How was your Halloween? Mine was quiet. So quiet it scarcely existed. I'd prepared the usual bowl with chocolates and fruit. But there was no knock on the door, no ring of the bell. When I was a boy, growing up in a small town, Halloween was a big deal. Something to look forward to. There would be fireworks, bonfires, and I'd go guising with my friends in all the neighbouring streets. And the result of ringing the bell or knocking on the door would always be the same. No question of tricking because treating would always appear.
So why in more recent years has it all changed? What has happened to the guisers? Where have they gone?
I'm not sure what the answer is. But their absence is a not insignificant social change. However minor it may seem, their absence points up something unhappy about contemporary society in general. Children guising is only possible in a community of shared values and expectations. A community in which the parents of children know and trust each other. In today's society, such trust has been lost.
Clearly, for most of us, the idea that a group of children can go out in the dark, unaccompanied by adults, and knock on doors, is too risky to be entertained. How can we be sure they will be safe? How could we explain it if something did go wrong? The stories we read again and again in our newspapers make it all too clear that safety can never be taken for granted, that our children are vulnerable, that there are always those waiting to take advantage. So it is better to play it safe and stay at home.
In the anonymity of cities in particular, this has to be the explanation. In small towns, perhaps guising goes on as it has always done. But somehow I doubt it. Parents' concern is everywhere the same: the well-being of their children. Guising is part of a way of life that is disappearing. Before long, it will be a memory only.
So that is 5 November over with again. The Christmas gear is starting to appear on the supermarket shelves and my wee dog, whose nerves have been shredded for the last week or so, is slowly returning to some kind of normality. At least I can now see the white of her eyes as she lies huddled under the sofa, having moved from a near to permanent position, tucked in tightly against the wall, hoping in vain that the infernal noise would come to a stop. Though, by the sound of it, there appears to be some people up my way, already starting to practice for next year.
Guy Fawkes Night, Gunpowder Plot, Bonfire Night, or any other label you which to put on the anniversary, is a bizarre event to say the least. It all happened in 1605, some 416 years ago. As a primary school child, I was taught the rhyme:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
I was always suspicious of this verse as, well, should it not
be forgotten? I was quite a serious and studious youngster at primary and if they couldn't get that right, they were not worthy of my attention. The event is marked in a particularly grotesque and tasteless way, as we encourage youngsters to participate in or at least witness the burning of an effigy of the designated explosives expert, Fawkes, then ensure future commitment to the 'celebration' by lighting up the sky with squibs and rockets.
Does anyone else think it is a bit peculiar that we in Scotland are still so enthusiastic in celebrating the thwarting of the would-be assassins, intent on blowing up the English
parliament? I recall that this anniversary has in the past fallen a few times on the night of a European football tie and on these occasions, as I ventured further west along the M8 toward my final destination, Glasgow's East End, the bonfires and fireworks always appeared bigger and more spectacular. It felt almost that there might have been something else going on.
Edinburgh city centre was quite busy today and not with the run-up to Christmas. Have you seen the appalling sate of Princes Street retail recently, now that half the stores have literally shut up shop and moved their wares to the soulless St James Quarter? No, it was not retail, it was rugby. A sea of Barbour coats and other assorted high-end outdoor walking gear was coming towards me in waves, with Saltires, painted faces and team-branded merchandise. Matched with the obligatory kilts and walking boots.
I am not a rugby person, but I am trying. It is not a game I grew up with or looked forward to in the dead of winter, as we on occasion were put through our paces by the rugby enthusiast/sadist that was our PE teacher. However, I found out something today which has altered my opinion and given me a new perspective on the game. I understand that Scotland were playing Australia and, get this, it was not a league or cup game. There was nothing at stake at all. Despite this, it was a sell-out, with some 70,000 people in attendance. There also appears to be no deep-held dislike or animosity between teams. Who would have known?
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