Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 30 October 2015


I was sent on a huge nostalgia trip earlier in the week when I listened to Radio 4 while messing about with my accounts, and heard Alistair Cooke talking again, as he had all through my life, right from my childhood, punctuating my weeks with his regular Letters from America.

I was plunged back into nostalgia again, yesterday, by a newspaper article bemoaning the scarcity of pumpkins this year. Honestly, I didn’t know that the pumpkin harvest had been bad, that pumpkins were a rare and expensive commodity this Halloween season. 

I have carved quite a few pumpkins in my time, mostly with my children, and I’ve prepared and eaten a great many more. My pumpkin soup isn’t half-bad, and I make a very good veggie ‘shepherd’s’ pie with fat lumps of pumpkin in it, too. (I really must think of an alternative name for it, rather than put those quote marks around shepherd, even if the idea of herding pumpkins does make me smile). But when I was a kid in the sixties and seventies pumpkins, if we had them at all, were definitely for eating, or for exhibiting and competing with in village fetes. They weren’t for carving, or at least, I certainly didn’t carve any.

When I was a kid, in the sixties and seventies, Halloween wasn’t really a thing; it certainly wasn’t anything like as important as Guy Fawkes Night. Now that was a big deal! We watched the fireworks, lit huge bonfires, and ate the spuds that were baked in the embers. We ate good treacle toffee, too, although I have no idea why.

The Dort in her Sugar Skull make-up,
which she cleverly applied herself
The Dort dresses up for Halloween from time to time, but when she does, it’s not as a nursery rhyme or cartoon character, it’s not as a superhero or Disney princess. On the occasions the Dort has dressed up for this holiday, it’s been as a pumpkin, a witch, or, more recently, as a sugar skull. It’s all about All Hallows Eve, about Samhain. It’s not the American way, even though my feeling is that it’s really our friends across the pond who gave us back the idea that October 31st was worth looking at again.

I have a fondness for Samhain, and for the kind of people who like to celebrate it. This goes back a long way, to my teens when a good friend of mine celebrated her birthday on that day... Still does.

The Vincent-Abnett household has one unshakeable ritual that we’ve been exercising for a couple of decades. On October 31st we put a cauldron on the table, and we eat from it. When the kids were small, this was a tricky business, and we had rules, but now it’s become a bit of a free-for-all.

This year, there is talk of three cauldrons on our dinner table, by which, of course, I mean three fondues: one for oil, one for cheese and one for chocolate. It would appear that we are planning something of a feast, and that seems right, too, with the year waning.

But back to nostalgia.

I don’t know whether the journalist was remembering a childhood spent in the sixties and seventies, but if so, it was very much like mine. As I read the article, my nostrils filled with the smell of scorching vegetable.

Forget the pumpkins, it suggested, and carve out a turnip this year to make a jack o' lantern. That’s what I did as a child. We didn’t call them turnips; we called them swedes, and our friends across the pond would call them rutabagas. We carved out the hard orange flesh to be used in a stew, and we cut faces in the purple skins. The results were smaller than our own heads, and the tea lights placed in them invariably scorched the insides of the vegetables, sending up a heady smell of burning swede.

They were wonderful, and preposterous in their way, but I was surprisingly happy to be reminded of them.

If you've come here looking for my free novel, click on this title: Addled Kat part I

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