It’s the last day of the month, which only means one thing on my blog – its time to hand over to the fantastic Nell Peters…
Good morning/afternoon/evening, folks – and thank you for inviting me back, Jenny!
Apart from it being the three hundred and fifth day of the (leap) year, the most obvious thing to say about the last day of October is that it’s Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, preceeding All Saints’ Day on November 1st. While it has a dodgy rep for witches, scary monsters, ghouls and ghosts, and creepy things that go bump in the night (in Mexico it’s called Day of the Dead), the celebration is actually rooted in the Celtic holiday, Samhain. That’s not a person, but a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year. To symbolically lighten these months, lanterns were originally made from hollowed-out turnips in the UK (arguably the best possible use of that particular root veg), but when Irish immigrants in America found that pumpkins were more readily available there, the tradition evolved.
Halloween became a big thing over the pond and one of the most commercially exploited days of the year, along with Mothers’ Day (when I lived in Montreal, a friend was given not a measly bunch of flowers, but a top of the range dishwasher!) and Thanksgiving. British retailers haven’t been slow on the uptake either, with costumes (whatever happened to an old white sheet with eye holes cut in?), plastic collecting buckets for loot shaped like pumpkins, scary masks and decorations and a whole host of other tat. I expect you can buy Happy Halloween greeting cards too, if you’ve a mind – after all, when Happy Divorce cards started to roll off the printing presses, good taste flapped out the window faster than a vampire bat that’s spotted a blood bank.
Some pumpkin lanterns are truly works of art and so intricately carved, it must take the whole of October at least to complete the design – imagine your weapon of choice slipping at the last millimetre and all that work going to waste. We’ve never been big on Halloween in this house, but I pay lip service to the day by attacking the smallest pumpkin I can find with an apple corer to make eyes and a large knife to slice a zigzag mouth – sorted. They are horrid to scoop out, with all that slimy stringy stuff (reminds me of Donald Trump’s hair, and that of his separated-at-birth twin, Animal from the Muppets) and zillions of sticky seeds that get everywhere. I’ve only actually eaten it once – at a Thanksgiving weekend party in Toronto (in October, unlike the US version in November), when the host insisted I give it a go. Pumpkin pie may well qualify as one of the most hideous foods going, even worse than oysters (tried at a champagne breakfast) and whelks (I’d rather stick needles in my eyes!) Maybe a soup tastes better, and I have seen some quite adventurous pumpkin recipes on social media lately, but I think I’ll give them a miss – thanks anyway.
Usually I buy a fun bag of sweeties to hand out to any waifs and strays who arrive on the doorstep, but it’s all a bit of a leap from the nineteenth century children in Scotland and Ireland, who went from door-to-door praying for souls, or performing for money or cakes on All Hallows Eve. My faith in modern day Trick or Treaters was somewhat tarnished years ago, when one of the little buggers stole the pumpkin lantern I’d put at the front door to make them feel welcome. Now our lantern sits safely in the back garden on one of the tables, to radiate its radiance when we have the family here for a Bonfire Night party – and I bought life-sized glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons to string up in the trees, when I remember, to combine the two events.
Of people born on this day, we continue the horror theme with Jimmy Savile (1926), whose lifespan of almost eighty-five years (he died two days before his birthday) encompassed more debauched behaviour than the folk of Sodom and Gomorrah on performance enhancing drugs. And I wonder which genius felt he was a worthy candidate for a knighthood? Perhaps Jim fixed it? Just goes to show you can make a pretty good job of fooling nearly all the people all the time, by wearing shiny tracksuits, stupid glasses, having a ridiculous haircut, and saying ‘now then, now then’ at every given opportunity, while waggling a fat cigar. Let’s leave him to rot …
Much nicer people (not that I knew them of course, but I feel it’s a very safe assumption) to be born this day were Dick Francis (1920) – he of steeplechase jockey fame and author of crime novels set around all things gee-gee, and Daphne Oxenford (1919), actress.
To those of us who are of a more … erm … mature vintage, Daphne will forever be the (radio) voice of Listen with Mother, broadcast daily Monday to Friday at 13.45, if I remember correctly. For me, that was fifteen minutes of sheer bliss, lost in my imagination – although without ‘Mother’, who would always find something better to do. On TV, Daffers clocked up an impressive list of credits, including Coronation Street, The Sweeney, To the Manor Born, Midsomer Murders, Doctor Who, and many, many more.
More recently, international rugby scrum half Matt Dawson was born on this day in 1972. He was a member of the England team who won the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia. At that time, #3 and 4 sons (plus the OH on the rare occasions he was around) were playing (grass) hockey for local team, the Pelicans, and all the players and their families went to the clubhouse to watch the final, played against the host nation.
Apart from a St Patrick’s Day I spent in Glasgow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much beer swilled so early in the morning! Not by me, I hasten to add. With the score at an even 17-17 the game was into extra time with just twenty-six seconds left on the clock, when that nice Jonny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal. As the funny-shaped ball sailed through the air toward the posts, every bottom left its seat, every neck craned and everyone stopped breathing in that clubhouse – I think even the beer remained temporarily undrunk in glasses – for what seemed like forever, but could only have been seconds in reality. And when the score notched up to 20-17, the roof left the rest of the building far behind. More beer …
While #3 played on the wing, #4 played in goal for Pelicans – quite a dangerous position when you are punching well above your age in a male team full of strapping, athletic brutes. His kit was unbelievably expensive and so bulky with wall-to-wall padding, it was dragged around in a 5’ long kit bag with wheels one end. He needed help getting it on because of the sheer weight, and he looked like a brightly-coloured deep sea diver (the helmet with metal caging over his face helped here) when standing in his goal, trying to look menacing. I was always quite surprised he could move at all, let alone with any speed, when one of those evil, hard white balls was heading toward his net and him at the speed of light. I’d have run a mile.
In contrast, when we played hockey at my all-gels school (not through choice, I might add) the field players wore regular PE kit – stupid culottes, knee length socks, an aertex shirt and (but only in blizzard conditions, when the Gym Mistress strutted around in a huge sheepskin coat and fur-lined boots) a tracksuit top. Our regulation hockey boots were glorified black plimsolls with circles of rubber to protect ankles – and the only concession for the goalie was a pair of very unattractive (and no doubt pretty cumbersome) cricket pads to protect her shins. I played right wing because I could run fast and it was much easier to pass to the left wing, so I could trundle up and down and amuse myself for an hour or so, without having to hit the wretched ball.
The school was in Twickenham, home of rugby (do you see what I did there?) Every morning my friends and I would swarm from the train station en route for the school gates, passing a pub called the Cabbage Patch. The name comes from the early nickname for the now magnificent Twickenham Rugby Ground, after all-round sportsman and property entrepreneur, William Williams (whose parents obviously had no imagination whatsoever), was asked by the RFU to find a home ground for the England game in 1906. But they were so doubtful about his choice of agricultural land, it was scornfully dubbed ‘Billy Williams’ Cabbage Patch.’ Despite difficulties, two covered stands were eventually built east and west of the pitch and the ground opened on 9 October 1909.
Less than two thousand spectators watched the new home team, Harlequins (long ago banished to a much smaller ground the other side of the dual carriageway), beat Richmond 14-10. The railway station in Twickenham taken so much for granted by my friends and I, was only built originally to bring in rugby fans, as the ground grew in size and the game in popularity.
Another pub in the town was in more recent years renamed the William Webb Ellis, after the Rugby School pupil who supposedly ‘invented’ the game, when he caught the ball and ran with it, during a football game in 1823. Tsk! The Rugby World Cup is named the Webb Ellis Cup after William, who was at the school as a foundationer – i.e. he attended fee-free, after his army-widowed mother moved with her sons to live within a ten mile radius of the Rugby Clock Tower to meet the criteria. Good for her! Had she not upped sticks, on the £30 pension she received following her husband’s death in the Peninsular War, she would never have been able to afford such a good education for her boys. William became a clergyman and his older brother, Thomas, a surgeon.
William Webb Ellis
Out of season, the Rugby Ground is used for other things – when I was a kid, I remember every few years hordes of Jehovah’s Witnesses would descend from all over the world to camp there for a convention lasting several days. I don’t expect the Cabbage Patch noticed an upsurge in trade though, as drinking is only allowed very much in moderation – as are music, parties and dancing. One of the DinLs was brought up as a JW, but strayed many years ago – possibly after she found vodka comes in litre bottles. She’s also heavily into Christmas, Easter and birthdays, none of which are celebrated by those of the faith – certainly cheaper that way! We had a bit of a worrying time a few months ago, when her second child was – like his big sister – born very early and by an emergency caesarean section. Because she and #2 son aren’t actually married, her parents are still technically her next of kin – so it was very fortunate that no permission had to be sought for a blood transfusion, which is a definite JW no-no. William (another one!) is now eight months old and thriving, in case you were wondering …
Rock concerts are also held at the ground – including over the years local bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who and Genesis. I went to junior school with Phil Collins for a while until he transferred to stage school, but sadly I don’t remember him – and it’s always possible he doesn’t remember me too well either.
Hang on! I do believe his autobiography was published just recently – maybe I’ll nip over to Amazon and see if I get a mention. You think?
All of Nell’s books can be found on amazon, and at all good book retailing sites.
Another fabulous end of the month blog!
Many thanks Nell,