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Which society do you feel most rivalry with? There’s a sort of pretend rivalry with Cliffe, as we’re the two biggest societies. The people who are in Bonfire Societies are more united with each other than they are with people who aren’t, and don’t understand what it’s all about. Some people try to hype up the hatred thing, but it doesn’t really exist, it’s just fun. We all drink in the same pubs.
What’s special about Commercial Square? Our motto is ‘For Independence’ and I think that’s fundamentally the crux of it all. It’s like that Sussex saying ‘we won’t be druv’: we’re standing up to bureaucracy, authority and we’re showing that we won’t be pushed around.
Has Bonfire Night got better or worse over time? I’d have to say worse for several reasons. Some of the societies are getting too big, and the crowds are getting bigger and worse behaved. Plus the policing is getting more heavy-handed - and they seem to focus on policing the societies rather than policing the spectators. The societies are perfectly capable of keeping their own members under control.
Is the festival anti-Catholic? Absolutely not. There are practicing and non-practicing Catholics in Commercial Square as there are in all the societies. One of the big fears is that Ian Paisley will try to hijack the celebrations to put forward an anti-Catholic message.
Do you welcome outsiders coming in? I don’t not welcome them, but I’d like to see the crowds much smaller. A couple of years ago I was too ill to participate, so I was a spectator. Never again. It was a nightmare. I went home and watched a video of a previous bonfire instead.


Latin lessons: The Commercial Square clergy dodge bangers at the
firesite. Pic by Peter Schueler