With Halloween almost upon us, and many a friend sharing their tae on the season, I cannot help but recollect my own childhood memories of this time of year. By now, in England, the days were short, and the nights were long and damp. Most trees had shed their leaves, and I would, as most children do, shuffle my feet through them. Halloween itself was not celebrated in all its mass market glory as it is today. Costumes were not worn, we were void of pumpkins, and candy manufacturers were not raking in a fortune from overpriced mini confections. It was a night of watching vintage horror movies and re-telling classic ghost stories. It was also over-shadowed by another holiday- Guy Fawkes day.
As a child this was always my favorite holiday. It was celebratory and appropriately macabre. We were/are after all celebrating the burning of Mr. Fawkes for his failed attempt at blowing up the houses of parliament. Kids delighted, in gleeful grisliness, fashioning effigies of Guy. Plenty of them resembled scarecrows, others mannequins, many wore tattered clothing once belonging to fathers, uncles or granddads. Then their creations were paraded in wheel barrows along the streets as the children asked for donations. Even in my youth we asked for more than a penny, typically five-pence ( a bob, or a shilling as we called it.)
For weeks prior massive bonfires were set upon our green and pleasant land. This was an excuse for many to dispose of unwanted furniture and what not. So you would see broken chairs, book cases, and even mattresses (this was long before such things became illegal) on them.
The fifth of November was- and still is- the day we celebrate with fireworks. And back in my day they were big. Loud, and glorious (and admittedly dangerous.- as each year the news was full of unwitting folks losing fingers or an eye.) But to a mischievous eight year old this was simply thrilling.
On the afternoon the effigies were attached to bonfires, sitting on top of them as the celebrations began. The larger fires were set by late afternoon, so that when darkness embedded us they would be in their full blazing glory. Baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil were placed at the base, to cook up a treat. And as the flames met the unfortunate Guy, fireworks were fired high into the grim skies. Wagon wheels spun on gates. The young ones chased around waving their sparklers. Bangers echoed into the night.
Grand times indeed.
The revelry would continue until late, and naturally we longed for the holiday to fall on a weekend.
The baked potatoes, invariably charred, were delicious, oft times heaped with butter.
In these days this is mostly all gone, and a very American version of Halloween has taken its seasonal place. Such is progress.
But those memories shall last me a lifetime.