November has arrived as dour and dreekit as you would expect. I looked through my photo library for a picture illustrating dreekit a good Scots word for a day where the cloud ceiling is about head height and the small space between it and the ground is full of cold, driving rain, thick enough that you can’t see anything more than a few feet away. I discovered that funnily enough I don’t seem to have spent any time taking photographs on those days. Instead I’ve posted a photo of Dog’s way of dealing with it all.
I should be doing something useful like writing the thought provoking, insightful piece I’d planned about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership instead of which I’ve been munching chocolate, staring morosely at the rain and letting my Glia’s wander about down the cobwebbed corridors of the Inifinite Brainstore. Specifically investigating the difference between Halloween now and then and Guy Fawkes aka Bonfire night. When I was a kid trick or treat was not even on our radar. We had Hallowe’en – turnips, not pumpkins, hollowed out with a candle inside them to guide the spirits home and we laid an extra place at the table for those no longer with us. This was my Grandma’s custom and I believe it was originally associated with Yule rather than Hallowe’en. Very different from dressing up and running round collecting sweets but today’s kids have great fun doing it though like everything else it seems to require having a lot of money spent on it. Turnips, candles and apples dipped in clack (brittle toffee) cost pretty well nothing at all.
Our great collection was based round ‘penny for the guy’ and we started in October and kept it up until bonfire night. We were as ruthless as any gang of medieval bandits in our pursuit of hapless adults shoving our straw stuffed dummies in pushchairs into their path so it was stop or fall over. We scorned offerings of sweeties, we were after coin of the realm to be spent on such marvels as Thunderflashes, Whizzbangs and Jumping Jacks. We were fully alive to the glorious possibilites offered by these tubes of black powder, The effect of a jumping jack let off in school assembly could only be described as awesome. The trick of course was to scream as loudly as everyone else and get rid of the matches quickly. Sadly, but probably wisely, these instruments of mayhem and destruction are as extinct as the dinosaur, all banned on the grounds of health and safety. In those less safety conscious days shopkeepers seemed unconcerned with selling explosive devices, single cigarettes and boxes of matches to seven year old brigands.
Every child used to know “Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot. There is no reason why gunpowder and treason should ever be forgot.” Like the cries of Old London you heard it on every street corner. We chanted it relentlessly while mugging people for pennies. Now it’s a custom that has run its course and is dropping out of popular consciousness. I doubt if many children these days have even heard of the rhyme. Hallowe’en (Samhuinn) is absorbing bonfire night and reasserting its place as the festival marking the onset of winter. Given that the 31st October was the last decent day of weather we had this year it has been extremely accurate in that! The need to celebrate or mark the beginning of winter is remarkably persistent in the human psyche it has not gone away just shifted in form over the millennia. When I was little no-one in our village still guised but my grandparents remembered the custom of dressing up with blackened faces and singing songs and insulting the household until food or drink was brought out. In Wales the Grey Mare (Mari Llwyd) and in Ireland the White Mare (Láir Bhan) were taken from house to house by guisers. The origin of trick and treat but done by adults not children. My grandparents said the custom of guising at Samhuinn died out around the time of the Second World War. Now the custom has returned via the United States in a different form to suit our times. I rather like that though I do feel slightly guilty about the effect of the amount of sugar I handed out to the neighbourhood children. They were probably hyper for days.