Happy All Hallows’ Eve to All … Depending on your country of origin, Halloween will stir up different memories. The ‘Americanisation’ of Great Britain in recent years, has brought forth the ‘Trick or Treat’ era, albeit half-heartedly in many quarters when compared to the enthusiasm of the States. On our little island, it tends to be tiny tots dressed as fairies and accompanied by older siblings (or dads) who tentatively knock on the door and say ‘thank you’ when you place the tooth rotting sugar sticks into their plastic buckets. I have heard of shops refusing to sell flour bags or eggs to teenagers over this period, but yet to see any ‘tricks’ carried out. In general, it is a low-key affair, with the unwritten understanding that a lit pumpkin outside the house, or displayed in a window, denotes a warm welcome.
Having been brought up in Cambridgeshire during the 60’s and 70’s, our Halloween was a very different affair altogether. My Grandmother would tell tales of ‘soul cakes’, which were eaten at midnight in candlelit rooms. This tradition was apparently meant to welcome back the souls of dead loved ones and let them know they were still remembered. Children would visit neighbours and sing traditional ditties or say little prayers for money or more cakes … some say this was imported to America via Ireland and developed into the ‘Trick or Treat’ phenomena, so we may have ourselves to blame after all…
The ‘souling’ tradition had fizzled out by the time of my childhood, but we still stayed up late and told ghost stories around the coal fire, which I suppose relates quite closely. During the day we would go to the local fair that always visited our town around this time of year. Here, amongst the Waltzers, Dodgems and blaring music, (fabulous ‘Beatnik’ or ‘Glam-Rock’ of course), there were huge barrels set up for apple bobbing. Some stalls would have big red apples strung on long pieces of twine and the task was to eat a whole one, with your hands behind your back, for a prize….somewhat ironical, this would usually be a toffee apple!
Far more important to us as kids, was Guy Fawkes or Fireworks Night. Great importance was placed on having the biggest bonfire and the most spectacular fireworks. To this end, we would stuff an old sweater and trousers with balled up newspaper, rather like a scarecrow, with string tied around the wrists and ankles. A paper bag would also be stuffed, a face drawn on, hat popped atop and stuffed mittens placed for hands. Almost every street corner would have a couple or three of scruffy urchins, proudly showing off their motley efforts. Some were displayed on orange crate go-karts or, like ours, stuffed into an old pram, many more were strapped to lamp posts or just propped up against a wall. Without fail though, the same cry rang out to passers-by…
‘Penny for the guy?’ This was usually followed by the directive…’Mister!’ As of course, all men carried change in their pockets in those days.
Every gratefully received penny would be slung into a glass jam jar and the joy we had in counting out these grubby coins was almost as great as the actual fireworks they would buy. I don’t remember there being an age restriction being put on purchasing these potentially dangerous bits of cardboard packed with explosives. I do however, recall the unspoken rule that only my dad was permitted to light them. The excitement of Bonfire Night was immeasurable. One year my dad chopped up an old piano (dreadful really) and that meant our fire burnt the brightest in our street, which was thrilling. There were Catherine Wheels nailed to the shed, Roman Candles embedded into the grass and dozens of Rockets that were propped upright in milk bottles. Jacket potatoes were wrapped in tinfoil and cooked under the bonfire and served with cold butter. More toffee apples and (for some unknown reason) bowls of Baked Alaska were consumed.
Now, in reality, the Roman Candles spewed out 30 seconds of coloured smoke that stung your eyes, the milk bottles would topple and a mad panic ensued as the Rockets shot towards the watchers at speed. The Catherine Wheels would sometimes get stuck and not rotate, spitting out sparks like a tiny Haley’s Comet. Next day, the grass would be charred and covered in sodden cardboard and us kids would be grumpy from staying up late and have stomach ache. But it was STILL the best day of the year barring Christmas.
Having said all that, about my nostalgic preference for November 5th, what was I doing at 7 am this morning?
Covering my beautiful daughter-in-laws face with this….
I suppose if you can’t beat them, you just have to get involved…lol