Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Here's post I did for MIE last week... hope you like it!


It’s a well known phenomenon that if America sneezes Britain catches cold. Some things that have infected us from the other side of the water are very welcome; Brad Pitt, ‘Castle’ and Robin Williams. Some not so welcome; spray on cheese, lack of the correct number of vowels in words, MacDonalds.  And the phrase ‘Trick or treat.’
It’s guising!

                                                          Why is this cat so grumpy?

After wandering round a supermarket being bombarded with pumpkins, apples, peanuts all blazing with a  ‘trick or treat’ logo, I felt very nostalgic for dressing up in a sheet, making two holes for the eyes and scaring people.

As a youngster we would dress up in something we had made – not bought. We liked to think we were unrecognizable.  We would go round the doors of neighbours ( with a 'u') and ‘do a turn.’ -  sing a song, tell a joke, do a dance. Wickedpedia says “In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed.”
This is sounding more like it!


There were some strange goings on. Treacle scones would be dangled from the ceiling on a rope and then covered in lashings of dripping sticky treacle. Some poor sod would then have their hands tied behind their back and then attempt to eat the aforesaid scone, now swinging happily on its rope. And happily smacking them in the face.  If it didn’t- if it  hung still enough to let the poor sod have a nibble, a ‘friend’ would give it a good shove…right in the face of the nibbler, rendering them a treacle face and therefore unrecognisable.
                                              These are sophisticates, using a newspaper as a bib. 

Small children would have to kneel on a chair, backwards (hope you are following this). Under them was a basin of water full with bobbing apples. The child would hold a fork in their teeth and drop it, trying to spear an apple. This is precision forking.
 I believe that bobbing is world wide but we call it 'dookin'.  Kneel down and stick their head in the basin, trapping apple between teeth and basin bottom… dead easy you say. So far so good, they get an apple and might even get the treacle washed off their face.
Not so easy to do while your pals are resting one foot on the back of your head.
I don’t recall ever having a pumpkin. We used to hollow out a turnip… and use the middle for soup. If skint we’d use a big potato. We carried the turnips and their enclosed candle through the streets keeping the ghosts away…. As the candle cast fearful shadows through the holes in the turnip, the scariest thing was the turnip itself. I wonder if there is a word for turnip phobia.
                                                        This is a mangel wurzel. Seemingly.

Wickedpedia says….blah blah by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins". These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in 19th century, known as jack – o’- lanterns.

It also says "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers". As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in the Scottish Highlands. Halloween lanterns didn’t spread to England until the 20th century, maybe due to a lack of turnips.

The term Halloween comes of course from the Scots term for All Hallows' Eve, i.e. the evening before All Hallow’s Day. Although the phrase "All Hallows'" is Old English for the mass day of all saints.  Wickedpedia again; ‘It initiates the tridiuum  Hallowmas the time in the  liturgical  year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed believers.”

Or in Glasgow, just dress up in case the ghouls get you.

Wickedpedia goes on to say that it is a Christian festival influenced by the Celtic harvest festivals and their pagan roots. Pagans would mark the end of the harvest season and beginning of the 'darker half' of the year. Spirits could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. They had to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the souls of the dead who were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them.
It made sense, looking into a long dark winter, the good spirits had to be with you to survive. The nuts, the fruit, the fire, all that they needed to see them through and if the odd dead relative popped in that night for a wee dook of an apple,   even better.
                                                           pagans having fun.
The lighting of bonfires by the ancient Celts was a tradition carried on into Halloween to frighten away witches but we now do that on 5th November to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.

I didn’t know the connection between Halloween and the Danse Macabre in continental Europe, France in particular. The danse is the dead of the churchyards rising for one wild, hideous carnival at Hallowe'en.
                                                  Bernt Notke: Surmatants (Totentanz) in St. Nicholas' Church, Tallinn.

Then I read this;-

 “North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Halloween, and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in earnest. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.”

Sounds like a Halloween hoolie to me!

Hope you had a good one and the ghouls didn't get you.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Grantown on Spey dark deeds!!

Here's a post about my recent trip to the Grantown Crime fest that appeared in MIE this week. The wondrous Bill at the museum  has sent me some great stuff in response to this so he will have his reply next week and reveal all about the gorilla!  You have to read on now don't you...

 Just below Inverness two feet to the right of the middle of nowhere is a place called Grantown on Spey.  I was invited to appear at a inaugural book festival called Dark Deeds, Dark Nights. As Grantown sits in the Cairngorm National Park the drive up was pretty spectacular. The drive down was in the middle of a gale so we only saw the tail lights of the car in front.

Thanks to David Ross for picture

Here is Grantown on Spey in the rush hour....

It’s a marvellous wee place with a great sense of community. The residents know that if they don’t make things happen nothing ever would. Last year I did an event there “at the bookshop” one of the few bookshops mentioned on Tripadvisor.  I seriously thought the audience would consist of me, a dog and some old bloke who had popped in out the rain as the Aviemore bus was late.  I remember walking into the bookshop, which is slightly smaller than my linen cupboard and thinking that with me and the dog in the shop, there would be no room for the guy waiting for the Aviemore bus.
Here is the mighty atom (or Marjory as she was christened)
                                                        What a treasure trove.....


                                                  Look what we found.....

The event however took place in the local hotel where they have a special meet and greet room with comfy chairs, wine and Pringles. That room opens into a small informal lecture theatre with all kinds of fancy gizmos (laptops, laser pointers...stuff !!!). It functions to lecture coach parties of walkers/drinkers/ twitchers about the fantastic wildlife of the area and the local whisky trade… boy does this hotel specialise in whiskies. On the wall is a white board where the hotel residents mark what they have seen that day; wild cats, red squirrel, pine martens, the smaller crested goobly whatsit, the greater crested goobly whatsit.  It is quite amusing to read, a bit like a foot ball result table. Red deer 2 - otters 0. Roe deer 4 -  ospreys 2.
The roe deer /red deer play off could go either way.
There is a stuffed gorilla in the high street- that gets a few mentions on the sightings board as well.
That event was very well attended, sold a load of books and the dog in attendance was a guide dog called Bounty who sighed and broke wind all the way through my reading.
                                         The Grant Arms Hotel. Whiskies galore.

This year the mighty atom, all four feet eight of her, decided to run her small crime festival. Dark Nights.  No wonder she has been nominated for Book Shop Manager Of The Year. Two of the main authors called off at the last minute and one of the stand-ins did a fantastic talk on the highland whisky wars and just listening to that gave me plots for the next three books! And next week's blog! He did his talk in a top hat with a walking cane.

At my big event the blind lady turned up again and told me that Bounty had retired and here is a picture of her replacement.
                    He spent much of our talk lying on his back, wriggling with his legs in the air. 

The mighty atom did well organising a big dinner on the Friday night where the authors had to swap tables.
                                        Micheal, Alex and I, all clean and shiny.

                                                   There was an awful lot of wine....

A workshop with Michael Malone on the Saturday morning, where Aline Templeton and I went along to give moral support in case nobody turned up.  Of course it was crowded and we caused a seating problem. 
                                               Michael preparing for his workshop

In the afternoon, I was on with Alex Gray and Aline again with lots of readings while trying not to be distracted by aforesaid paw pedalling.
In the evening the mighty atom had tried to have all the writers on stage at the same time but physical injury and an oncoming storm reduced us to five. The audience were well oiled by this time, most of them having been to every single event.  I did start off that event by saying that we were happy to be 'buzzed for repetition'. 

The hotel we stayed in was a fairly typical highland hotel trying to do its best in the economic downturn. Fabulous open fires, stag antlers, etc. I always like hotels where you get the sensation of either walking up or down hill  as the floors are so uneven. The breakfast menu was magnificent, just reading it took about an hour and everything liberally dressed with smoked salmon.

                                          The Grant Hotel

I did have an interesting chat with a gentleman who had something to do with the displays in the local museum.  They had tried to mock up a crime scene.  But because everybody was elsewhere there was nobody to open up the museum for the Friday or Saturday of the festival but I believe the four persons at the crime scene were as follows.
1.       A mannequin slapper in a black dress with long blonde hair. He told me this as I stood in front of him looking like a slapper! She had a noose round her neck, an empty bottle of whisky in her hand and an invisible stab wound somewhere.  I said I would move her head to see if she had been strangled or if her neck had been broken.  'Oh,' he said, 'definitely broken. It's not actually her head.' It turns out she had no left arm either.
2.       The scene of crime officer was a child’s dummy in an over large CSI protection suit which gave her the appearance of a crew member of Apollo 13.
3.       Chief investigating officer was a police officer dressed circa (I’m guessing now 1920s, 30s when it was fashion to have long hair and a beard) although I understand that the police officer mannequin doubles as Santa during the Christmas period. Police Scotland had been less than helpful with updating a uniform for him.
4.     The other gentleman present had borrowed the dead person’s left arm to hold his rifle dressed as a gamekeeper circa turn of the century … by that I mean early 1900s as I don’t think Grantown Museum has yet wandered into the 00s!

                                                       Aline, Myself and Michael

But the greatest things about the place are the clean air, the friendly locals and the total lack of mobile phone signal!!  And quiet places like this to read....
Oh, in the end we decided that the lifesize statue of the gorilla in the High Street had something to do with the murder of the slapper in the museum.  After a few drams anything is possible....

Caro   Scotland 01/11/13