four Her­ald writ­ers share their take on this Scot­tish tra­di­tion,


The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -


HAL­LOWEEN was hard in the 1960s. Not so much for us kids, but for our dads. I know that neep lanterns are now tak­ing on an al­most myth­i­cal sta­tus as we re­vere them so much, but try to make them to­day.

I look at these soft pump­kins be­ing scooped out and think back to when my mother would buy a large turnip from the fruit and veg van, driven by a rather tac­i­turn man called Gil­bert, that came round the street ev­ery week.

Upon re­turn­ing home from work, Dad would then have to carve it in the kitchen. I don’t re­call any spe­cial­ist equip­ment be­ing used, just the kitchen drawer be­ing ran­sacked for sharp im­ple­ments. Thus armed with a bread knife, large spoons, per­haps even a stray screw­driver or a chisel, he would then at­tack the turnip.

The top would be cut off to form a lid and the in­sides chipped out one piece at a time like a miner toil­ing at a coal­face. Pre­sum­ably we lived on scotch broth for the rest of the week.

Fi­nally, while us kids danced around, con­stantly ask­ing: “Is it nearly done yet?” the in­sides would be emp­tied and then three tri­an­gles for eyes and nose plus a ser­rated mouth would be chis­elled out of one side for a face. None of these fancy de­signs you get on the side of pump­kins. Are you kid­ding? There are houses be­ing built these days with walls thin­ner than a turnip skin. Dad must have got cal­luses on his cal­luses.

Then there was the out­fit to think about. You couldn’t just nip to Asda and buy a cos­tume for a few quid. No, while Dad slumped in a chair, no doubt think­ing if he never saw an­other turnip again then life would be fine, it was time for Mum to step for­ward with cos­tume ad­vice.

We are not talk­ing about fetch­ing out the Singer sewing ma­chine to turn you into a Ja­panese ad­mi­ral, but raid­ing cup­boards and then ap­ply­ing a lot of imag­i­na­tion. Cow­boys were easy as you of­ten had the guns and a cow­boy hat any­way. Wear­ing an old jacket of your dad’s and a cap, plus a walk­ing stick, turned you into an old man.

Then, like to­day, you would go round the neigh­bours, al­though you couldn’t get away then with just telling a joke pur­loined from a Christ­mas cracker. A song was ex­pected, or at least a poem. We used to learn po­ems at school, of­ten by Rabbie Burns, so you could usu­ally get away with a cou­ple of verses of My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose. And then came your re­ward.

Mini Mars bars were not yet around so it was mainly mon­key nuts, a tan­ger­ine, per­haps a tof­fee or two, and in some houses you found the mother lode – a few coins, per­haps even a shiny six­pence or a shilling. Back home there was dookin’ for ap­ples – stick­ing your head in a basin of wa­ter try­ing to grab an ap­ple. I think it’s called wa­ter­board­ing these days. Or for the more mid­dle class, kneel­ing on a chair over the basin with a fork you dropped from your mouth. Never speared an ap­ple once. H


WHEN I was lit­tle, my dad was in charge of the Hal­loween out­fits in my house. He was bril­liant at com­ing up with cos­tumes which com­bined witty word­play and nifty bin-bag artistry. I just wanted to be a fairy.

There was the year I couldn’t move my arms be­cause they were stuck in­side a bodylength card­board tube which al­lowed me just enough room to shuf­fle my feet along the hall. I had a pink swim­ming cap on my head. I was a Mum de­odor­ant.

Then there was the time he fash­ioned a Lit­tle Bo Peep sticky-out dress and bon­net out of coat hang­ers and my gran’s old cur­tains. The hat was fine, but the skirt was so rigid I couldn’t sit down in the back of the car and had to travel to the church hall stand­ing up and lean­ing for­ward on the front pas­sen­ger seat. (This was the 1970s. Dif­fer­ent times.)

An­other highlight was the time I had to wear a bin bag dec­o­rated with moons and stars plus a gi­ant card­board cage com­plete with toy bunny on my head (Star-sky and Hutch). That year, we lost out to the Tait broth­ers, whose out­stand­ing home­made book­worm cos­tume had my dad mut­ter­ing darkly to him­self for weeks.

Back home there was dookin’ for ap­ples. I think it’s called wa­ter­board­ing these days

And I’ll never for­get the look on Brown Owl’s face when I turned up at the an­nual bash dressed in a black bin bag cov­ered in old elec­tric­ity bills and rid­ing a hobby horse.

“And what are you this year, Ann, dear?” she asked as I traipsed up to the front to take my place in the pa­rade, sneak­ing en­vi­ous glances at the pretty princesses and sparkly fairies be­side me. “Charge of the Light Brigade,” I sighed. Give that woman her due, she didn’t miss a beat and kept smil­ing as I trudged back to my spot, know­ing full well I wasn’t go­ing home with the tro­phy again.

When I got to high school, I put my foot down and made my own cos­tumes – a gold-wigged Cleopa­tra and Meals on Wheels (me, on roller­skates, car­ry­ing a tray cov­ered in stuck-on plas­tic food) were my favourites. But my dad was so dis­ap­pointed, I felt guilty.

And the thing is, now I have my own two boys, and my dad is no longer here, I get it. Mak­ing cos­tumes is fun (and me and their dad are pretty nifty with a bin bag too, as it turns out. Our news­pa­per-stuffed black spi­der legs were a tri­umph.) It’s a real laugh.

I reckon my dad’s hav­ing a good laugh too, out there some­where, watch­ing me wres­tle with coat hang­ers and card­board and old cur­tains as I pull to­gether the lat­est wizard/pig/gummy bear/Greek-god re­quest from my chil­dren.

And who re­ally wants to be Tinker­bell any­way?


THERE had been con­cerned mur­mur­ings among some of the neigh­bours be­fore­hand. It was Hal­loween 1980 and ap­par­ently guis­ing was viewed as akin to beg­ging in our West Loth­ian street. With none of the other chil­dren nearby dress­ing up, my mum con­sid­ered sim­ply for­get­ting it al­to­gether but my dad was adamant we should still go. “It’s tra­di­tion,” he protested.

A fort­night shy of my third birth­day, I wore a white shawl and match­ing bon­net as Lit­tle Bo Peep, clutch­ing my beloved toy panda in lieu of a sheep.

My dad stuck on my mum’s good fur coat and a thick woolly hat, partly for com­edy value but mainly to ward off the chilly night air (and any sim­i­larly frosty re­cep­tion as we knocked on doors).

Then, with a slightly lop­sided turnip lan­tern in hand, off we went. I sang Baa Baa Black Sheep in each of the houses. A short while later we re­turned with a size­able haul of treats. My mum filled the old baby bath with wa­ter and dook­ing for ap­ples com­menced.

Best of all, the neigh­bours loved it. Next

I’ll never for­get the look on Brown Owl’s face when I turned up dressed in a black bin bag cov­ered in old elec­tric­ity bills and rid­ing a hobby horse

Hal­loween all the other kids in the street wanted to dress up and go guis­ing too. My mum was a dab hand with the sewing ma­chine and I had a colour­ful as­sort­ment of cos­tumes over the years.

Among the stand-outs was a Peter Pan out­fit made from green felt af­ter the snooker ta­bles at the hospi­tal so­cial club were re­lined. No mat­ter how many times it was washed, it al­ways had a dis­tinc­tive whiff of beer, cigar smoke and in­dus­tri­al­strength dis­in­fec­tant.

Witches tended to be a favoured choice of mine, typ­i­cally in­volv­ing a bin bag or two, my mum’s old nurs­ing cape and the kitchen brush.

I once went out guis­ing as a cat wear­ing the same fur coat that my dad had on that very first Hal­loween (long since moth­balled for eth­i­cal rea­sons) and a col­lar pinched from the porce­lain Si­amese cat in the liv­ing room.

On an­other oc­ca­sion I dressed as Madonna, a lay­ered ensem­ble com­plete with fin­ger­less gloves, peach leg­gings and lash­ings of at­ti­tude.

I imag­ined it to look the height of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. In hind­sight, it was ar­guably closer to be­ing the love child of Worzel Gum­midge and Bette Davis in What Ever Hap­pened to Baby Jane?

As if that wasn’t piti­ful enough, my friends and I jumped around singing Like a Vir­gin. Ah, for the in­no­cent days of Baa Baa Black Sheep …


TO BE hon­est, the very idea of Hal­loween fills me with hor­ror. Not, as you may imag­ine, be­cause I was a child feartie; the idea of ghosts and gob­lins and scary crea­tures wasn’t wor­ry­ing at all in 1960s Ren­frew­shire.

In­deed, there were far more scary things for a young­ster to be con­cerned about. There was Billy For­rest, who one Hal­loween be­lieved him­self to be Robin Hood and me the Sher­iff, and tried to shoot my left eye out from three yards with a pointy-ended plant stake for an ar­row. There was the nit nurse, of course. And there was Mrs Gaynor, who tor­mented us for play­ing street foot­ball and looked like a cen­tury-old Miss Hav­isham, but be­fore the atone­ment.

No, Hal­loween fright­ened me be­cause of the ex­pected in­volve­ment, the dreaded so­cial con­ven­tion which it brought to my door of nat­u­ral dis­qui­etude each year. I hated the idea of dress­ing up.

These days you can buy a neat Bat­man or Won­der Woman cos­tume from a su­per­mar­ket for lit­tle more than the cost of a comic book. But back in the day be­fore the flood of im­ported syn­thetic su­per­hero out­fits there was very lit­tle for the unimag­i­na­tive child to work with. And there was never the ghost of a chance of me drap­ing an old white sheet over my head and chan­nelling Casper; every­one did that. A pi­rate was per­haps an op­tion, but the out­fit could never be lit­tle more than a pair of torn jeans, a stripy Win­field T-shirt and the eye-patch left over from the Billy For­rest archery at­tack.

I also re­alised I couldn’t com­pete with my sis­ters who, one year, pulled on my un­cle’s old jumper, took one arm each, stuck their faces to­gether and traipsed around the doors of John­stone as Si­amese twins. (In the days be­fore the in­ven­tion of PC, of course.)

But there were other rea­sons for my dis­like of Hal­loween. It seemed pa­gan and point­less – dig­ging out a rock-hard turnip with a spoon (which took longer than all three Great Es­cape tun­nels) and burn­ing fin­gers while set­ting the can­dle wax base within. It was about get­ting your face wet dookin’ for taste­less ap­ples. It was also about in­sti­tu­tion­alised col­lec­tive beg­ging.

I had nei­ther wish nor de­sire to pa­rade my­self in a rel­a­tive stranger’s door­way, of­fer up some em­bar­rass­ing per­for­mance only to be re­warded with a tan­ger­ine, a few mon­key nuts (which I hated) and a dry smirk.

Later in life, to be hon­est, I did latch on to the the­atri­cal­ity of it all, and, dare­say, the fun, per­haps thanks to the ap­pear­ance of cos­tumery and lager. I did once dress up as El­ton John and one year Grou­cho, and even Bob Mar­ley, re­plete with au­then­tic braided wig and black the­atri­cal makeup (but we won’t men­tion that). And at one time I ar­rived at my pal Jim’s fancy dress party in Pais­ley dressed as a school­boy, only to dis­cover I was the only one wear­ing shorts, blazer, cap, the lot – and the fancy dress el­e­ment had been a wind-up.

The ig­nominy I suf­fered that night still haunts me. Hal­loween is in­deed a scary time.

Clock­wise from top: Brian Beacom at a Hal­loween party dressed as Grou­cho Marx; Ann Fotheringham as Cleopa­tra; and Su­san Swarbrick as Lit­tle Bo Peep with her fa­ther

In the days be­fore su­per­hero cos­tumes for sale in su­per­mar­kets chil­dren had to be more cre­ative when dress­ing up for Hal­loween

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