Autumn was my favourite season. It was a new school year, which meant new shoes, a new satchel and maybe a new cardigan if Mum had finished knitting it. It was also my birthday, which added to the all-star attraction of autumn. I was always allowed a party, and in the fifties all little girls (in Bridport) wore organdie flock dresses with gathered skirts to parties. Mine was the blue of a clear autumn morning sky, with tiny white velvety leaves. One year we were being fairies with sparkler wands and one child caught her dress on fire. Luckily my father was there and able to snuff it out with his hands before anyone was injured. But we weren’t allowed sparklers after that.
When we were older we had several Halloween parties in the cellar. There was no ‘Trick or Treating’ then; Halloween was all about fear of the supernatural. The cellar was cold and dark, with no need for artificial cobwebs to create effect. There were windows leading out to an underground passage, lit by the light of the moon through random gratings. I remember sitting with my friends in the flickering candlelight while my mother told a ghost story. As the story unfolded, a bag was passed around to verify the authenticity of the tale, and I can still feel the sticky softness of a large peeled grape that we believed to be an eyeball. Suddenly the air was splintered with screams as a ghost appeared at the window. It was Nigel, dressed in a sheet.
Then there was Guy Fawkes Night. We always built a massive bonfire and stuffed a few sacks for a ‘Guy’. Pretty gruesome really when you think back, watching the poor fellow burn on the fire. Prior to his blazing demise, we pushed him around the town in an old pram, asking for ‘A penny for the guy’, hoping to get money to buy fireworks. Our cousins came over to us for the evening. We pooled our fireworks and the two dads set them off while we stood a safe distance away. One year a Roman candle fell over and shot straight into the wheelbarrow full of fireworks. Rockets and Catherine wheels were going off in all directions, so we ran and hid among the cabbages, after which we all trooped into the kitchen for hot cocoa.
I loved the dusty warmth rising from fallen leaves as we scuffed our way through them, walking to school. Beech leaves smelt different from sycamore leaves. We used to pick up the dark brown beech nuts, pulling open the spikey outer case revealing the golden skin of the inner cloves which we chewed before spitting out the skin.
We looked for ‘conkers’ from the horse-chestnut trees, longing to find the perfect huge mahogany-ripe nut that would smash all the others. We cracked the shell of every fallen fruit with the anticipation of a gold-digger surveying his sieve of sediment. Each ‘conker’ was pierced with a red-hot skewer and threaded on to a string. Children would hold up the conkers on their strings, and take turns to bash the other conkers until the weaker one broke. I wonder if they still do that today?