It takes tenacity to hollow out a swede.
Was there British trick or treating before 1978?
That’s when I remember it beginning. Knocking on the doors of our village neighbours, there was much confusion. Now, we live in candy prepared days. Haribo and Mini Mars bars fill the skeleton’s bucket. The Jack O Lantern sweet pail was not readily available in shops then. These were simpler times of subtle invasion by grotesque consumerism. Broken biscuits, some seemingly snatched from a husband mid dunk, and sachets of Cup-A-Soup dropped into a mother’s shopping basket.
I was dressed as every monster imaginable. I had a Quasimodo spine (cushion) , Dracula teeth (cut from cardboard) and Frankenstein monster stitching (mother’s now blunted eyebrow pencil, which I also used to draw on a McCloud moustache when fancy took me). I had also attempted to make lumpy scars out of blu tack and red marker pen, but blu tack has not tack when applied to child flesh.
Some people just opened their door, looked confused, and then shut it again. Others said, “trick”, and we weren’t really prepared for that. The best we had to offer were some “HOT SWEETS!” bought from the joke section of the toy shop.
“Hmmm, a trick is it? Well, as we’re preparing to trick you, why don’t you try one of these sweets that doesn’t quite look like a sweet and smells a bit funny.”
It was an ineffective trick.
We didn’t go down to the bottom of the village. This wasn’t due to fear, though my sisters had once taken the path and been stopped by Old Viley, the strange lady of the village, who warned them that there was a policeman at the bottom of the village who arrested girls in blue anoraks.
They ran home screaming.
My kindly godfather once gave Old Viley a lift in his car when she was waiting for the 336 to Chorleywood and legend had it that he eventually sold it having failed to get rid of her haunting smell.
The reason we didn’t go to the bottom of the village was the grumpiness of the man in the old mill. When I was 9, i went around the village trying to get sponsorship for a walk I was doing for the benefit of Christian Aid. I may have been, but he insisted on giving me a wild bellowing at how this money was being used to fund rebels killing his friends. It was so ogre-like that I laughed at first, but then it went on and on. it is a surprise I didn’t got straight off and sign up to be a mercenary in the pay of Sir Edward Matheson.
I don’t remember Old Viley much, do I remember Walter, the village road-sweeper who made us a wheelbarrow from pram wheels and planks. He was the victim of a hit and run one night and had to have a leg amputated. Mr and Mrs Hutch lived across the road. He was the river-keeper. He wrote a poem when Mrs Thatcher came into power. When I visited him in his assisted housing, he gave me gave me telescope. I still have it. Not much use for looking at stars now, but it is old enough and solid enough to be handy weapon against burglars.
My best Halloween trick was few days later, during a fireworks party. I was the runt at the school bus stop. The Piggy to be mocked while the frost settled on our toes during the long wait. Tom Simpson was the oldest boy. That night, at the party, I grew so frustrated at my oppression that iI threw whatever concoction of multiple squashes had been put in the bowl at his head. He was syrupy and cross, but it was later that the trick came to fruitition. It seems that some later autumn bugs, drawn to the sugary treat, decided to take up occupation. Within a week, his scalp was a landscape of itchy hatchlings (This might have happened at a summer barbecue, but I have allowed my memory to possibly misremember it to make it more relevant).
Oh, and that swede. In those days, pumpkins were not so easy to come by, and my mum, eager not to disappoint me, bought a swede and chiseled it out. Try it, it takes time. And she made a smelly jack 0 lantern, that smelt even worse when the candle when in it, but it was my smelly, root vegetable Jack O Lantern. When my mother died, 11 months ago, this was one of the first childhood memories that came back. That day she put all that effort in for a silly kid wish.
It is a village near London, so it’s not so much a village anymore. The nearest it comes to being occupied by the rural characters of my childhood is when it is used a location for Midsomer Murders (which it has been many times). Most people commute and shut their gate immediately upon return.
I wonder how many cup-a-soups my son got in his swag bag tonight? Lucky boy, he may be smelling of Minestrone for weeks. Maybe he even got a tin of Toast Topper?
Dead Funny Encore, ghost stories by comedians and Alan Moore (and 9/10 in Starburst) is available NOW.
Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles, with guests including Stewart Lee, Natalie Haynes, Mark Gatiss, Noel Fielding, Sara Pascoe and Alan Moore is available HERE (plus we have just announced an Australia and New Zealand Tour)