“Your turn in the chair next time,” said October. “I know,” said November. He was pale and thin-lipped. He helped October out of the wooden chair. “I like your stories. Mine are always too dark.” “I don’t think so,” said October. “It’s just that your nights are longer. And you aren’t as warm.” “Put it like that,” said November, “and I feel better. I suppose we can’t help who we are.”
― Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
As we huddle shivering in our homes on All Hallows Eve and the ghouls and ghosts cavort in the midnight skies, our primitive selves acknowledge how fragile we are. Like porcelain, like butterfly wings, like a head of dandelion seeds about to scramble in the breeze, like a bubble, like a house of cards. We may break and tumble and fall down shattered.
This time of year, Samhain, Hallowe’en, when night has decisively wrestled the majority share from day, half way between solstice and equinox, is when we recognise our vulnerability, confront our fears and make peace with our ancestors.
Tonight our house will be strangely quiet, as Sigoth and I munch pumpkin pie alone. But the gate will squeak and small children will stumble up the dark path to the pumpkin lantern and knock on the door in full expectation of chocolate. And it will be so.
Humans are amazing. We turn frights into fun, and joy into fear, as if alchemy were nothing to be wondered at.
The whiff of Autumn is in the air, and bringing back one of my earliest memories.
When I was small – in fact, when I was 2 – my parents did an amazing thing. They took me on an aeroplane to Canada to stay with my aunt and uncle. It was quite an adventure back in 1964. People didn’t fly so much then; in fact they had thought about taking the ship instead as it was cheaper, but would have taken a week each way.
The reason I remember this in September is that it was September then too, and we went to Canada in the Fall. The trees were so incredible I can still picture them now – an unbelievable mass of reds and golds and yellows. I thought they looked like they had been made by angels, because they couldn’t possibly be just trees.
There are lots of other things about the trip I don’t remember; my Dad took cine film and photos, but the settings are not very real to me. However, I certainly do remember the aeroplane.
Firstly, it was a BOAC plane. I know that because I have a log book to record each flight I took (we went again in 1969 and 1978). I got a badge for my coat lapel and the captain came to say hello and signed my book. However, the main thing about the flight was the sweets.
Before we took off, a nice lady came and asked me if I wanted a sweet. Obviously, I said “No” because you don’t take sweets from strangers! Then to my utter amazement my parents both took sweets – even though they didn’t know her at all! – and she carried on down the aisle. I would like to recall behaving with dignity and poise, but I’m sorry to say that I screamed my head off. I wanted a sweet too! Dad had to chase up the aisle after the air hostess, and Mum tried to explain it was to stop my ears popping when we took off, and I had to suck the sweet slowly to make it last.
On the way home I was quite the seasoned traveller and took my sweet quite calmly. But I am pretty sure my parents wished they had taken a sweet for me in the first place.