Brian Monteith: Is nothing sacred any more at Hallowe’en?

Dooking for apples at Greenside Parish Church in 1971.
Dooking for apples at Greenside Parish Church in 1971.
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I never thought Hallowe’en was a particularly big thing when I was a kid. I looked forward to it as it was always fun, but being so close to Bonfire Night and the immolation of Guy Fawkes it was overshadowed by its more spectacular rival. After all, how could dookin for apples and making turnip lanterns beat sparklers, bangers, launching rocket and throwing old furniture on to a pile to create a raging inferno?

This week left me a little sadder as I pondered over the changes that have happened since my childhood and how the simplicity of creating fun is being lost in a commercialism that too many seem willing to accept. There is no doubt that Hallowe’en has grown to be much, much bigger in the last decade or so as retailers latch on to the opportunity to sell scary costumes and all sorts of paraphernalia.

Donald Trump in his trademark 'Make America Great Again' baseball cap. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump in his trademark 'Make America Great Again' baseball cap. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The tradition of lantern-making – that started with the Scots and Irish taking their custom of carving and lighting-up turnips to the North America has come full circle – back to haunt our farmers with a vengeance. Not finding a plentiful supply of turnips across the Pond people turned to Pumpkins – which had the added benefit of being easier to carve and available in giant sizes. They are also nowhere near as smelly as turnips when a candle singes their flesh.

And does anyone dook for apples any more? This simple ritual always caused much hilarity and wonderful memories for me, be it the dooking with one’s head at risk of being plunged into the basin of cold water – or the more reserved game of dropping a fork from your mouth, taking aim at the bobbing apples as you positioned yourself above the basin by leaning over the back of a chair.

Treacle buns were even more fun, blindfolded with your hands behind your back as a bun smothered in black treacle dangled on a piece of string while you tried to get your teeth round it to eat as much as possible. Again, it was the mess it caused that was the fun, especially if a friend ended up with treacle all over his face or in her hair.

Yet when I go around the supermarkets I don’t see stacks of tinned treacle or buns being promoted – instead I see here-today-gone-tomorrow costumes for sale at “only £5” each. Whatever happened to the simple pleasures of making your own fun?

Now, on Hallowe’en I see parents taking their tykes around the streets all dressed up as if we are the 51st state – only we don’t have a vote to choose between Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump (thank goodness). Now that would be scary.

Likewise, the commercial interests focus on the sale of fireworks when the real fun for the boys in my street was building the bonfire. Going round houses and appealing for old sofas, chair, wardrobes and any other redundant pieces of furniture took weeks. It seemed that every vacant piece of land would suddenly have its own bonfire by November, 5 with an impromptu Guy stuffed full of horsehair and straw put on top. By the morning all that was left was the charred remains and some blackened spring coils from the mattresses and easy chairs. The debris of Catherine Wheels and Roman Candles could be found, although we never had much money for anything more than bangers, unless parents got involved.

Well that’s all gone as vacant land is difficult to find in Edinburgh – having all been developed for apartment blocks and the political correctness of well-meaning health and safety controls has led to organised events instead of spontaneous street bonfires where the kids took on the responsibility of making it happen.

I know these experiences were not just local to me for every year I would read about them in my boys’ comics or take detailed instructions like Oor Wullie playing his “mouthie” when guising.

I can’t but help think my generation had the better deal by having the simpler self-made solutions. By all means splash out if you wish, but keeping the entertainment simple by encouraging kids to make their own fun, assembling their own costumes learning the origins of our old traditions will provide memories to cherish like I have.

A tough choice for voters in US

I don’t care for Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump, I think they are both likely to be poor US presidents for entirely different reasons.

Clinton has a lot to answer for in what has happened to Egypt, Libya, Syria and the rest of the Middle East. Her US policy vacuum has been filled by extremist groups giving rise to dangerous Russian intervention.

Trump is provocative for the sake of it and neither a Republican or a conservative. They could both be characters from the movie Hallowe’en at the White House.

Costume drama in the wild West

You know the world is changing when you go into a car hire office on October 31st and the chap serving you has a mocked-up bolt through his head. Thankfully the car started.

Through in Glasgow for the day, I saw grown men and women wearing weird outfits, sporting strangely coloured hair and trying their best to look scary. There were many in fancy dress too. I can’t say if this was all peculiar to the West for when I got back to Edinburgh it was dark and the streets of Bruntsfield were deserted.

Well worth a listen

Regular readers will know how I bemoan the state of Scotland’s roads. Well I think I’ve found a solution, or at least a distraction! Audio books! I have recently taken to listening to novels, comedians and biographies read out to me while I drive and they soothe my annoyance at the potholes and invisible road markings. I recommend people try it – but be careful of the book you choose. Avoid Marx, unless it’s the Marx brothers…