As I write this blog a no doubt a sizeable number of you, my loyal readership, will be preparing themselves for the most terrifying time of the year. Soon, and by soon I mean imminently, we face Halloween, replete as it is with the daunting prospect of darkened streets populated by costumed children asking for sweets. Actually, it’s not the ghouls, zombies, werewolves, vampires, witches and other tropes of the horror genre I object to, so much as the misguided parents who insist on making Halloween ‘fun’ by encouraging, or indeed insisting that their offspring dress as anything they bally well like for the evening. Kids do not need another excuse to dress up as princesses or super-heroes – with no attempt being made to make said character twisted, evil, psychopathic or deeply committed to public service. There should be a law against it. Halloween is all about encouraging irrational fear and nameless terror. I almost threw in the last round of golf I had with the vicar, who in all other respects is a perfectly decent fellow, after he told me he was holding a ‘festival of light in the darkness’ at his church as ‘an alternative to all that superstition’. I was tempted to tell him all the things that were wrong with that statement, but I was three holes up and we were playing for a dram of Auchentoshan in the bar at the 18th, so I kept schtum.
Then there is Guy Fawkes Night. The horror there is easy to spot. Here comes another anniversary of an occasion when the British Establishment were so beastly to a group of people that they started plotting to blow up a building full of a significant proportion of the British Establishment. I would like to pin this one solely on the English, but by then the Scots were truly implicated in the affairs of state, so at least we can share the shame. Then there is the experience itself. On the one hand it is nice to stand in the field outside the Scout Hut holding a sausage, while old Mad Pete runs around in almost pitch darkness randomly setting off fireworks with his blowlamp, but on the other, any sense of enjoyment is offset by the knowledge that one of the assembled company will be called upon to find out whether it’s possible to call for the emergency services in said field when they have dropped their reading glasses in the mud.
Then of course there is Christmas, a subject which I have discussed before, and the least said the better. I can appreciate that by now you might be getting a little fidgety, wondering when I am going to talk about the Workshop. This week’s Workshop was not as terrifying as perhaps it should have been. James Priestman was perhaps edging towards shock and awe with his retelling of John 1: 1-18. Alan Chambers introduced a welcome element of mystery with his enigmatic dreamer’s tale. Peter Francis remained suitably rational with his excellent translation of the Charles Aznavour song. Pat Francis dipped a metaphorical toe in the darker waters with her exploration of the medicinal herb, selfheal. Nick Barth stayed well and truly in the real world picturing a driver who rediscovers his words. Christine Shirley brought us a bright, optimistic and fresh poem which was nevertheless about this frightening time of year. John Hurley was sticking firmly to politics this week while praying for the soul of America. Owen Gallagher told us all about the many mothers he was raised by, all played by the same woman. Finally, Michael Harris met a man from Florence who may well have been looking for love, although that was left unsaid.
My thesis is this; we enjoy doing things we know will terrify us, which is why we make such terrible decisions at elections. We enjoy the thrill of fear much as we enjoy the first cold days of autumn. These things remind us we are alive, and we forget how long they will last. Halloween is just the opening salvo, worthy of a dose of Poe or a dollop of Emily Dickinson. By November we might turn to a Christabel by Coleridge or a spot of AE Houseman. By December we are looking for a proper ghost story to contrast with the comfort of crumpets, and that can mean only one thing. Whisper his name if you dare, feel the fear coursing through your veins… Charles Dickens.
If you have been, thank you for reading.