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Guising

Author: Audrey Gold

My dad must have dreaded the lead up to Halloween. When I started planning my outfit and who I'd travel round the houses with, he must only have been thinking about how he'd have to carve a turnip to light our way round – and if there was any way he could get out of jeopardising the long term viability of his fingers.

Nearer the time, my task was to pick out a turnip and my dad's slightly more arduous task was to carve that turnip into a grinning or ghoulish face. Grinning or ghoulish – those were my only choices, not like now when pumpkins can be easily carved into all sorts of faces or elaborate patterns. He didn't complain – despite the length of time it took – and he wielded his knife with precision. He usually suffered a few cuts regardless – turnip is not the most cooperative of vegetables.

My dad would then cut two holes at the side and thread some string through so I could carry it, and my mum would put a candle in it, dribbling a few drips of melted wax onto the floor of the turnip so the candle wouldn't move and telling us to “be careful” as we went out guising.

The turnip – or neep – lantern was essential. Not just to light our path but to scare away any ghosts or ghouls hanging around on All Hallows Eve, and we dressed up to disguise ourselves from these otherworldly creatures.

I'm pretty sure any ghosts would have been scared off with our costumes one particular year – probably one of the last Halloweens I went guising – as my best friend and I went as John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. We'd recently been to see Grease and couldn't stop singing the songs. She was taller than me and had dark hair so she was obviously Travolta – or Danny from the film – and I was Olivia Newton John as Sandy.

I modelled myself as the Sandy at the end of the film – perhaps not the best choice for a small eight-year-old girl who was the polar opposite of the sexy, sultry Sandy in the final scene. But of course I thought I looked just like her. My sister had curled my hair, I was wearing black trousers and top and tied a scarf around my neck. My friend had slicked back her short hair and was wearing a leather jacket, white T-shirt and jeans. Of course, this was during a time when ready-made costumes weren't readily or cheaply available and nearly everyone made their own but we looked the part – or so we thought.

That confidence faltered a little when, one after another, our neighbours asked us, ‘Who are you meant to be?' We put this down to their being old and not having seen The Best Film Ever. So we politely told them and then performed for them. My friend and I would practice our song or jokes or riddles for weeks beforehand. I preferred doing jokes; it usually got the best reaction – though I admit laughter was not always guaranteed. But that year, we sang a Grease song and I'm just glad smart phones were not around to record the moment for posterity.

Sometimes we dooked for apples or had to try and eat treacle scones dangling from string. I know for sure I didn't do the latter that year as there was no way I was risking my Olive Newton John costume. Once we'd performed, at each house we were given sweets, monkey nuts and satsumas in return – and sometimes money if we were really lucky – and we hurried on to the next house, our way lit by our now-reeking turnip lanterns. Up and down the street, we could see light bobbing about from other turnip lanterns, the smell of burnt neep scenting the air.

After all the guising was done, we'd go to my house or my friend's house and pour out our plastic bags to see what we'd got – trading if we'd got something we didn't like – then we'd sit and happily munch our way through the sweets until we were told to “stop eating sweets or you'll ruin your teeth”.

Meanwhile, the turnip sat smoking away, its ghoulish face leering at us, until the candle burnt itself out.