The pub was quite full on Hallowe'en this year.
Well, it is always quite full on Hallowe'en. Lots of people like to turn up in the pub for the local ancient Hallowe'en tradition. By "Hallowe'en tradition", I refer to that moment when the door opens and children come in saying: "Trick or treat," and we all roar towards them pulling scary faces screaming: "Trick!" and the kids run a mile, scared out of their wits.
Then we all shout with laughter, after which the lady with the brown hairdo traditionally says: "Hallowe'en should be actively discouraged. It's just an American import. Nothing to do with our culture at all."
She has got a brown hairdo at the moment because she always likes to match her hair colour to her current favourite drink, and right now, as we get into the colder days of autumn, she is leaning towards brandy. There are still a few streaks of red left in her hair, dating from her summertime addiction to Pimm's, but they're fading fast.
This year, when she said that Hallowe'en was just an American import, which she says every year, the man with the dog said: "Well, so is Coca Cola and so is 'Friends’, and so was Frank Sinatra, and you like all of those."
"You don't have to like EVERYTHING from America, do you?" said the brown-haired lady. "You can like the Marx Brothers without liking McDonald's, surely?"
"Hold on a moment, hold on a moment," said the resident Welshman. "Since when has Hallowe'en been an American import ? Hallowe'en is an old European festival. It's the day when ... when..."
"I think it's the day before All Souls Day," I said.
"I think it's the same day as Walpurgisnacht, with a different name," said the man with the dog.
"I think it's a day nominated for maximum sales effort by the National Pumpkin Growers Association of America," said the brown-haired lady.
"JUST WAIT THERE A MOMENT!" said the landlord, who hates idle speculation replacing conversation. "Let us look at the Good Book."
What he calls the Good Book is in fact the "Pub Conversation Encyclopaedia", which he claims was published by the brewing industry years ago to settle all pub disputes, and which he keeps under the counter, though I once sneaked a look at it when he was down in the cellar changing barrels, and actually it's just Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable with a home-made cover saying "The Pub Encyclopaedia".
I taxed him with it when he got back behind the bar.
"This isn't a pub encyclopaedia !" I had said. "It's only Brewer's Dictionary!"
"And what does 'brewer' mean, pray?" he had asked.
He'd got me there.
"Hallowe'en," he now read out. "October 31st ... once the last day of the Celtic year, when witches and warlocks were abroad, then taken over by Christianity as prelude to All Saints Day."
"Why did the Celtic year end in late autumn?" said somebody.
"Does anyone actually LIKE pumpkin?" said the brown-haired lady. "I think it's almost entirely tasteless. Not as tasteless as vegetable marrow, of course, which has to be the most over-rated vegetable of all time, being all water and sludge. Only the British could take it to their hearts."
"Right, that's it," said the landlord. "We've had the traditional Hallowe'en conversation now. We've looked up the derivation, as we do every year, and we've dismissed it as an American import, as we do every year, and we've compared pumpkins to marrows, to the benefit of neither, and that completes the traditional Hallowe'en conversation. We now look beyond October 31st for the next traditional conversation."
"Which is what?" said the Welshman.
"No cheating," said the landlord. "You've got to work it out for yourself. But I've got it written down here on a piece of paper."
"Tell you what," said the man fiddling with the beer mat. "It's damn near November 5th and I still haven't asked my family if they want to have a bonfire this year."
"I think Guy Fawkes Night is not what it was," said the brown-haired lady. "When did anyone last see children asking for a penny for the guy, having made a decent guy?"
The landlord triumphantly held up his piece of paper. On it was written "NO CHILDREN ASKING FOR 'A PENNY FOR THE GUY' THESE DAYS".
I had no idea that pub conversations were quite so predictable.
The Independent Thurs Nov 1st 2001