Chris’s Favourite Article of 2020. Taxi Noir: Halloween Horror
Halloween was a pretty low-key event in the 1970s. Until recently, I hadn’t made a ghostly “Woooo!” noise on October 31st since about 1972. When Halloween became more commercialised and trick and treating became Halloween’s main event I became totally disaffected by it all – true, I was a grown adult by this time anyway, so that would have swayed my thinking to an extent. This year, however, I’ve re-connected with the Hallowed Evening, having read up a bit about Halloween traditions
Many of us who regard trick and treat as a ghastly American import are mistaken. From at least the 16th century a form of trick and treat was being enacted in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, where folk would go from home to home, reciting verses and songs in return for food. The Americans are merely keeping alive a tradition that originated on our side of the Atlantic.
Today’s’ Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from Celtic-speaking countries. Halloween customs vary around the world, and its meaning can be interpreted in all manner of ways. I like the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration: it’s not exactly what we know as Halloween, but it’s similar in, er, spirit. It comes a couple of days after October 31st and it focuses on remembering those who have passed. Altars are made in the home and decorated with memorabilia, and families and friends gather around to celebrate the life of loved ones with food and drink. Cemeteries are visited. It’s not a miserable, mournful, event but a celebration. Skulls feature prominently, and symbolise the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. I like to bring an element of Day of the Dead-Lite into my celebration of an English Halloween.
In a contemporary British Halloween, I enjoy the Gothic imagery, and I’m happy to celebrate witches on broomsticks. Black cats are always welcome. I don’t mind bats and cobwebs -it adds atmosphere. I don’t even object to Goths drinking snakebite in graveyards. But Halloween is definitely not about Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or Hollywood horror. There’s no place in my Halloween policy for cleaver-wielding maniacs. Embracing Halloween for the first time in nearly fifty years, I raised a glass to those who had passed. I even wore black and scared the wife with ghost noises. In conclusion, I say celebrate Halloween however you like: so long as you’re not banging on my door demanding money with menaces, or scaring my cat.
We were spending the night in one of Britain’s nicest, and most historic, cities: York. Dinner was taken among the dark wood and gloomy lighting of the fabulously atmospheric Guy Fawkes Inn. The main conspirator of the gunpowder plot was said to have been born on the pub’s site in 1570. Old Guido’s execution is celebrated in Britain every November 5th.
The Ghost Bus tour beforehand was just a daft bit of fun, but I researched our accommodation carefully and found a seventeenth century nunnery: the Bar Convent. This Grade 1 listed building is the oldest living convent in the UK. If any guest house could offer up an atmosphere, this should do it.
Reader, no supernatural apparitions visited us in the night, but the day wasn’t without its horrors, as the BBC News showed Boris Johnson announcing a one-month lockdown starting next week.