet that said
A sneak preview of Alex Salmond and Nessie ahead of tonight’s bonfire in Lewes – it just rolled up at County Hall
and attached an image of the second effigy:
Within an hour or two the wimps (other words are available) at the council had deleted their tweet and issued another emphasising that the effigies ‘have NO connection to ESCC.’
Unbelievably, local police were said to be investigating a complaint about the effigies. Doubtless the complaint was made online and whoever was fool enough to do so should have been sent on their way with the electronic equivalent of a clip around the lug.
Meantime, other offended people were combing images of past Lewes bonfire nights. They found some burning crosses here, so ‘Ku Klux Klan.’ A sign saying ‘No Popery’ there, so ‘Bigotry.’ And tucked away in one corner of one photo, one individual who seemed to have blacked up for some reason. See? ‘RACISM!’ Case proven. God, the English must hate us.
Except that if they looked a bit deeper, actually just that one click away (the link to the Lewes bonfire celebrations above), they’d find the truth.
Inconvenient things, truths. Here’s one of mine.
It’s wonderful that the bonfire societies of Lewes do all this.
It’s part of a long tradition of carnivals and folk celebrations that, let’s not pussyfoot around this, take the piss out of powerful people. Powerful people who want to mould us and society to their own image and beliefs. They need taking down a peg or two occasionally, even the democratically elected ones.
And, perversely you might say, the powerful ones, at least the democratic politicians, love it all. What’s worse than being parodied? Ignored. Ask any cartoonist who produces a vicious image of some politico only to get a phone call from them the next day along the lines of ‘Er, would you be willing to sell me the original?’ I don’t think Alex Salmond would have room for any unused effigies in his downstairs toilet but perhaps the National Museum of Scotland might like to put in a bid for one. That’s a serious suggestion.
I’ve been accused of being obsessed with the SNP and with Alex Salmond on this blog although no one apart from the most hostile or ignorant reader could believe this post is really about the first minister. Indeed, he seems to have entered into the spirit of the thing, albeit with a slightly inaccurate sting in the tail, saying last night
I’m in pretty good company – Angela Merkel got the burning treatment from the East Sussex Conservative council. I think their judgment is askew but if they think I’m a threat to the Westminster establishment like Guy Fawkes, they are right.
Whether this year’s Lewes company is that good is a moot point as one of the other effigies on display was of Vladimir Putin in a mankini (if you want to provoke a response I’d be more worried about annoying Vlad than Eck).
Here’s a second truth.
Two groups come out of this badly.
First, those in Sussex (council, police, bonfire societies) who reacted so pathetically to the hyper-sensitivity of a relatively small number of complainants.
Second, the complainants themselves, mostly but not wholly Scots, who take offence at every perceived slight and are devoid of any wider understanding, not least of humour and satire. Sadly, the words chip and shoulder come to mind.
Finally, there are plenty of ironies in this 24-hour wonder. Here’s one. The Lewes bonfire celebrations in this 100th anniversary year of the first world war are remembering those who fell in war. On the Lewes bonfire web site there is a YouTube video of a poignant song about the death of a soldier in that war – The Green Fields of France. The soldier is Scottish. The song was written by a Scot. The song was on the web site before the morons started jumping up and down yesterday.