Thursday night was Halloween, and all things ghoulish and ghostly were out prowling the street for sweets and treats. Witches and black cats; teeny pumpkin twins; zombies; a Twilight vampire, heavy on the body glitter; Bob the Builder; the Pope, and his friend, a giant strawberry.
Dressing-up in a was a tradition that my sister and I used to take part in as children, although we’d never call it “trick or treating”. I don’t think we’d even heard the phrase then. Where we grew up, we’d go out guising on Halloween with groups of friends all in costume. At friend’s and neighbour’s doors, we’d tell jokes and stories, perform skits or sing songs to earn our treats, like a sticky bun tied from a string, to eat without using your hands, or an apple to dook from a pail of water with your teeth. And monkey nuts, handfuls of them, which usually ended up feeding the birds throughout November and December.
We’d spend hours making our lanterns in preparation for guising. But not from pumpkins. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw a pumpkin in real-life until I was in my twenties. Instead, our lanterns were made from neeps, the root vegetables also known as swedes, turnips or rutabagas if you’re not from the north of Scotland. The hours of preparation were necessary, as neeps don’t have a soft pulpy centre to scoop out. They’re crunchy to the core, hard enough to bend a spoon if you’re careless, and the leftovers don’t make a tasty filling for a pie. With a candle inside, it lets out a bitter reek that follows as you trail from door to door.
But, a Halloween lantern made from a neep has one advantage over a pumpkin. It can look genuinely terrifying in the dark, particularly after accompanying you on a tour of the neighbourhood, wizened by the candle flame, your very own shrunken head on a string.