"A sad tale's best for winter: I have one, of sprites and goblins."
- Winter’s Tale, (II.i. 25-26)
It seems that Hallowe'en is slowly taking hold on the British cultural landscape. Reports suggest this holiday has already eclipsed Mother’s Day and Bonfire Night, and has even begun to give Valentine’s Day a run for its money.
I have fond memories of Hallowe'en: trick-or-treating, and parties, where we bobbed for apples, and did "The Monster Mash." Of course, much has changed in these days of protective caution, but in some sectors, I’m sure Halloween remains the joyous play-day it was when I was a child. This is certainly the case in NYC, where Halloween is celebrated in grande style. Lower Manhattan comes to a standstill for the annual costume parade, and the Upper East Side hosts masquerade balls that would be the envy of Marie-Antoinette!
Being a woman of the theatre, the high jinks of Halloween are second nature to me. As such, I was staggered to find it had not caught on here, especially given the British inclination for fun and fancy dress. So, last Hallowe'en, I went on a crusade. I donned a cat costume, complete with pointy ears and fluffy tail, and surprised my DEB at work with a platter of festive treats. There was much speculation as to who, or what I might be: Birthday kiss-o-gram? Kinky, fetish stripper? (Oh, my!)
That evening, we met some friends at the pub. For this gathering, I tried a more subtle approach: black, leather cat ears, instead of the full-face mask, and no tail. Bemused looks greeted our arrival. I explained: "Tomorrow's Hallowe'en."
I daren’t even recall the incident that happened the next day, on Halloween night, when I unintentionally frightened away the sole trick-or-treaters in Barford, who ran away shrieking when I came to the door dressed as a witch. I made matters worse by chasing them down the drive trying to give them sweets.
Clearly, it was time to seek advice. Most Britons, I was told, only became interested in celebrating Hallowe'en after seeing it depicted in the film E.T. A sage friend explained: "It's hard to sell Hallowe'en to a nation of people who actually believe in fairies and goblins, and have houses full of 400 year old ghosts."
The DEB would probably agree with this assessment. He recalls, as a tiny lad, once seeing a man sitting on the stairs. The DEB began to cry as his mother brushed the stairs, inadvertently striking the apparition with her broom. The man was dressed in military regalia, and the little boy DEB described him in great detail.
From the description, his mother deduced that the man he saw was a Cavalier. The DEB’s mother grew pale with the realisation their home, in the wee Warwickshire hamlet of Compton Wynyates, was just six miles from the battlefield of Edgehill. Now, that is a far cry from chocolates and cat ears!
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
- Cornish prayer