Monday, 1 November 2010

Neeping Oor Heeds.

As is usual on the 1st of November, the citizens of Kirkwall picked their way into work this morning through a gluey crust of flour and eggshells. It is the custom here for a certain section of the populace to bombard the buildings of the town with both.

Lat night we received visits from 'trick or treaters' who were called 'guisers' in my day. A party piece of a song or joke is usually performed in exchange for sweets, but some of our delightful visitors did not bother with this irksome duty. Others did not even have costumes on and were clearly about 25.

Most of the revellers last night had pumpkin lanterns. When did people stop using turnips? Memories of Hallowe'ens past are always infused with the stink of hot neep.

In the not-so-distant past, Hallowee'n used to be a very special night for young, unmarried women. It was the only night of the year that they could peek into the future and glimpse their future husband.

One tradition was to eat a salt herring before bed in the hope that an apparition of their future spouse would glide into their room with the offer of a glass of water.

In the Orcadian parish of Orphir, hopeful girls took a live coal from the fire, submerged it hissing into water and tucked it under a piece of turf. In the morning, the turf would be broken in half to reveal fibres the colour of the future husband's hair.

Braver lasses used to sit in the barn all night with a sieve and a knife because then (of course), a ghostie of the hubby-to-be would drift past the doorway. Other girls used to go into the fields at night and walk around a corn-rick, arms outspread, expecting to touch the ghostie hand of said h-t-b. Aaaaggghhhh!!!!!!

I don't know about anyone else, but I much prefer today's tradition of sitting in front of the X-factor results show whilst munching upon the excessively large supply of sweets that only the visits of 3300 children could use  up.

Information taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick Collection D31/72/1/26

More sieve information here and here


  1. I disdain of this modern tradition of pumpkins - every child should have to bust their fingers scooping out the rock solid contents of a vast turnip using a dessert spoon (no, you can't have a knife) and wait till Dad gets in to cut the eyes and mouth out. And the stink when you stuck a nightlight inside them and they got all hot and singed... No wonder all my mother's spoons were bent, but at least we were all occupied with scooping for three days before Halloween, in return for a treacle scone on a string from the pulley in the kitchen getting stuck in our hair. Oh, we knew how to have fun...

    Perhaps the X Factor and a bag of mini mars bars is an improvement after all....

  2. Hear, hear! They don't know they're born! Etc... moan, grumble, sigh...

    Mmmmm... treacle scone...

  3. Well at least some of you had turnips! We had to make do with fodderbeet (cattle food) which we couldn't even eat! (Dusty inadvertently opens the "we were poorer than you" debate)

  4. Ah, you soft-handed westerners - where I'm from in Asia, you got a lump of sugar once a year that you had to fight a donkey gladiator-style for. (I will SO win the 'we was poorerer than you debate.)

  5. That does sound quite tricky...

  6. I used a pumpkin one year - it was easier, but where were the singed neep smell, the sense of achievement, the bandaged knuckles..?

  7. Would somebody please explain the significance of the sieve and knife in the barn to an ignorant soul living on an island off the west coast of Canada? PS I've never had the experience of carving up a turnip on Hallowe'en...maybe I'll try it next year if I can find a large enough one.

  8. It is easier, but goes much mouldier much quicker... Not much worse than the smell of two day old pumpkin in the house. Bluuurghh


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