Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Growing up in the Scottish Highlands Hallowe'en was a special day; in primary school we occasionally did something different, perhaps games in the afternoon, of the teacher was feeling indulgent, but more importantly, it was the day we went guising. This is the origin of trick-or-treating, with its roots firmly fixed in a pagan past, and all the kids did it, until they reached the stage when they regarded themselves as too old, at which point they were generally dragooned into taking out their younger brothers and sisters. No adults, you'll note - these were the days when children roamed quite extensively, and even my over-anxious parents allowed me out for the evening in the company of the other children (although they always fixed an impossibly early time by which I had to be home).
As it got dark we would don our motley - pirates, Spanish dancing girls, ghosts; I was a black cat one year - and set off round the small town. We walked miles, calling at selected houses where we could be sure of a welcome. And we always were welcome, because the ritual was well-established. There were no tricks - we had no idea that there was a "corrupt" tradition across the Atlantic. We would all be ushered in, costumes admired, and then the householder would say, "Give us your piece then", and short poems, songs (by the brave) or even nursery rhymes (by the terminally shy infants) would be trotted out, sometimes with a helping prompt by a big sister. The home-made toffee apples and tablet (for non-Scots, this is a wickedly sweet, slightly crunchy sort of fudge, which absolutely every Scottish housewife learnt to make at her mother's knee) would be doled out and, in the best households, there might even be a sixpenny bit. By the end of the evening, everyone would be cold, sticky and feeling slightly queasy, so it would be home to a soothing hot drink and bed. In our most glorious year ever, my best friend and I borrowed long cloaks from the amateur dramatic society's wardrobe and, disguised as ghostly monks, walked 2 miles through silver-frosted fields to visit an elderly friend. I doubt if anyone was scared of us, but we were petrified, especially passing the Episcopal graveyard.
Some years later my then boyfriend rashly said we could get married, but only if we did it on April Fool's Day, Midsummer's Day or Hallowe'en. We were in England at the time, midsummer was a week away, and 31 October looked just fine to me. We held our wedding reception in a house on Dartmoor, suitably grey and louring for such an inauspicious date. Unfortunately we subsequently moved back (for me) to a Scottish village where we spent years trying to celebrate our anniversary interrupted by toddlers lisping nursery rhymes, and internecine struggles over who stole whose sweetie bag. One year the dog ate all the tablet and was sick everywhere.
Moving back to England, I thought, "At least we'll have our anniversary in peace." And we did, for 10 years. But this gorgeous marmalade cat is for my stepbrother, who died suddenly on 31 October 2003. He loved his cats, and I miss him.