Mrs White Got a Fright

Don’t you just love Hallowe’en? A dark October night, just wintry enough, little huddles of anonymous scary children with light sticks and candle-lit pumpkins. I am less keen on the ‘Trick or Treat” greeting, preferring the traditional “Ony Guisers?” I remember the hours of hard slog scooping out a turnip with a spoon, then the soupy smell as the lantern burned, a box of matches in my pocket to relight it when the wind blew it out.

My most memorable Hallowe’en was when I was almost 7. We lived in a top floor tenement flat in Paisley.

My Wee Sister, aged 3, was a perfect little Bo-Peep. My mother had made her a beautiful crepe paper outfit in pink and blue with bonnet and crook. I had taught her the nursery rhyme. It would be part of our repertoire. I was Peter Pan, my hero, ever since seeing the play at the theatre in Glasgow aged four. I had a green jerkin and a hat with a feather. I was wearing some sort of dark trousers and my black gym shoes. I must have had a bag for collecting goodies.

Peter Pan theatre bill

We had permission to go unaccompanied to the other five flats in our own close and to our Great Uncle Bob’s. He lived in the next block on the other side of the unlit scary church. I had a poem to recite and we had a song to sing together as well as as Little Bo-peep

How Much is that Doggie in the Window?

was always on the wireless and I was word perfect and had some nice actions to go with the words.This is the poem:Mrs White got a fright in the middle of the nightShe saw a ghost eating toast halfway up a lamp post

We began our tour. Our songs and poems were well received by the elderly neighbours, most of whom we visited regularly. First, Mrs Fuller, whose son sometimes used to come home scarily drunk, and then the Mr Stimminsons, who were twins and very shy. One of them cut up Highland toffee for us with a silver pen knife. I loved performing, and my pretty little sister lapped up the attention. After visiting all five houses, with quite a few goodies in our bag, I took my sister’s hand to go past the church and up the next stair to Uncle Bob’s.

He was a grumpy old widower who, rather uncharacteristically, had allowed me to visit when I was younger to watch ‘Andy Pandy’ on his television set. He and his housekeeper, Mrs Lion – I never knew her real name but she seemed to have the same green eyes and tawny hair as the decorative animal (not a toy) which lay on the arm of the overstuffed settee – ushered us in. They nodded approval and added generously to our collection. In their close were five more doors and we chapped or rang them all. With adrenaline churning and no idea of time we found ourselves at another close and another. We met up with other guisers, becoming part of a noisy group and encouraged to venture further up the Avenue. Some of them I knew from school, but others were bigger with scary masks or painted faces.

Eventually with our bag of goodies growing heavy, my Wee Sister said she was tired and wanted to go home.  I looked around and saw we had wandered into unfamiliar territory. I realised that it must be late. The smoky darkness closed around us and there was a damp chill. Like Cinderella leaving the ball, I snatched up my crinkly crepe paper clad sister and carried her home, down the Avenue and up our three flights of stairs.

Mummy was upset, disappointed and reproachful. I got a spanking from Daddy and my Wee Sister was put unceremoniously to bed. It hadn’t been her fault of course. Next day after school we were taken to return the money we’d been given to as many flats as I could remember visiting.. It was quite a lot of money to someone who got sixpence a week pocket money and I did feel we’d earned it. Guising lost its glamour after that year, but I still remember the thrill of being out in the dark, taking part in a time-honoured ritual.

Now at Hallowe’en I like to have a lighted window and to be prepared with appropriate treats. Not money. I also love to dress up. This year I wore a Dark Fairy costume from a bargain store. We had lots of guisers, known and unknown, and I loved sharing their excitement.. mostly with mums and dads there too, which is as it should be in 2019.

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