Five hundred thousand light bulbs

and the climate goes up in flames…

According to the woman standing near me on Monday watching this madness, the Somerset carnivals look set to suffer as incandescent light bulbs are phased out. Not that you could have guessed it in Weston-Super-Mare on Monday night. Those floats would have been visible from miles up in the atmosphere, a fabulous blaze of grinning pumpkin faces and spinning kaleidoscope pin-wheels; fire-belching dragons, ten-foot knights, blue leering tigers, giant chess pieces and playing cards; marching nightmares and dancing dreams all illuminated by enough wattage to light a small town for six months.

The Somerset carnival tradition apparently dates back to the 1600s and was a celebration of the defeat of the gunpowder plot, like bonfire night. I’ve always thought it a little ironic that something as potentially anarchic as bonfire night started as a state-sponsored affirmation of the status quo (playing with fire, anyone?) but anyway, the carnival this year was a fantastic two-hour parade, completely over-the-top and down the other side and off into the next field. There was drag and burlesque and the odd rude joke, and the dancers were rather kinkily chained to the floats, but overall it was loads of spectacular but innocent fun, as happily, indigestibly unglamorous and English as a pork pie.

No doubt behind the scenes it’s a cut-throat affair, as the clubs compete for best float and best towing-vehicle driver (in my opinion, the great big stolid tractor driver towing the Kingdom of Heaven float, his halo sprouting one tiny fluffy feather).

And then there’s the controversy of the light bulbs. It would be a sad thing if the Somerset carnival tradition went out in a whimper of energy-saving CLF lamps and a climate of governments fiddling while the planet burns.

You can see photos of the carnival here. And, in an unrelated picture, a reminder from Alan Moore of the potential anarchy of bonfire night celebrations (hey, carnival clubs – how about a V For Vendetta float next year?) It might not be quite time to try and blow up parliament again, but maybe it is time to do something more than change the light bulbs if we want to change the world.


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