Halloweening in the 21st Century

Roll on Halloween!

But whatever happened to Mischievous Night?
Who would imagine today that Halloween’d ever had any religious significance? But back in the 8th century, the 31st October was assigned as the eve of ‘All Saints’ on November 1st and ‘All Souls’ on November 2nd, recognised as far back as 1000AD as a time to pray for the dead.
all souls  all souls 2
But however did they cope without Haribo?
I have to say, when I was a kid growing up in Leeds, Halloween wasn’t that big a deal. We did carve hideous faces into innocent root vegetables and flicker the odd candle inside them, but humbly, with the benefit of the poor man’s pumpkin – a turnip. Back in the 1970s, pumpkins were a mysterious foreign delicacy only glimpsed in Charlie Brown cartoons or as the precursor to Cinderella’s carriage. And as for the lighting: with no such things as tea-lights to work with, we’re talking authentic, bulky wax candles balanced in the base of the turnip-head; an ensemble which must all seem fairly primitive by today’s standards.
halloween turnip
And the downside was, if your mother went and paid good money for a turnip, you would then be charged with eating the surplus swede, usually as a mash-up with Sunday dinner. No way was that sweetly repellent anti-delicacy going in the bin, or even in the dog.
Nowadays, to look at the UK’s streets on the 31st of October, you’d never guess that it’s only in the last couple of decades that the ‘Trick-or-Treat’ style of Halloweening has really taken off. In fact, many of the older generation still feel ill at ease with it. Most anti-TOTs would agree with the writer who voiced her gripe in the New York Times article, ‘Trick or Treat, For Many Britons The Reply Is Neither:
“All they want is sweets,” said Ms. Boyd, a 57-year-old writer, sounding genuinely surprised. “They’re not scaring you, or singing to you, or charming you — they’re just grabbing it and going to the next house and then going home to be sick.”

Trick or treat

So, timewise, once Halloween is over, according to most current UK calendars, the next big thing to look forward to should be Bonfire Night on November the 5th, when England’s children throw together a makeshift ‘Guy’, with which, first, to cadge ‘a penny’ but then ultimately to burn atop a huge bonfire; the same young onlookers of which, by-and-large, will be blissfully unaware that Guy Fawkes was an actual real man who was hung, drawn and quartered by the state for attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
penny for the guy 1  penny for the guy 2
Those were the days, begging money from passing strangers with a facefull of good-honest muck.
But even while ‘A Penny for the Guy’ was going on, the night we were all waiting, anticipating and preparing for was the night just before Bonfire Night: Mischief Night, or Mischievous Night as it was commonly known in Yorkshire in the 1970s. The night of November 4th (though it’s believed that in previous centuries a ‘Mischief Night’ may also have happened in April, prior to another ‘children’s day’, May-Day).
Mischief Night was the night on which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore: “children across the northern counties thought they had the right to cause havoc with tricks and other misbehaviour.”
Misbehaviour such as egging windows and cars, knocking on doors and running away, sometimes after propping vessels of flour or water over the doorframes, tying door knobs together (sometimes a whole terrace, complete with synchronised knocking), smearing lard and treacle around door handles, setting fire to a bag with a dog-turd in it – in the hope that the person whose doorstep it was placed on would open the door and foolishly attempt to stamp it out – and, at the naughtier end, stealing people’s gates and loose fencing, usually as ballast for the next evening’s bonfires.
mischief night 2
If there’d been such a thing as mobile phones, this would’ve been the most-filmed prank.
Nicking off with gates and fences was as bad as it should have got, but Mischievous Night really started to get a bad name when some psycho jokers started pulling dumb stunts like posting firecrackers through letterboxes, smashing up bus-stops and generally causing actual criminal damage to their neighbours’ properties.
But before it all turned sour and ultimately faded out for the most part, Mischievous Night was fun, and was generally accepted by parents and neighbours alike, if not always in good spirit at least grudgingly. Otherwise, where would we have got all the groceries from? Eggs, flour and treacle don’t grow on trees, unlike toilet rolls on Mischief Night.
mischief 3
And we didn’t always come out the victors. There was the one time me and a friend used up most of our lard supply smearing it into the handle of the local phone-box – this was the red phone-box with the brass eyelid style handle – only to end up our own victims the next day when my friend’s home-phone was out of order and she desperately needed to make a phonecall; and yes, she was the first since our evil deed to slide her fingers into that cold, gucky handle.
Then there was the weird neighbour who sat patiently on a wooden stool in his greenhouse all evening, just waiting, no doubt with a nasty little giggle simmering away in his belly, until half the kids in our street, eggs and flour at the ready, tiptoed around into his back garden, at which point he flicked on the torch positioned directly beneath his grimacing face. The cool tenacity of that man amazes me to this day. Sometimes, on dark, cold, lonely nights, I can still hear the screams.
torch face
Not him, but you get my drift.
Well, Mischief Night, or Mischievous Night, may have slipped from the calendar and the consciousness that it was firmly a part of throughout 19th and 20th century Britain, but it hasn’t entirely been forgotten. Penny Woolcock’s brilliant 2005 Yorkshire-based film, Mischief Night, although highlighting issues far bigger than the event itself, does give tribute to that very naughty, yet somehow innocent, celebration of childhood.

Mischief Night
So tell me, readers, what is your favourite Halloween memory?

halloween funny pic
OUT ON RELEASE December 11th 2014 – MELT, a horror novel:
‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’
spooky church 5
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Vigilantes in the 21st Century

Part 4: Enter The Ladies, plus a new take on Legal-Aid

Had Robin Hood not been glorified in status through ages of storytelling, he’d likely be remembered as plain old Robin-Git, if indeed he was remembered at all; but as with the ballad of Jesse James, the original story has been sweetened up to render it palatable for those with moral sensibilities, and, of course, to package it as solid-gold saleable. For instance, did you know that there’s more evidence to say that the James brothers held up a train wearing Klu-Klux-Klan headgear, than there is to show that they divvied up a single penny of their booty with the poor?
Robin Hood

Not sure how you feel about these guys? Ask yourself, would you let them babysit your kids?

Not sure how you feel about these guys? Ask yourself, would you let them babysit your kids?

But it all goes to show that when it comes to stories of old, we like our heroes to be heroes, even if they’re killing people, meaning we’re okay with anti-heroes, just not out-and-out thugs.
Yes, vigilantes go back a long way, having a firm root in legend and mythology, though only later becoming firm figures of justice, the kind of men who stand up to corrupt, oppressive authorities, and in doing so benefit the common man in some way, be it in the form of a renewed sense of security, a plump pheasant leg or a wad of cold hard cash.
But enough talk about men; when did the women kick in?
Well you can read all about ‘Vigilante Women in Contemporary American Fiction’ in an in-depth study by Alison Graham-Bertolini.
Vigilante women book
As this spot is for the ladies, we’ll come back to the Dirty Harry films a little later, but I will mention here the fourth film in the series, Sudden Impact, 1983, which contains a scene that opens something like this: it’s a bright sunny day, a man sits peacefully reading his newspaper in a deck-chair on the beach; enter an angelic looking blonde, artist Jennifer Spencer, who raises a gun and shoots the fellow right in the nuts. He’s allowed enough time for the pain to register and to raise his aghast face to look the lady in the eye before her second shot cracks through his forehead.
Sondra Locke
We later learn that the artist, who’s restoring the pier’s Carousel, was gang-raped at that spot ten years earlier, along with a sister who lives out her existence in a catatonic state. This guy was the first; she’s only just begun.
Since the turn of the new millennium we’ve witnessed a rise in female justice figures. One prime example in film-form came in the shape of The Brave One, 2007, starring Jodie Foster.
The brave one the brave 1 2
This action movie harks back to the Death-Wish series mentioned in chapter 3, in that it’s a Joe Average (Josephine in this case) who loads up the bullets to shoot her way through a tirade of revenge killings following the violent death of her fiancé.
But the rise of kick-ass ladies is not confined to fiction, game and film, but is escalating around the world where real crime affects the lives of real women.
Here are some examples of how vigilantism takes shape in real life situations:
Power in Numbers
For a glimpse at a 400,000 strong vigilante army of women read about India’s Gulabi Gang, a force to be reckoned with:
Gulabi Gang
(And please don’t let the pink fool you. These women, fighting for the right to not be raped and beaten, mean business.)
Mexico is witnessing a similar rise in female justice groups. Read about the mysterious ‘La Bonita’ (the pretty one) who’s Remington R-15 rifle can kill a man at 300 paces, and probably has, in a vigilante war on drugs cartels.
Other cases of real life vigilantism and how it can go horribly wrong, can be viewed at:

Onto the law, and those acting within it, or without it, if necessity dictates.
So, back to the movies. The Fourth Amendment to the USA Constitution provides that:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
A law brought in effectively to protect innocent suspects from overzealous and potentially corrupt policing. The obvious downside is that a little incompetence in dealing with a suspect can result in that suspect getting off scot-free. In the 1970s, US film studios jumped on this aspect of the legal system with exaggerated vigour.

Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry (1971), aka Inspector Harry Callaghan, played by Clint Eastwood (also the drifter cowboy of episode 1), who’s catchphrase “Go ahead, make my day, punk” sets the tone for his particular brand of ruthless Justice. No pen-pushing, red-tape sticking police captain was telling him to take it easy, not where lives were at stake, or when he was just plain pissed off with the bad guys.
More comedic versions of the vigilante cop followed in the 1980s with Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis; tough cops acting outside their own jurisdictions, to force justice where, by their standards, the local law enforcement failed to come up to scratch.
Beverly Hills cop Die_hard
But it’s not only policemen that get exasperated with the system. In The Star Chamber, 1983 (a title taken from a notoriously ruthless 17th century English court), Michael Douglas plays a judge who winds up sitting on a panel of legal professionals who, behind the scenes, release a hit-man on those they deem to’ve escaped justice.
star chamber
And although the film didn’t achieve rave reviews, the idea remains an original one; and at least this storyline does highlight the potential for disaster and injustice where do-it-yourself law is concerned.
I’ll end the vigilante series with this handsome horror:
Rated number 1 on IBM’s top 10 vigilantes, Dexter is the unique character of the same-named US hit TV show. The first series, 2006, was based on the novel ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ by Jeff Lindsay. From there the ensuing scripts were originally crafted by screenwriter James Manos Jr; and well-crafted at that.
After witnessing the death of his mother at a young age, Dexter harbours homicidal urges. With the help of his adoptive cop father, he cultivates a mask of humanity, charm and an air of social responsibility, classic hallmarks of a psychopath. In his job as a ‘Blood Splatter Analyst’ with the Miami police department, Dexter gains access to criminals who have slipped through the justice system, and it is with these miscreants he sets up his stall. No mobster, human trafficker, paedophile or rapist will escape his scalpel. Needless to say, he knows all too well how to cover his tracks.

But imagine a vigilante so powerful that he, or rather it, has no fear of being caught, whose ruthless methods only serve as a calling-card for a police force impotent to delay, let alone stop their progress.
OUT ON RELEASE December 11th 2014 – MELT, a horror novel:
‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’

angel free 3
Follow me at: https://twitter.com/wood_melt
Friend me at: https://www.facebook.com/janinelangley.wood
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