Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Happy Halloween, Humans!

I love Halloween. Always have. As a kid, Halloween probably outdid Christmas for me in the excitement stakes ( if only pressies were included in Halloween, I might never have given Christmas a second thought ), and even then I was a little bit obsessed with all things dark and supernatural. The darker and creepier the better. The notion that on All Hallows Eve a supernatural veil between worlds was at its thinnest, that doors or portals opened up temporarily allowing the dead to rejoin the living, was fascinating and thrilling to me. It still is. My beloved homeland Scotland is a land awash in magic and mystery, and much gory history too, all perfect Halloween fodder for anyone with a little darkness to their imagination. In Orkney, Halloween has long been refererd to as 'Devilment Night' in reference to the pranks played, often on unwary 'outsiders', including showering them in eggs, flour, and treacle! Recent years, however, have seen a clamp-down on these pranks by the ubiquitous Fun Police. The origin of the pranks lie in much darker, superstitious rituals played out to keep the bad spirits and the evil Fae away at this time of year when those veils-between-the-worlds were so thin. The eggs, flour, and treacle used now have replaced the somewhat less savory ingredients of days of yore, which were then designed to expose the Fae to human sight, or to keep the spirits "stuck" within the bounds of cemeteries.

Halloween is, of course, all about dressing up ( "guising" in Scotland ) and parties. Although I've never been one for large social gatherings and tend to give all manner of parties a wide berth, including Halloween ones, my sometimes odd and generally inventive parents made certain that I never missed out on Halloween fun growing up. One year Dad took it into his head that we should dress up and drive the 20 miles to surprise Mum's sister at home. Dad, done up in Nora Batty-style drag complete with curlers and headscarf, floral pinny, and wrinkly stockings ( a long-running UK television sitcom from the 80s, Last of The Summer Wine, produced the infamous Nora Batty character ) certainly gave the guy on duty at the toll bridge a good laugh. After that it became a family tradition on Halloween and the adults competed even more keenly than me and my cousins to outdo each other with costumes. Another year, stuck in hospital over Halloween, a group of mothers also stuck there doing dialysis training, got together an impromptu party on the ward. They raided the ward kitchen for bread and jam to make sticky jammy pieces, and made novel use of IV poles and tubing to string these dripping, sticky offerings from. We each took a turn being blindfolded - using a couple of paper surgical masks - twirled around until slightly disoriented, and then we had to grab a bite from the jammy pieces. Not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a couple of giggling nurses continually moving the IV poles further and further away from you! And I'm pretty certain that cardboard bedpans were not intended for use in apple-dooking, but hey, when in a childrens' hospital...I daresay that in today's too often cheerless world the bean-counters who have overrun the NHS and the dreary Health & Safety Executive would all have had a fit and a bad turn at our cavalier use of supplies and scanty regard for jam-slippery floors!

I still put up Halloween decorations - sometimes I like them so much I'll leave them up year-round so that most of the rooms in my house have ended up looking a bit like a leftover Haunted House attraction with screaming skeletons and red-eyed bats hanging from the ceilings, and Grim Reapers at the windows. I don't need an excuse to eat too much candy ( or chocolate cake ) or to spike the punch bowl, but if ever you wanted a good excuse for doing so, Halloween is definitely it! Neither do I need a reason to watch hours of horror movies, but there's somethign a little extra-spookily special about watching them at Halloween...just don't expect any reassuring cuddles from me if you're the scaredy-cat sort. You'd be more likely to get a cushion thrown at your head for distracting me from the movie than an arm to cling to!

But if you absolutely insist on something a little more - bleeech! - romantic for Halloween, try this ancient Orcadian tradition...at midnight on October 31st, any young un-wed lass should go to the barn or other outbuilding, taking with you a sieve, a pair of scissors, and a knife. Whilst facing away from the door of the barn - which should be left open - you must 'winnow' the scissors and knife in the sieve, doing so three times whilst repeating the magical words "three wechts o' naitheen" ( no, I don't know what it means either ). Then you should turn around and the first person that you see passing the open barn door will be your future spouse! NB. If the first person you see pass happens to be your father or brother, I'm afraid you may be the victim of a Fae prank! Better luck next year, sweetie.

A wee Halloween greeting from The Dog...

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