A heathen at heart, I love Halloween – so light the candles and stoke up a big fire

I only ever encountered real pumpkins in the Charlie Brown cartoon books. They seemed strangely exotic. You wouldn't be coming across a pumpkin patch in Ballymena – but we had turnips to scoop out for a lantern

It's far from pumpkins we were reared...

SOOT black evenings and squadrons of orange pumpkins in the supermarket bring me forever back down the autumn lanes of home. Along the dual carriageway with the fairy hill that was so important they built the new road around it, and on down over the bridge into Curles wood.

On summer days, we pelted up the lane on a treasure hunt – searching for clues in and about the spring green trees, past the rickety waterwheel, swift on our feet as the foam-frilled gushing river.

On autumn days, when the leaves turned golden and crimson – rich as a Van Gogh painting – we kicked up whole piles of them watching them flutter and scatter about us – glorious in their dying.

Boys found old sticks and flung them high into the branches of the horse chestnut trees and waited for the green prickly cases to fall. There was a joy in breaking one open and finding the treasure inside – a polished brown conker in a white satin silk coffin.

Do children bother with conkers any more? Do they smuggle them home and harden them up with vinegar and dangle them on strings and stage conker wars? Such games have been banned from school playgrounds because of the risk.

The Bramley apples on the supermarket shelves whisper it's apple tart time. And a certain person who once said very delicately that his mother used to stew the apples first and then put them in the apple cake, knows better than to say that to a wife.

My mother's apple tarts were rich and sweet and feather light and bursting with hot apples. Yes, we downed it double quick to get to the sixpences hidden within, but now it is the memory of the pie itself that I treasure.

Back then, I only ever encountered real pumpkins in the Charlie Brown cartoon books. They seemed strangely exotic.

You wouldn't be coming across a pumpkin patch in Ballymena. But we had turnips to scoop out for a lantern.

That was when Uri Geller was a sensation. Everyone was glued to the old television as he stared at a spoon and used the power of his mind to bend it and break it.

We never quite bent every spoon in the house by staring at it, but trying to make our Halloween lantern from a raw turnip had the same result – we'd be eating our rice pudding and ice cream with a fork from then on.

And after we had driven our mother demented and after we had cried “Uri Geller, eat your heart out,” at all the broken spoons... the turnip lantern lit up the Halloween porch.

We had real fireworks. We children stood behind a strict imaginary line as our fathers stood rockets in glass milk bottles, nailed Catherine wheels to the fence and sent Roman candles flashing rainbows across the black velvet night.

Years later, we reclaimed Halloween when our boy was small. Being the good girl I always was – underlining in red pen, writing my essay in neat fountain pen, spending hours on my sums – I applied for the gunpowder licence – no driving down to the border and meeting a man with a parcel from the back of a lorry, thank you.

And those Halloween parties when our boy was small summon a host of warm memories.

The day the daddies set fire to our garden fence is the stuff of legend. When you nail your Catherine Wheel to a wooden fence, there is always the possibility that something might go wrong and we have the scorch marks to prove it.

But before our children turned teenagers, we played the old games with them – dunking for apples, tossing peeled apple skins behind them to make out the initial of the one they might marry.

We hid money in their apple cakes, blindfolded them for silly scary games, watched their faces light up and their eyes grow starry as the sparklers they held in small, gloved hands.

A heathen at heart, I still love Halloween – so light the candles, stoke up a big fire and savour the warm cloak of darkness on your shoulders.

Think of the old druid on the Hill of Tara setting a torch to the first bonfire and watching as hill upon hill glowed saffron in the night.

Stare into the flames and see the faces of those we have loved and lost waving from a distant shore. For they have never gone away.

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