The rumours spread like flaming torches, and Lewes was ablaze with gossip. Was this guy for real? No-one knew anything. Then Grange Girl rang and said a friend of a friend knew this man, and he’d asked to speak to me. Why? No-one could say.
The arrangements were cloak and dagger. Grange Girl and her contact blindfolded me and drove in disorientating circles, though the swerve of the one-way system past Chaulas was unmistakable. The precautions seemed slightly superfluous when we finally stopped and I was pushed out of the car into a central Lewes street.
They wished me luck, and screeched off (Grangey must fix that fan-belt), and I rapped the knocker for the basement flat. A middle-aged man wearing a spotty jumper cautiously opened the door, and I blurted, ‘Catesby?’ He let me in.
The basement was ill-lit, the walls papered with maps and charts. He gave me a cup of noxious gunpowder tea. ‘Fire away’, he said, ‘I’m ready to talk.’
I jumped right in, like Paxman. ‘Is it true’, I stammered, ‘that you are the ring-leader of an Anti-Bonfire Society?’
‘No!’ he yelled, making me spill my tea, a happy accident. ‘We’re not anti-bonfire at all. We love it, in fact. The heat, the effigies, the toasty marshmallows…’
‘Oh!’ The rumours were wrong.
‘It’s the noise’, he explained, ‘We’re anti-fireworks.’
‘Rockets?’ I probed, like Trisha.
‘Oh no, I like rockets. They’re a bit loud, but very pretty. Whoosh!’ he made missile-like movements with his arms, under cover of which I dispersed the rest of my tea.
‘No’, he continued, his brow darkening, ‘My comrades and I are seeking the wholesale embargo of’ and he hissed the word, ‘bangers!’
He outlined the group’s plans: a uniform of spotty jumpers, to allow easy identification of sympathisers. A catchy name, the Ban-Bangs (they’d decided against the Gang-Bangs). And a meticulous campaign leading to shock and awe on Bonfire Night, when Ban members would approach young people letting off bangers and politely ask them to stop.
He swept his arm round the room as though it were a military base, and strode amongst the maps moving red and black pins about. But whenever he spoke of his group he said, ‘I’ then hastily corrected it to ‘we’. His spotty jumper had a hole in the elbow. The group’s logo was from ClipArt.
‘Can I ask’, I said, as he sidestepped an unfurled banner with its symbol of someone sleeping peacefully in bed, ‘Why you wanted to speak to me?’
‘You write for the national papers’ he whispered. ‘You can give me, I mean us, the oxygen of publicity.’
‘I think there’s been a mistake’, I said.
‘You’re not from the Times?’ he said, aghast.
‘Don’t worry’, I said, ‘I write for something better.’
The car was waiting, and I stepped in. Kobayashi was at the wheel.
‘Put the blindfold back on’, I instructed him. ‘I don’t want to see anything for a while.’
Beth Miller, 25th February 2008. Published in Vivalewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, November 2009.