Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Dancing John

Dancing John*

John Major sways from side to side, dancing and jiggling inelegantly through sweaty revellers. Occasionally he spins around, grey, serious face contrasting with his hip and groovy moves. He’s a dancer, but an earnest one. Drum-beats, hypnotic, pulse through the orange-yellow torch lit air and urge the people forward. Calls of ‘Penny for the Guy!’ and choruses of ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,’ along with whoops and hollers accompany the drums.

An odd crowd, this: ghosties and ghouls, witches and werewolves, vikings and devils, Morris-men and monks, a scattering of tiny, glitter-clad Disney princesses. Dancing John leads them on, on to the town square and blazing fire. Flames lick discarded wooden crates and pallets, devour a tuneless piano whole, smoke a brown and orange 70’s carpet to finish. The crowd sway in time with John, writhing and wriggling, cheering and jeering as the beat quickens. The devils, red and rambunctious dance ‘round the fire waving plastic pitchforks – buy one, get one free, from Tesco. Drums and chants reach a crescendo and stop, stilling time. It is the witching hour. The hush is broken: ‘penny’ and ‘remember’ now replaced by ‘burn him, burn him, burn him.’ 

John watches over the crowd, expressionless.  Poker-faced and silent, a gentle shiver moves through his body. ‘Burn him, burn him, burn him.’ Dancing John squares his shoulders, bounces up and down, limbering up for his final act, then leaps, to the deranged ‘hurrahhhhhs!’ of the crowd. The giant, papier-mache effigy catches fire quickly, ‘whooshing’ as it does. In the background, a fiddle, drum, and squeezebox strike up a merry tune. Disney princesses dance with devils, a werewolf necks a pint, while a tiny ghost cheerfully polishes off a burger. The annual cathartic scapegoating has gone off smoothly and trouble-free. Police look on, watching the smouldering remains of dancing John’s frame moving slowly in the fire.

*If this were a completely accurate account, I'd have added the dinosaur that 'dancing' John rode on in the Lewes Bonfire Night of '94... perhaps that can wait for another day! Maggie Thatcher, Michael Howard, and Guy Fawkes also showed up. A cracking evening, though, and quite an eye-opening 'cultural' experience for a relative newbie to the UK!

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