Hallowe’en 1960: Obsession!

  • Posted on: 31/10/2020

Stealing Time

The clocks went back last week. While it sounds straightforward enough it seems to do something to the people who live in northern climes. Particularly those who live in the country. It is as if with the turn of a screw and the rewinding of hands, an hour of life has been stolen. Little wonder that in one remote corner of Caledonia “stern and wild”, there is an active “Give us back our eleven days” Society. This is in memory of the infamous calendar change of 1752 when the changing of time is said to have provoked riots and split Tories and Whigs. Nothing changes. Some say, however, that the riots are a myth. Many things are myths, but it does not make them less important. There are those who are still obsessed by the topic.

A Festival to Help With The Dark

It is now by day grey, dank, and dark and by night dark, dank and then very dark. Sleep patterns are disrupted and at Boots and Timothy Whites there is a run on wee tonics and Askit Pooders “just tae get me over the bit” as they say. In addition, minds are taken off the time change and the inevitable signalling of winter by the advent of Hallowe’en.  The inhabitants of the towns and villages north of Hadrian’s Wall are fascinated by this festival. Some might even say that they  are too obsessed by turnip lanterns, nuts, and sugary “tablet.”

It has deep roots in pagan times and reflects not only the changing seasons and the natural world, but the clash of religious ideologies. Witch trials is Scotland reached their peak when the country was in the grip of those who some might describe as the “most godly” and others “fanatical.” Dressing up and “guising”, in the modern world, reflects a love of transgression. Belief in ghosts and witches is frowned upon in a Presbyterian country and this makes it all more enjoyable. The Scots are nothing if not contrary.

All Under Control

This year the residents of the Rural Bolthole, where Glasgow’s fashionable citizens spend their weekends and holidays, have decided to turn Hallowe’en into a weekend festival with a range of events. The idea has been spear headed by the Parish Council chaired by the redoubtable Lady Patience Pentland-Firth, mainly because she senses the possibility of making a few pennies for her country estate and its dwindling fortunes. Her contribution is the provision of a free Hallowe’en Buffet in the Royal Bar at the Pentland Firth Arms. The idea is particularly satisfying as she is funding it by awarding herself a grant from the once large Common Good Fund.

There may be questions, but the rustics are more than aware that her late husband’s family have been in control since forever and it “aye been that way”. On the hand “who cares?” The sausage casserole and mulled ale are free! Of course, most of the work is being carried out not by her Ladyship, who views her people as Catherine the Great viewed Russia, but by Council members notably the simply marvellous Muriel Wylie and her team of almost willing helpers. So far the day has gone well.

Friction At The Tea Table

“Who would like one of Mrs Travers’, (our daily woman what does but not a lot) treacle scones, with their tea; Lottie how about you?”

“Ooh yes please Muriel, they really are the best.”

“My grandmother’s recipe you know. Lady Pentland-Firth, how about you”

“No thank you Muriel I am watching my waistline and that leaves more for Auld Young Jock. As he is so busy getting them over his thrapple, as they say, there is not time for him to talk with his mouth full as usual.

Honestly, my late husband the Rear Admiral would have taken him outside given him a good seeing to for such vulgarity.”

“From what I’ve heard Patience, he did that regularly.”

“That’s exactly the sort of comment one would expect Lottie from a woman married to a Bungalow Builder who is in concrete or should be.”

“Really Patience! Why your mother chose that name for you remains a mystery! I’m sure even at birth you were fractious. More tea, Reverend?”

Lady Pentland-Firth Explains to the Reverend

“Yes please, Mrs Wylie. Well ladies that seems to have been a most successful morning. The village businesses have done us proud with their themed windows and I am sure you will all agree with me that the haunted postman, with bicycle, deserves first prize and the “Weird Wool Shop” with knitters from beyond the grave should be runners up. Their make-up was spook-tacular!”

“Well I am sure we all agree Reverend with you about the postman, don’t we ladies, Young Auld Jock? The Knitters, however….”

“Yes, yes indeed the postman was most inventive Lady Pentland-Firth, but as to the knitters – well!”

“I think Reverend that what the members of the Parish Council are trying to say, and being most diplomatic, is that the Misses Aitken-Murray, owners of Heritage Haberdashery, have not actually entered the competition. That is how they are normally.”

“Oh, I see! Well I am much obliged to you, your Ladyship.”

“Not to worry Reverend. One is bound to make the odd cringing faux pas when one is new to the Parish.”

“More tea, treacle scones, anyone?”

Nuts, Enchantment and Money For Charity

“Now Muriel how did the Women’s Guild ‘Fatal Fashion Show’ go? I must say I just caught the end and ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ looked superb. Unfortunately, I was held up with the Estate Manager judging the cottagers’ nuts and I can report a splendid harvest of cobs from Mr Wren and Mr Anderson’s hazels are quite the best I have seen.”

“I am happy to report that all went well Patience. Jean Paton’s Glasgow Salon provided us with a simply marvellous range of daywear with matching hats and gowns for an enchanted evening as well as some costume jewellery to set it all off.  These we placed around the hall. It was hard to recognize the Church Hall with the spotlights and all those glittering crystals and beads. For a brief moment one might have imagined we were in Paris and not our humble parish.

The Guild ladies gave us a catwalk show of their own seasonal colours. They did their best as amateurs, but Maud Anstruther and Betty Bentick rather proved the point that while black is a very good foil for jewellery, especially chunky junk, Autumn Violet is a very difficult colour to wear, with sallow skin. All in all, I would say a great success and even Edna Fawkes was a great success in the new bell skirt, even if she did look like an upside down tulip. We raised £15, for The Home for Fallen Women with the raffle adding another £13.”

“Well done Muriel I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”

“And you didn’t get any.”

The School Competition

“That brings me to the School Competition, Lottie how did you find ‘The Scary Story’ competition?”

“Well Lady Pentland-Firth, huge enthusiasm, but somewhat disturbing and this is something I think the Minister might look into. We seem to have a rather bloodthirsty lower primary school.”

“Oh, Mrs Macaulay I am sure it will all be friendly witches, jolly ghosts and mischievous kittens.”

“No Reverend, there is something of a shortage of kittens and rather a lot of bathtub butchery, boiling babies, spinsters burning at the stake and then there’s the Zombie Kirk Session.”

“Well Mrs Macaulay I have some sympathy with that one. Anything else?”

“Only the matter of the life size model of the Headmistress of the Junior school Miss Chisholm, which is currently attached to the bell tower.”


“I’d give that one first prize, nasty piece of work with that belt she is. Face like nippy sweetie at the best of times.”

“Thank you for that contribution Young Auld Jock.”

“Not at all your Ladyship.”

“Perhaps Jock you might go up the tower this afternoon and take it down.”

“If you insist, but someone will need to take me to the tower as I cannae see a thing these days.”

“I am going up shortly with Lottie, she has the keys to lock up. I want to catch the last of Jasper’s Grave Yard Tours and I thought he might need a flask of tea and a scone as it’s a while since lunch and the buffet won’t be until later.” 

“Thank you, Muriel. Now before we continue who would like a glass of Masala? My late husband always said it was ideal for Hallowe’en, dark brown in colour and slightly sulphurous, all to do with Mount Etna you know. His ancestor brought back a hundred bottles of it from Sicily when he was with Lord Nelson in 1790. I have been saving it for a special occasion. Not for me of course, I am on the wagon as you know.”

In The Graveyard With Jasper

“Of Course Ladies and Gentlemen and – be careful there Mrs McGregor that you don’t fall over that gravestone – we all find Hallowe’en very amusing with its dooking for apples and turnip lanterns but time was when few country people dared to venture abroad on that night after dark. Witchcraft was a crime and it was believed the witches had made a contract with Satan. There were Acts of Parliament against making predictions and invoking the symbols of the sieve, the shears or the Bible. For, Ladies and Gentlemen, witches might open a Bible at random and try to foretell the future from a passage and they were capable of sailing at sea in a sieve like The Jumblies. The shears of course represented the possibility of cutting the thread of life.

Symbols like these are also used here in graveyards. You will see over there the hour glass, the symbol of time running out, and over there the broken column and then the classic urn – all symbols of mortality.

Any questions before it gets dark and we head back to the pub for the free buffet?”

An Audience Question 

“Yes, what about that up there?”

“That is a gargoyle and it is both practical and means many things,, in some ways it is ironic…..”

“No, that up there?”

“It’s two women.”

“Oh gosh yes! Well one of them looks like the Junior Headmistress and made of old clothes. And the other… it looks like Muriel!”

“No Jasper it is not me. I am here.”

“Oh, Muriel! Muriel, hello Lottie. Nearly finished this tour; did you bring some tea?”

“Of course. Jasper who is that clinging to the Church tower?”

“Muriel, it’s another you. No, it is Mrs Dangerfield dressed like you!”

“Quick Jasper, we need to do something. You need to go up and help her.”

“Couldn’t Young Auld Jock go?”

“Jasper he’s 93.”

“Well he maybe 93 Muriel but he’s up there untying Miss Chisholm, you know her with the hairy chin.”

“Quick Jasper. I’ll come with you.”

Everyone Up The Tower 

“Get your hands off me, Young Auld Jock or whatever your name is. Over there that’s the dummy. I’m a real person. I am simply marvellous, the very essence of gracious living.”

“Mrs Wylie, I thought yous was down the bottom o’ the stairs. That’s very clever, even for a Glaswegian.”

“Yes, yes, I AM Mrs Wylie, the marvellous one. Just look at my earrings, my duster coat my Rayne court shoes, my je ne sais quois.”

“You are not me, Mrs Dangerfield. I AM Muriel Wylie and I think you are not a very well lady, are you?”

“Don’t patronise me Lady Whoever You Think You Are.”

“Now Mrs Dangerfield, don’t you think you should come down with us? That gargoyle may not be very strong to hold onto and you are putting Young Auld Jock’s life at risk, not to mention spoiling the false Miss Chisholm as made by Primary 5. Don’t forget tomorrow we are going to catalogue the Historical Society’s collection of Bronze Age daggers.”

“Ooooh Jasper, you make me tremble at the knees. We mean so much to one another, don’t we?”

“No Mrs Dangerfield we do not. I am married to the real Mrs Wylie, here beside me.”

“She is an imposter, and you know what I do with imposters? I put them in a nice deep bathtub.”

“Here you, who are you saying needs a bath? Let me get you down. Yer very cheeky fur a dummy. Bloomin’ clever they wee school kids these days, voices an’ all. Never had that when I was a nipper.”

“Get your hands off me.”

“Nearly got you.”

“Don’t touch me. Jasper save me from this oaf. If I hold out my hands, come and get me and tomorrow, we will catalogue Bronze Age finds together and file card indexes forever.”

“I cannot Mrs Dangerfield. I am scared of heights.”

Mrs Travers Arrives 

“I’ll do it Mr Wylie.”

“Mrs Travers, what are you doing up here? And who are those men behind you?”

“That’s the polis sergeant and I’ll explain the two in white coats later.”

“And you can keep those two away from me, or I will put them all in the bathtub especially her, the Travers’ woman. You’ve never liked me. Yes, a nice deep bath for you, dearies.”

And with that Mrs Dangerfield loosened her grip from Young Auld Jock, reached out for Jasper and slipped on the wet lead pipe, leading to the gargoyle.


“Jasper here drink this Masala. Lady P-F has sent you a case, it will do you good.”

“Muriel what a terrible thing to happen!”

“Well Jasper it’s not your fault. You didn’t know that the woman helping you with your precious local things was an obsessional bathtub murderess who had escaped from an asylum.”

“Thank goodness for Mrs T arriving with the police and the warders. It distracted her or she might well have taken Young Auld Jock with her. How did you know Mrs T, you knew all along, didn’t you?”

“Well it wiz jist somethin’ in ma waterworks. And one day I caught her in yer tastefully appointed dressing room Mrs Wylie trying on your clothes and then filling and un-filling yer bath. I had something at the back o’ my mind. I went to the Mitchell Library where the librarian was very helpful an’ let me look at back copies o’ the newspapers from Lancashire before the war. She was tried and convicted of a series of murders involving an obsession with women of style and elegance. If they rejected her, she either lured them to her flat with the promise of one last meeting and then she drowned them in the bath. Or she made a play for their husbands and eventually drowned them too.”

“So that’s why there was never any hot water! You saved Muriel’s and my life Mrs T. Thank you.”

“Och, it was nothin’.”

“Well Jasper, Mrs T, the police want to interview us in the morning but right now, I don’t know about you, but I am hungry. Do you feel up to a sausage casserole at the Pentland Firth Arms? ”

Much Later

“I take it from the tossing and turning, you cannot sleep Jasper?”

“No, not really. You see Muriel, there are three things bothering me.”

“Yes Jasper?”

“Well three things. Firstly, there could never be two of you Dahling; you are unique.”

“Thank you, Jasper. And the others?”

“Mrs Dangerfield was the best secretary the Historical ever had. And I do wonder why you did not spot what was going on with Mrs Dangerfield copying everything you did.”

“Yes, Jasper you are right. I did take my eye off the ball, rather. I just thought it was an infatuation with moi for, as the oft quoted Charles Caleb Colton once said, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it did rather go to my head. I, too, am a mere mortal, who can be caught out on occasions. Now some warm milk for us will do the trick. We have the police to see in the morning.”

à bientôt


Hallowe’en 1960