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go back to the last page you were on Muriel's Meanderings in and around Halloween!

Muriel Wells

My Lister Friends,

Today is Halloween an event that the retailers are promoting afresh, with suggestions of Trick and Treat, fancy-dress parties and the like. A far cry from the Halloween beliefs of mediaeval England, when superstition was rife. Not that I am pointing the finger at our forebears---how eerie everything must have been with just the fitful flickering light of a lantern outdoors, (if you were lucky), and guttering candles inside!

Shadows of familiar things take on scary possibilities, and that old lady down the lane, with her oddities, and perhaps healing powers through her knowledge of herbs and balms --- surely she is a witch?

The moon riding high in the sky with a lively breeze and fast scudding clouds! What's that noise or rustle? What, only an owl hoot, a fox on the hunt or some small creature scurrying out of the way? It is easy to see why belief in Halloween was held. It fell on fertile ground nurtured by primitive conditions. But, not to laugh derisively --- how many of us can honestly profess to not having some moments of similar fear, once in a while?

The American ideas will prevail tonight, with Trick and Treaters knocking at the door in droves. I don't hold with it, so they will go away disappointed, I am afraid. My brother, in England says that he buys in an enormous bag of sweets, and when they are gone that's it! Our locals seem to expect money --- so they will be unlucky.

Going into Warehouse at the weekend I was struck by the huge variety of fancy dress displayed, both for children and adults. Tonight there will be many such parties and no doubt they will all have some fun. But it is a shame that it has all become so commercialised.

I have several photos of Auntie Florrie and Mum, (circa 1920), in their late teens/early twenties wearing fancy dress. Grandma Lucas, a tailoress by trade most likely helped them make their outfits. Gipsies appeared to be a popular guise --- fairly easy to achieve and they looked very happy in their ensembles.

Of course "dressing-up" has always been a fun thing to do, starting off with the weeniest toddler staggering about in mother's high heels or scuffs! We "issued" in and out of the back entries and paraded along the street in an amazing variety of garments, during our play in my pre-war days. "Weddings" were, of course, the favourite! Why in and around the streets and jetties --- apart from the "showing off" aspect? Well we had very small gardens and so the pavements and streets became our playground!

In our Girls' Life Brigade days, when at camp in early wartime, (it was a palliasse on the floor of Harvington village hall), --- a fancy dress finale was always on the programme. We were allowed to provide ourselves with some simple "props", including crêpe paper, but for the rest it was improvisation. The versatility of sheets had to be seen to be believed.!!! What fun we had --- not the least being applying make-up lavishly to enhance our looks or disguise our identities. (Remember most of us were not normally allowed to use it!).

Our church also put on a mock-wedding for some fund raising event. The same cast was involved because like most young people belonging to GLB or Boys' Brigade, we also belonged to the Sunday School and attended church services. It was fairly common in my young days for the church to provide a focus for our activities, in our leisure time. (Discos were unknown and youth clubs for young school leavers, providing social facilities, were only just appearing).

We loved putting on this "mock marriage" because it was such enormous fun. You see, we reversed the roles and the boys took the female parts, and the girls became the males. The audience was convulsed but we had to remain in character! I still have a mental picture of Millicent Gilbert dressed as the parson! All this was achieved by ingenuity and what we could "beg, borrow or steal" in the way of "props" from our families.

Later, at my Training College, each residential hostel had to put on a revue, which was judged by a panel. "Winchester", situated a mile away from the main college, near to "The Green Man", chose a village concert as their theme. All facets of the village were called upon --- the Village Institute, the local dancing school, those who were comic, could recite, sing or played a musical instrument. Oh we "had a ball"!

Costuming, again was improvised---but very cleverly. For example the quartet from the Village Institute comprised two tall and two short members. The tall were made to look taller and the short ones became plumply dumpy! I was one of the latter --- I had on Nancy Partington's off the shoulder evening gown; my bosom, (which in those days was very modest), was padded up well and my hair was scragged back tightly. Well this made my long neck appear even longer, and my head the size of a pimple! The College Burser, with tears in her eyes, said that she'd never see one longer and the "Giraffe necked women of Burma" had come to her mind! Our bizarre appearance had the audience rolling in the aisles --- but we had to remain serious as we happily murdered "Summer is a'coming in, loude sing cuckoo". I found it surprisingly easy to ignore the hilarity and refrain from laughing!

I also took another role supporting the nearly 6ft prima ballerina when the village dancing troupe performed a ballet number. All I had to do was flit across the stage supporting Margaret in her jumps. I could neither see around her tutu --- or be seen! To the audience Margaret appeared to have four legs! Such a lot of fun for performers and audience alike.

And I am happy to report that "Winchester" won the competition!

Skip down the years somewhat to 1960, onboard "The Southern Cross", en route to NZ. The voyage included a Fancy Dress Parade just before reaching Australia. Costumes were a mixture from elaborate bought ones sported by the upper decks, and the "steerage class", of which I was one, making do with what they had! A friend and I dressed as Chinese laundrymen, and making fun of the laundry facilities deep down aft, and trotting one behind the other we toted a line of washing between us. And guess who had a notice "AFT" pinned to her rear end?

Finally, the last time that I dressed up was when I was a leader at the YWCA Camp at Nydia Bay, early in the 1960s. In retrospect I die of shame at the sauciness of my costume! We made our own from what we had and were allowed to take small props with us. I took crêpe paper and launched myself as, "Someone's Honey Bun"! Gee, oh gosh!

My modest twopiece swim suit had 2 florets on the bra and frills on the pants. I ended up looking like an overblown floozy, I'm sure! Once the parade was over I scuttled off to change into something "decent". Really, what got into me?

Once more I have roamed a long way from the initial tack --- but wait, have I? For I think that it shows that you don't need to buy in the glitz in order to have fun, and there is a great satisfaction in the simple improvisations we used to have to do. Mind you we would have loved access to the exotic wigs, cloppy "heels", antennae and feathery stoles that you can buy so cheaply, nowadays, from Warehouse or the $2 Shop. Far be it from me to spoil the fun of these cheap and simple delights!

Friends, I hope that you haven't minded me meandering down memory lane. Have you some experiences to share with us?

Written by Muriel Wells