Tuesday, 31 October 2017


It's a wet and windy Autumn day outside, as the rain runs down my window and leaves swirl past as if they need to be somewhere in a hurry.  I almost feel like I should be preparing to brave the elements whilst getting ready for school, so evocative is it of days of long ago when such weather was something to be enjoyed (if you were ten years old) rather than cower from like a big feartie.

I can smell that 'woody' tang in the air, with hints of fireworks and Hallowe'en, and find myself wondering why, when I was younger, All Hallow's Eve and Guy Fawkes' Night seemed separated by a period of several weeks instead of the actual five days that exist between them.  I can remember, in school, as the night of October 31st approached, the afternoon being given over to making masks for the big event to come.  Then it would all happen again for November 5th, and I defy anyone to cast their minds back without seeming to 'remember' these two celebrations as being separated by a far longer period of time than they actually were.

I've often wondered how such a thing can be so.  If October 31st fell on a Monday, mask-making day would have been on Friday the 28th.  That means Guy Fawkes Night would have been on the following Saturday, and mask-making day would have occurred on Friday the 4th - a whole week later with a Saturday and Sunday in between.  Well, weekends obviously seemed far longer to us as kids back then than they do now, but not all mask-making afternoons were partitioned by a full weekend, so the seemingly elongated interval between the two events is not fully accounted for by such an explanation.

We'll just have to put it down to that same mysterious phenomenon which makes all our yesterdays, in retrospect, seem better, brighter and longer than they really were.  Don't we all feel that the summers of our childhoods were gloriously sunny for months on end, and that every Christmas morn we woke to find a deep carpet of snow spread before us outside our bedroom windows?

I doubt I'm alone in preferring to recall some things as they seemed to be, as opposed to how they actually were.  ("I thinktherefore it was" - as someone surely must have said.)

Anyway, seeing as how it's Hallowe'en tonight, I thought I'd dust down and share this old-but-true tale with all you Criv-ites to put you in the mood.  Are you alone?  Are you sure you're alone?  Perhaps you'd better check first before we proceed.  Ready?  Good, then I'll begin.


Not long after my family had moved into our new house back in 1972, a curious thing happened.  My brother came downstairs into the livingroom one night and claimed he had just seen an elderly lady in white on the stairway outside his room.  My parents pooh-poohed the notion, but, shortly after, my bed was moved from my front room on the grounds that it was damp (the room, not the bed) into my brother's room, which we then shared for a few months.  I suspect it was more to do with my brother being scared to be alone than it was with the risk of me catching pneumonia, but I grant that it could've been a combination of both.

Some indeterminate time afterwards (a year or two perhaps), my brother again came into the livingroom with a concerned look on his face and called us upstairs, saying that someone was walking around in the attic.  We all trooped up to my brother's room and, sure enough, there was a sound of creaking boards - as if someone was walking from one end of the attic and back again.  My father got out the stepladder and tentatively poked the top of his head a few inches into the hatch opening, but he was in no mad rush (nor were we) to more thoroughly explore the vast confines of its black interiors, so we put the noise down to some not entirely convincing 'rational' explanation and retired downstairs again.  

Some years later, we moved house, and four years after that, we moved back again - with the exception of my brother, who had acquired his own flat in the meantime.  Now, I don't believe in ghosts, but the couple with whom we exchanged houses in order to return to our former abode, told me that one night while lying in bed, a ghostly apparition had drifted through the wall from my brother's old room into theirs, then floated right over their bed and melted through the window on the other side.  They were a young couple and a bit flaky, so I put their 'experience' down to having partaken of a combination of too much alcohol and weed.

But here's where it gets strange (as you doubtless anticipated).  A few years after having moved back, I was lying in my bed one night in the small hours when I suddenly became aware of a wizened old woman in white shuffling towards my bedside.  She stopped and stooped, lowering her crinkled face towards mine as if scrutinizing it intently.  For a moment I was paralysed, but then, with a growl, I sat bolt upright in bed to confront the ancient figure, who immediately retreated (still facing me) into the far corner of the room before fading into nothingness.

I sat stunned for a moment, not quite sure what had happened.  Had I seen a ghost, the very one my brother had claimed to have seen so many years before?  Or had I only been dreaming and suddenly awoken - with the figure in my dream somehow still visible before me, like some swiftly-diminishing after-image?

Who can say for sure?  I still don't believe in ghosts, but that was certainly a moment which gave me pause for thought.  Anyone else got any similar experiences?  Feel free to share.  


Anonymous said...

Halloween was non-event during my childhood except for 1978 when I went to a Halloween party in the village hall (I've related the events of that night in a previous comment from a couple of years ago).

I've never seen a ghost but I recall one night when I was in the room in which my father had died a few weeks previously and I felt uneasy and got out of there quickly!

Last saturday night BBC Radio4 Extra had a 3-hour programme about ghosts - some of it was really un-nerving!

Kid said...

I used to to out every Hallowe'en from about aged 4 to 9, maybe 10 years of age, CJ. In fact, I just bought a Yogi Bear mask to replace the one I had in the '60s. (I bought it twice, in Woolworth's - first time around 1963, second time around '66.) The one I just bought (from 1992) isn't the same one I had as a kid, but it's probably the nearest to it I'll ever get. It's now a wall decoration, as obviously I won't be going out in it.

Anonymous said...

Kid, my father said he went out Trick-Or-Treating in Glasgow in the 1930s. It irritated him when Halloween was described as "an American import" - he said that Halloween was taken to America by Scottish immigrants (but I've also read it was Irish immigrants who took it to America).

Kid said...

I think the NAME 'Trick Or Treat' is an American import, CJ, as well as the following slight difference. The American idea is that if you won't 'treat' the kids, they'll play a 'trick' on you, thus adding an element of 'coercion with the threat of menace' to proceedings. The British idea is that you dress up, go door-to-door and sing a song or recite a poem in return for an 'expression of gratitude' from householders. Of course, these days, even some British kids say 'Trick or Treat', but I don't think they've quite grasped the American concept.

Scots, Irish - they're both Celts, so I don't suppose it makes a lot of difference. Perhaps they both introduced Hallowe'en to America, before it evolved into what we now understand as the American version.

-3- said...

I grew up in the tropics and lower latitudes - the shorter days phenomenon is actually pretty new to me. Now i live far north enough for the days to shift from getting light about 4:30 am and staying light till about half 10, to just about the opposite. Still very strange to me after several years up here. But the nyctophile in me loves the winter months.
As for the scaling perception of time, that was one of those 'mysteries' that always seemed an easy answer to me. When you're a child with a short life-to-date, a week is a much larger percentage of your experience than it is decades later. Now a week is just a blink by comparison to our stored memories.

Funny thing - here in America we tend to think that Halloween came from over there, a descendant of All Hallow's Eve traditions older than our country. This is the first time i've encountered the notion that it started here and migrated back.

As for ghosts... well, i believe in something. But, as is often the case, i'm not sure our interpretations of perceptions are even remotely close to the actualities. Experience tells me there's something, but the paucity of data precludes determination of what that something might actually be.

Kid said...

I think the 'percentage' idea works up to a point as regards the passage of time, but I'm not convinced it fully explains why one particular week would seem longer than it is in retrospect. After all, my comics came out weekly when I was a kid, but it didn't seem a longer period of time to me than when I was a teenager or young adult still buying weekly comics. It's a puzzler.

CJ's the only person I've ever heard suggest this, and I venture that either he or his father perhaps misunderstood the situation. You see, as far as I know, whenever 'Trick or Treat' is described as an 'American import' it's actually the NAME of 'Trick or Treat' that is being referred to, not the custom of Hallowe'en itself.

As for whether ghosts exist or not, let me ask my friend here. "Hey, Spooky, what do you think?" Too late - he's disappeared through the wall.

TC said...

According to the History Channel documentary, "The Real Story of Halloween," the ancient Celts believed that spirits and fairies roamed the earth in late October, so the Druids would leave food out for them as an offering during the Samhain festival. Thay custom may be an ancestor of trick-or-treat.

The Romans conquered ancient Britain and brought their customs, including the Pomona festival (with party games like bobbing for apples) with them. Over time, Samhain and Pomona got conflated. And customs from both got absorbed into All Hallows Eve celebrations when Christianity replaced the pagan religions.

In the Middle Ages, kids would go begging door-to-door, and, in exchange for cakes, would pray for souls in Purgatory.

Irish and Scottish immigrants brought All Hallows Eve to America, where it evolved into Halloween. Some rowdy kids would commit acts of vandalism, and some homeowners began giving them candy to bribe them.

The idea of playing pranks has largely died out, AFAIK, and now American kids say, "Trick or treat" without knowing what it means.

Kid said...

The 'Trick or Treat' aspect was never a feature of British Hallowe'en though, TC (as far as behaviour goes, I mean), so I'd guess that we had something pretty much resembling the British version we have today (and in earlier years), before the American 'Trick or Treat' custom took off in the States. Or am I wrong in that?

Kid said...

Just checked Wikipedia, TC, which says that the Scottish and Irish custom of 'guising' (kids in costumes, carrying lanterns, going from door-to-door and being given cake, fruit, or money) was recorded as happening in Scotland in 1895. That's what we'd say at Hallowe'en when I was a kid - "Are you going out guising?" - not 'Trick-or-Treating', which is a more recent development (the name I mean) in this country, influenced by kids seeing Hallowe'en referred to in that way in US movies and TV shows.

-3- said...

Ah. I misperceived the specific chronal distortion, eh? This is more akin to December 24th being the longest night of the year.

A bit of American perspective:

A half century back when i was a lad, the implied threat of Trick Or Treat was very much understood, but not taken seriously by most. Some, however, would very much embrace the dark side, sometimes even striking houses that gave what they deemed to be inferior treats. The big 3 were Egging, Soaping & T.P.ing, though the Flaming Doorbell Ditch was still in favor among traditionalists.
Egging was often for the worst offenders, and just what it sounds like - throwing eggs at the house - both hard to clean and nasty smell potentials.
Soaping was drawing on the windows with bars of soap. Writing, too, unsurprisingly.
TPing was most popular - throwing trailing rolls of Toilet Paper over the house, trees, and shrubbery.
The Flaming Doorbell Ditch was the old bit where one lights a paper bag containing dogshit on fire on their doorstep, then urgently ringing the doorbell repeated and retreating to a hiding position to watch and see if they'll stomp it out.

In the decades that followed, the tide reversed. TV newscasts started reporting bogus stories of poisoned and razor blade embedded treats, causing wide spread fears. The stories were always proven false, but this being the home of Hollywood, we always seem to prefer to embrace stories over reality. And so it snowballed and these days Trick-Or-Treating is often a chaperoned and carefully managed affair in the city.
Not sure how things are here outside the city. The only one who approached the hermit cave today left a bag of treats and ran.

Kid said...

Yeah, it seems that most kids are chaperoned at Hallowe'en these days (even in Britain), but that seems to be out of parents' fear of pervs, rather than razor blades hidden inside apples or whatever. Over here, the flaming dog turd prank was never something that was reserved solely for October 31st, and could be used at any time of the year. Having said that, I don't think I ever witnessed it being done in person, just heard anecdotes which were more than likely 'imaginary tales' by those wishing to 'big' themselves up amongst the neighbourhood kids. No one comes to my door at Hallowe'en anymore - tipping boiling oil over them from the balcony a few years back seems to have dissuaded anyone from trying again.

WOODSY said...

Fabulous tale about your bedroom hag Kid! Very creepy indeed. You must have been petrified! The longevity of the spectre connected to your Bro reminds me of the returning thing in the film The Intruder with Clive Owen. After seeing the 1989 Woman in Black I din't think I could possibley cope with a real phantom crone leering at me in bed. The film version was bad enough!

Kid said...

Haven't seen either film, W. I see you've posted one of them on your blog so might take a look. Me petrified? Kid the fearless? Never. (Sh*t a brick - but just for a second.)

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