It’s Hallowe’en and here’s something suitably witchy from the archives. It’s another of the Welcome Home posters featured previously; this one, showing more of Dad’s artwork, welcomed me home from a trip away, presumably at this time of year.
Mum spent much of her childhood in Yorkshire and often told us stories of Hallowe’en and “Mischievous Night” there. Mischievous Night was the night before Bonfire night, when children like Mum and her brother and friends would be allowed to run around the neighbourhood making mischief. They never did anything much more daring than ringing doorbells and running away, although sometimes this classic prank would be enhanced with a window or shed door tied to the door handle, to be pulled open or shut when the “victim” opened their door. It all sounds very innocent now, but they got to enjoy the thrill of believing they really ran the risk of an encounter with the law. Such encounters are more likely on Mischievous night now, apparently.
The family moved to London in 1935 and Mum also recounts, in her memoirs, a ghostly encounter from her days as an excited 12 year old, seeing the city sights for the first time:
“We enjoyed being taken sightseeing by our parents, seeing all the famous places we had heard about. We were often accompanied by local schoolfriends who, to our surprise, had never seen these places. I assumed Londoners must take these places for granted. On one visit to the Science Museum with only our parents we were walking along a corridor with me a short distance behind. A lady dressed in a long Victorian gown, with a key chain around her waist, crossed in front of me, keys in hand. When I reached the spot she had disappeared. I looked to see where the door was but there was only a blank wall. I caught up with my family and told them. They came back to look but nowhere in that corridor was there a door on either side. They assured me that I had seen a ghost.”
Neither of my parents were given to superstitious beliefs or flights of paranormal fancy. This was my Mum’s only such experience, and atheist Dad always believed that science had (or would soon discover) an explanation for every mystery. (Once, at Churt, he had a vivid but comforting encounter with his long-dead mother, who tucked him lovingly into bed; but he dismissed this as a product of his half-asleep, half-awake imagination). His staunch rationalism didn’t prevent him from telling great ghost stories though.
In our childhood in 1960s London, Hallowe’en meant parties with apple games (none of them prefixed with “i”). There was: apple bobbing (trying to bite an apple suspended on a string using no hands – harder than it sounds!); apple ducking (trying to bite an apple in a bowl of water using no hands – ditto!); the apple game in which you have to spear an apple in a bowl of water with a thrown fork; and spooky stories told by candlelight. I’ve just Googled these games and am astonished, and saddened, to find that my first hits are pages of health and safety warnings about them. That makes me feel old!
Towards the end of the 1960s I acquired a new friend, Susie Jones from Canada, who had moved to London to live with her stepfather in a house just around the corner. She introduced us to a hitherto unknown Hallowe’en activity called “Trick or Treat”. My parents, needless to say, did not approve of this, viewing it as a form of mild extortion, but they let me go along nonetheless. This was in the days before the UK had become completely colonised by North American culture; we were even spared McDonalds until the following decade. This also makes me feel old, and a little bit sad.