Once upon a Hallowe’en I dressed as Tallulah Bankhead. Ah, who remembers Tallulah, now? For the baffled, Miss Bankhead was a smoky-voiced actress from Alabama who steamed up the screen in the 1940s. She was a glamour goddess with an accent like Scarlett O’Hara, and was known as a bonne vivante, which translates as gal with more than a passing familiarity with the cigarette holder and the cocktail shaker and was apparently as lively in private as a late Roman Emperor on his holidays.
They don’t make them like that anymore.
Despite her riotous notoriety my mum thought it fine that I, as a ten-year-old, could don an old black dress, her patent leather slingbacks, stick a sweetie cigarette in a cardboard holder and impersonate the vamp to go guisin’.
My party piece was to sing the theme from Goldfinger. I might have been only ten, but I could give it laldy on the big notes and was known to drown out passing ice cream vans This was going to be a knockout year for me.
Until, that is, I was told I had to take my wee brother with me.
His chosen costume was a Glengarry cap (sporting an Argyll and Sutherland Highlander cap badge), a jumper (woollen, holed at the elbow) a pair of shorts (Dad’s, too big – nothing electrical tape can’t fix) and his wellies.
He declaimed a poem about the 600 riding into the Valley of Death, at a speed which would indicate the frontrunners in the doomed charge of the Light Brigade were Red Rum, Desert Orchid and Seabiscuit.
It was the year I learned the harsh truth behind the maxim “never work with children and/or animals”. Wee brothers count as both when you are ten.
I had practised, remember. I had learned the lyrics and every hand gesture the mighty Bassey made. I even practised her facial expressions on the bus home from school, which so alarmed one of our neighbours she came round to ask my mum if I was getting help for that nervous twitch and alarming yawn. She was worried I’d dislocate my jaw.
I was ready for my big break. There wasn’t going to be a penny chew, Highland Toffee or tangerine left in this town by the time I was taking my bow.
But that was before I knew I was sharing the bill with the pestilential horror who looked like a very small Kenneth More playing a Desert Rat.
Shirley they can do a bit better?
Those memories of learning words, making costumes and ad hoc bus-based rehearsals are just a few reasons why I won’t be opening my doors this year to the guisers.
I can’t be the only one fed up with finding my front step infested with trick-or-treat terrorists who can’t even be bothered to learn a poem or do a dance, but sing a garbled version of a song about Christmas, for goodness’ sake.
There’s a certain thuggish element creeping in. You try handing out tangerines and pippins to the sugar rush kids who turn up now. Last year, I discovered that the very tricksters I was about to treat had egged my front door because I was too slow in getting to them.
They faced something fairly demonic that Hallowe’en, let me tell you.
As much as I love old traditions and mourn the passing of the doorstep Shirley Bassey, perhaps it is time we said goodnight to the ghosts, the ghouls and the zombies.
Or maybe we should get out there and show them how it’s done. Where’s my Bassey wig?
Merk my words, I’m not Johann!
If you should decide to go a-guisin’, please be careful. Your choice of costume can have far-reaching consequences.
For example, I had thought to pop on a blonde wig and a bit of power suit, but when I did I realised I was the living double of what is now the ex-leader of the Scottish Labour Party. So I’ve binned that idea in case they all get excited and offer me the job. It would have been awkward. I was trying to be Angela Merkel.
Whopping faker, bag a Whopper
He opened his mouth and bellowed – bellowed, mark you – the bit about into the Valley of Death rode the 600 (the only bit the little faker knew) and the neighbours hurled Chelsea Whoppers, MB bars and Cox’s Orange Pippins at him.
I learned a harsh lesson there, my friends, as I watched his haul climb the calorie count, whilst I got polite applause and anxious glances from folk worried in case I was having some sort of facial seizure.
For one thing, I learned you don’t have to know all the words to get all the sweeties. It’s a lesson many a politician seems to pick up early. Just sound convincing and people believe you.