A La Recherche

Published MyT 31st October 2008

See thon madeleines?  Total waste of space, in my humble opinion.

What brings back my childhood, more clearly than any other memory, and particularly at this time of year is the smell of a turnip lantern as it gently toasted in the heat of the candle that was giving it life. You deprived souls south of Hadrian’s Wall call them swedes, apparently, but the neep is a fine beast whether it is lying mashed on a plate beside a haggis that has been caught in its prime or being carried around the neighbourhood to keep the ghosts and ghoulies at bay on Hallowe’en.

None of your ‘Trick or Treat’ nonsense when I was a child. You had to learn your party piece and be able to perform it or you had no chance. We called it ‘guising’. You didn’t necessarily dress up but you went round all the neighbours and gave of your best. They would, of course, check if you had had your tea before they let you in, but were usually prepared to part with the odd bar of McCowan’s Highland Toffee  or similar if you gave a reasonable performance. You would get to dook for apples or try to eat treacle scones dangling from a string with your hands tied behind your back. Above everything else, you would get to stay up late until at least 9 or 9.30 pm,  even if you had school the next day.

I was word perfect in ‘Davy Crockett’ from an early age. Unfortunately (and it’s been a consistent source of distress to me over the years) I never got close to being able to sing it, or anything else, in tune.  So I ended up as the repetiteur, making sure that the rest of them got through the song without too many awkward pauses.

It all changed fifty years ago when my Dad got posted to Southern Command. We arrived in early October and I settled into my new school in Salisbury without too much trouble.  As the month wore on, however, I came to realise that my new chums had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when I started anticipating Hallowe’en.

Luckily, my parents were obviously missing it as much as I was and decided to hold a Hallowe’en party for the children on the Bulbridge Estate in Wilton. As Dad was a Colonel, that meant that they all had to turn up except, of course, the General’s son but he came anyway.

Totally memorable. We sat in complete darkness as Dad told the tale of the dismemberment of a corpse and passed around the bits – spaghetti for the guts, a rubber glove filled with water for a hand, grapes for the eyes and ‘mair o’ horrible and awful, that e’en to name would be unlawful’ as  the poet Burns would have it.

We dooked, we got treacle all over our faces and I failed to sing ‘Davy Crockett’ in tune.

Mainly gone, I’m afraid. We have pumpkins instead of turnips in the supermarket and it’s all ‘Trick or Treat?’ up here these days. Personally, I blame ‘ET’.

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One response to “A La Recherche

  1. Evocative recall of temp perdu, John. The candle breathing turnip lantern was probably unknown to Proust. If it had been, who knows how French literature might have been altered. This whole area of sensory memory triggers is a fascination; aural, visual, olfractory, the curiously edited sensations of dreaming.
    Enjoyed your piece, many resonances of my own Scottish childhood Halloweens. Can still smell the water in the tin dookin bath.

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