Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Extracts from Bob’s 1984 Diary… Volume 305

Wednesday 31st October 1984

Woke up at 8.10, and at 8.30 Doug came and we went to school. First we had an art test, then it was History. After that it was maths, and at 12.00 I had dinner. At 1.00 we came in and had French, then English, then science.

At 3.40 I came home and hollowed out a turnip, then I had tea. At 5.00 I watched Think of a number, at 5.30 I watched The Good Life, and at 6.30 Doug came to go Hallowe’eening.

First we went to Doug’s house, then we went to the grove. After that we went in Hawthorne, then along Leven road, and I got a hanful of shaving cream.

Then we went to Doug’s music teacher, and back to my house via the estate. We had got £2.26 so we kept £1.13 each, and at 9.15 Doug went home. I went to bed at 9.30.

Halloween! The streets of Yarm were alive with all manner of hideous, crawling creatures from the darkest corners of the netherworld… all carrying turnips with wonky candles and mumbling ‘der sky is blue, der grass is green’ into their shoes in the hope of earning 20p from some hapless, grumbling grown-up desperate to watch ‘No Place Like Home’ without being disturbed.

My mate Shack is adamant that Halloween is an American invention that meant nothing in the UK before a generation of grotty herberts saw ET over the Christmas holidays in 1982. But I definitely remember covering the festival at school in the late 1970s… mainly because I was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of the prospect. In front of a cowering assembly, our teacher Mrs Parker had shone a torch under her chin and strutted around the school hall gloomily recounting tales of ‘Ghosts roaming the streets, and the dead rising up from their graves to get you…’ 

scoobydooghost
This would have been (I think) Halloween 1979, and I arrived home on the Worsall bus shaking, and visibly traumatised.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked my Mum, doing something unpleasant to a packet of fishfingers in the kitchen. ‘Has Christopher Herbert poured Tizer into your satchel again?’

‘N-n-n-n-n-o,’ I stammered… ‘Mrs Parker said the dead are rising from their graves tonight…’

‘Oh, what rubbish,’ she snorted. ‘If that was the case, my Dad would be knocking at the door already, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been, has he?’

I spent the rest of the night huddled in the armchair in the front room, trembling gently into a cushion and awaiting the inevitable rap-rap-rap of my dead Grandad’s bony fingers on the kitchen door. At one my point my Dad went outside to walk the dogs around the field, and I genuinely feared for his safety. I remember peeking nervously through a tiny gap in the front room curtains, fully expecting to see a riot of ghosts, witches, golems and other assorted nasties causing havoc in the darkness of the garden.

wickedwitch
By 1980, amazingly, I’d completely lost all of this fear, and myself and Lisa Wheeldon (from the house round the corner) watched the Crackerjack Halloween Special at my Gran’s house (it was a Friday night) before plastering our faces in blood-red lipstick, sticking the obligatory wonky candle into a hollowed-out turnip, and traipsing around the streets of Acklam making ‘Wooo-ooooo-ooooo’ noises in front of giggling householders, our cheeks burnt orange by the flickering streetlights.

We made £1.45 each and invested the lot in the burgeoning Sherbert Dib-Dab market.

turnip
I’d been ‘Halloweening’ every year since, although 1984 was the first time Doug and I had teamed up for this shameless profiteering exercise. Naturally we considered dressing up to be a bit beneath us, but I spent half an hour hollowing out a turnip* with a kitchen spoon in front of Dangermouse and then singing my fingers on a candle from my Mum’s ‘Emergency Power Cut’ cupboard (largely untouched since 1979)

(*NOT a pumpkin, you’ll note. Nothing saddens me more than seeing today’s generation of teeny Teesside money-grubbers saying ‘Trick or treeeeeet’ in a whiny cod-American accent while holding up a shiny, smooth, hollowed-up orange pumpkin from Tesco. Pumpkins are NOT scary. They look like items of gym equipment. Turnips are nasty, knobbly, twisted, godforsaken monstrosities with odd clumps of hair sticking out at vicious angles. The vegetable equivalent of Dean Windass. They RULE, and I fear for the future of our youth without their malevolent influence every October)

Anyway, yes… we spent our evening knocking gingerly on doors within a half-mile radius of our houses, doing the old ‘Sky is blue, grass is green’ routine with a vaguely sarcastic air, and stopping every thirty yards to relight the candle inside our leering Jack O’Lantern. ‘The Grove’ sounds like it should be a tangled forest of grasping trees and unfettered spirits, but is – in fact – a little cul-de-sac of bungalows about a hundred yards from Doug’s house. I remember we knocked gingerly on a lit-up door at the bottom of the close, and a rather well-to-do looking elderly lady with a striking purple rinse emerged, looking decidedly unimpressed at the interruption to her evening’s viewing. The conversation went as follows…

Us: ‘Der sky is blue, der grass is green, can you spare a penny for-‘

Her: ‘I’m sorry, but what on EARTH are you doing?’

Me: ‘Erm… we’re… Trick or Treating…’

Her: ‘What?!?’

Doug: ‘It’s Halloween. We’re Trick Or Treating’

Her: ‘I have NO idea what you’re talking about. Do you actually WANT something? It’s far too cold to be standing here with the door open all night…’

Me (turning puce): ‘Well… it’s like… we sing the song… and you… give us… some… money… erm……….’

Her: ‘You have GOT to be joking. Get away with the pair of you, I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in all my given years’ (DOOR SLAMS)

Doug: ‘OH PISS OFF THEN, YOU MISERABLE OLD COW!!!’

mrsslocombe
We contemplated putting a small packet of flaming dogshit through her letterbox, but couldn’t find any that looked remotely flammable. On the corner of Hawthorne Grove, just across the main road, a grinning middle-aged wag emerged from his front door, told me to hold out my hand, and sprayed a curling dollop of shaving foam into my quivering palm. Thankfully, the welcome we received from Doug’s music teacher, in a blackened, crumbling mansion set back from the main road amidst a tangle of trees and rhododendron bushes, was warmer.

‘Hello Douglas!’ she beamed, peering through a crack in the door after twenty minutes of systematic unlocking, unlatching and unbolting that sounded like the opening titles to Porridge. ‘How lovely to see you. Come in! And who’s your friend?’

She was absolutely ancient, and dressed like Queen Victoria. And the house was a riot of faded Edwardian glory, filled with musty books and maps and with a classic upright piano in a corner of the drawing room.

‘Now then, what can I do for you both, hmmm?’

queenvictoria
We sang our song. She smiled and clapped, and gave us 50p each, without any idea – we suspected – of what was really going on. On the way out, Doug told me that her husband had died, and she’d never really recovered… and hadn’t spoken a word to anyone for six months after his death.

1984 was a strange, marvellously macabre place to be a youngster.

We tramped around the ‘Kebble Estate’ with no great degree of enthusiasm, breathing wisps of filth into the freezing night air and kicking leaves into neatly-cut gardens. All the other kids on Halloweening duty seemed to be at least three or four years younger than us, and we started to feel vaguely embarrassed. At one point, a gang of elder, teenage boys on the corner of the street gave a violent roar of fury and raced along the Larun Beat towards is. Convinced we were in for a kicking, we dived into a garden and hid beneath the shelter of a drooping, rustling willow tree.

They ran straight past us, flashing puzzled looks at the tree on the way. Even the local loonies weren’t bothered. We divvied up the money, made one last crack about being ‘grabbed by the ghoulies’ and shuffled off to our respective beds.

I never went Halloweening again after that.

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13 Comments»

  Chris Orton wrote @

Very pleased to see that you too indulged in the traditional British version of Hallowe’en, by using a turnip rather than a pumpkin. I despise this business with pumpkins. I can’t understand why people have allowed our traditional British version of Hallowe’en to be subsumed by the dreadful, corporate, version involving Trick or Treating. Pumkins are too easy to hollow out too – in the days or turnips you really had to give it some work to get a cavitiy in the damned rock-solid thing. And the contents tasted nicer. The supermarkets are of course the driving force behind all of this nonsense and are currently filled with all manner of Chinese-made orange and black tat.

We live in Britain and if I can ever be bothered to answer the door to the kids I think that when they cry “Trick or Treat”, then I will probably reply. “I think that you mean Penny For Hallowe’en don’t you?” If they say yes, then I shall reward them with a single, solitary penny. Miserable old bastard that I am.

  Dean Clive Windass wrote @

You sayin’ I looks like a turnip?

  Patsy wrote @

I can definitely say that Halloween existed before you and your mates were born, we used to have bobbing for apples in a pail of water, always good for a laugh, and eat toffee apples while listening to horror stories and trying to outdo each other with the most creepy tales – the braver ones used to meet up in church yards ! May have been tame, but it did give me a lifelong interest in horror books. I’ve never heard of ‘the sky is blue and the grass is green’ though, nor collecting money. And turnips are by far the best 🙂 Going into grumpy old lady mode now, but it’s all about money and flogging tat nowaydays…

  bobfischer wrote @

Thinking about it, I reckon my mate Shack has point – I think the lengthy Halloween bits in ET probably did begin the Americanisation of the British Halloween from the mid-1980s onwards… the whole orange pumpkins and ‘Trick or Treat’ business.

‘Trick or Treat’; was definitely a phrase that we knew by 1984, although Halloween in the UK was still very British at that point… all turnips and bobbing for apples in the washing-up bowl. (I remember doing this with Lisa Wheeldon in my Gran’s kitchen, so that must have been 1980 again!)

Patsy, I think the rhyme must date from before my time, purely on account of its pre-decimal lyric! 🙂

‘The sky is blue, the grass is green
Can you spare a penny for Halloween?
If you can’t spare a penny
A ha’penny will do
If you can’t spare a ha’penny
Then God bless you’

To be sung in shabby unison as soon as the door is opened by the grumbling grown-up dragged away from the telly on a freezing Autumnal evening.

I’d be interested to know when the ‘knocking on doors asking for money’ tradition started, as it was definitely firmly in place on Teesside by the late 1970s, when I first became aware of Halloween. As I said, I did it around my Gran’s estate in 1980, and I certainly wasn’t a pioneeer of the practice!

Any passing fortysomethings able to fill in a few historical gaps here?

(PS Despite the best efforts of Tesco and Sainsburys, I’m beginning to wonder if the practice is dying out… I was in all night last night, and didn’t receive a single caller! And I think we only had one or two last year. Yet as recently as 4-5 years ago, I was up and down like a frog in a pump dishing out chocolate and biscuits to miniature ghosts and vampires all night…)

  Thing wrote @

Trick or Treat was something that used to turn up in Charlie Brown and Snoopy cartoons and comic strips, that was the only place I ever experienced it until around the early to mid 80s, when I think it did start taking off a little.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in decline in Britain now though, I could imagine more parents being a bit uneasy about their kids wandering around strangers’ houses these days.

  Chris Byers wrote @

My first experience of the American influence on Halloween came when I knocked on the door of an American lady, who somewhat surprised me when she said ‘oh I am sorry I haven’t got any candy, but will money do?’ I just smiled politely and said money will be fine.

As for the lantern it has to be a hollowed out Turnip for me, not those horrible Pumpkin things. Can you believe they now have plastic ones with light’s in, where’s the fun in that?

  Patsy wrote @

Ah, you nicked the rhyme from’Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat’ etc…
Btw, when I lived in the US, parents would wander around with the children, and stand by the garden gate while their children did the knocking on doors, very rare to have kids without their parents somewhere in evidence !

I didn’t have a single soul last night, unless they were leaving it far later this year, just as well, as forgot to buy sweeties – I went to see Led Zeppelin Too, recommended 🙂 Look forward to seeing what you did on Guy Fawkes night !

  Justin wrote @

We had a few callers but less than the last few years and also, unlike previous years where the age range varied from very young to hulking teenager, it was all primary school age or below with Mums at the gate (usually looking *very* fetching in sexy Witches’ outfits I must say!) very much in evidence. IIRC there was a huge push last year to have ‘Halloween parties’ rather than let kids go out Trick or Treating by themselves, whether for fear for their safety or because of lots of complaints with them making a nuisance by throwing eggs and flour etc. (I notice a lot of shops saying they were not selling ‘certain food products to youngsters’ in the run up this year)

FWIW I recall in Buffy the ‘college’ age students were assigned groups of children to look after as they went Trick or Treating so their parents didn’t have to go with them so in the US they seem to be usually supervised too.
Also, I’m pelased to say, the children in my area seem to generally observe the US ‘rule’ that only people displaying ‘Halloween paraphinalia’ (in the US traditionally the pumpkin/candle combo but any decorations that show you are ‘into Halloween will do) get a visit.

  bobfischer wrote @

No sexy witches around these part, sad to say. Just the traditional ugly old crones, usually hogging the queue in Thomas the Baker every dinnertime when I go to buy my veggie pasty.

  bobfischer wrote @

Thing – yes, I think that’s the case. The last time I had Halloweeners at the door, two years ago, they were all accompanied closely by their parents.

Chris B – ha! You’ve just reminded me that in 1984 was undoubtedly the first time that I ever received a bit of chocolate (as opposed to hard cash) for my Halloweening efforts. A smiling bloke in a house on Leven Road gave Doug and I a fun-sized Mars Bar each, and we honestly thought he was taking the piss. The concept was just utterly alien, and we walked away grumbling and wondering whether it was some kind of trap (I remember Doug pondering that ‘he’s probably stuck drawing pins in them’)

Patsy – yeah, it’s definitely an adaptation of the old Christmas rhyme, slightly different rhythm, though. I think it had been around before my generation discovered it in the late 1970s. I remember my Mum being *slightly* edgy about me knocking on peoples doors back in the early 1980s, but it was just accepted that that was kids did at Halloween, and she’d have to lump it. Back in 1984, anyone who took their parents with them on the scrounging rounds would have been absolutely tortured at school the next day!

  James Place wrote @

Halloween was a major inconvenience around 1984. Every Tom, Dick and Harry were out on the streets and homeowners were obviously on a state of ‘High Alert’ which meant that the opportunity for ‘Garden Running’ was minimal on this one night of the year. Glaisdale Road and Mount Leven Road were just perfect for this discipline back then, the low hedges and fences between properties enabled ample opportunity to hone ones skills in a discipline that could be used in the 110 metre hurdles in later life should participants choose to do so!

  bobfischer wrote @

Mr Hirst would have been proud of your commitment to extra-curricular athletics!

I don’t think I ever went garden-running, but I remember – aged 17 – crawling along the top of one sturdy Larun Beat privet commando-style, fuelled by three cans of Tennant’s Super and a generous helping of stupidity. Until the owner came out and actually shook his fist at me, like the unmasked villains at the end of Scooby Doo.

  bobfischer wrote @

By the way, when I saw ‘commando style’, I don’t mean that I wasn’t wearing any underpants.


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