Thursday, October 29, 2009


Anyway, I'm going to write you about Halloween when I was a kid.

Halloween has always been a big deal in these parts. If you go up to Derry in the North West you can take part in what is pretty much the biggest Halloween celebration in the world. Everyone dresses up, and acts mental. But that's by the by. I'll tell about here in Bangor.

Halloween started gearing up in mid October. Gangs of us kids would dress up in Halloween costumes and go round door knocking. This wasn't 'trick or treating' - we called it Halloween rhyming.

'Halloween is coming and the geese are getting fat
Will you please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a hapenny will do
And if you haven't got a ha'penny, God Bless You!'

And then we'd proffer an old hat, or maybe a bag.

No-one bought costumes. We'd buy plastic masks at the shop, but the rest was home-made. Some cheapskates just pulled their duffle coat hoods over their heads. Nul points for effort. Some people dressed up like celebrities of the day, like Boy George. Once my mum ripped up an old wedding dress to turn me into a ghost. I thought I was quite convincing, but got dead embarrassed when many of the adults quipped 'When's the wedding?' and 'You make a lovely bridesmaid.' I was scundered.

We didn't want sweets, and got annoyed if were given them. It was cash we were after. Cold, hard cash. At the end of the night we'd divvy it up and use it to buy mini-fireworks at the corner shop. Sparklers, paper bangers, caps and Bengal matches. At some point we discovered home-made bangers. You threaded caps onto needle, concertina fashion, and then carefully removed them. Next you taped them to a Bengal match, struck the fuse and stood back; they exploded with a satisfying bang. Sometimes, the caps would ignite while you were threading them onto the needle, which could lead to a sore finger, like having it slammed in a door.

Another tradition, which we followed only some years, was a Halloween bonfire. This wasn't the grand affair of the 11th July bonfire; we didn't go door to door begging old furniture, and the young adults didn't get involved. It took place on the same patch as the 11th bonfire, in front of the school on the wasteground where the houses are now. It was built out of whatever scraps of wood we found about. It burnt down quickly to become a big campfire you could bake spuds in tinfoil or toast Princes marshmallows on.

No-one ever had pumpkins. I don't think we ever saw a pumpkin until fairly recently. Instead, we hollow out turnips on newspaper and cut a scary face inside - 2 triangles for eyes, another for a mouth and maybe 4 adjoining ones for a mouth. Then two holes in the side and a string through for a handle and you could carry them around. With a candle inside they would keep for ages, and the smell given off by the flame-scorched turnip was strangely appetizing.

We may have played some Halloween games such as bobbing for apples or 'the trying to bite the apple dangling on the string game,' I have vague memories of such. But the main game we played was hide and seek in the dark. Me and my two brothers, and sometimes neighbouring kids, would, er, hide in the dark. If it was in the house, we'd just switch off all the lights and secrete ourselves in dark corners. My older brother was excellent at contorting his body into narrow gaps, such as window ledges or the upper deck of the hotpress. He was devilish hard to find.

Halloween food was apples, nuts and grapes. The apples were toffeed or baked into a tart. My mum's ancient apple tart recipe was handed down by her mum, along with the occasional lucky coin baked into the pastry. My mum tells me that my granny kept a special pure silver sixpence for the purpose; unlike modern coins it didn't react to the baking process. In a chemical sense.

Nuts were in their shells. We split these on the hearth, sometimes with nutcrackers, but often with a heavy little fire shovel. The nuts would usally fly everywhere with the cracking but we picked out enough meat to feast. And there were loads of monkey nuts which didn't need cracking.

We turned the lights off and had indoor fireworks. Outdoor fireworks were banned because of the Troubles. Soldiers may have shot us if we let off a banger, as it could have been confused with a gun or bomb.And that would have spoiled Halloween. So we had indoor fireworks. The Fern. The Volcano. The worm. They all looked the same, like a chemistry lesson gone wrong. They burnt for a minute, and then went out. They were crap.

The climax to Halloween was always when everyone ganged up on local petty criminals and burnt them inside a giant wicker man. I can still smell the burning flesh. Good times.

1 comment:

whynotsmile said...

I'd forgotten about indoor fireworks!! If you lived in the country, you could get in a few outdoor fireworks - there was always someone who knew someone who knew someone who worked in Shorts and could get a box of them for you. You had the entire box let off before the police knew anything about it.

A fitting climax to a day spent carving a turnip...