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17 November 2010

by Oenone Williams

Deliver us from evil

I AM writing this on Hallowe’en. A neighbour has given me some sweets so that I can give them to his children when they come trick-or-treating. This was very considerate, as I am usually completely un­prepared when the little monsters arrive on the doorstep, and end up offering them whatever is in the cupboard, such as tins of tuna, cat food, or a packet of spaghetti; but they still keep coming back.

Apart from the vague annoyance of being called to the front door when watching The X Factor, I don’t really notice Hallowe’en, but this year it seemed to be in the headlines every day. First, there was the primary school accused of PCGM (Political Correctness Gone Mad) for announcing that it might change its Hallowe’en disco to an “Autumn Festival” in order to prevent any offence; then the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd Chris Edmondson, urged supermarkets to stop selling scary Hallowe’en merchandise that created a “climate of fear”; and then an American high school banned Hallowe’en completely, claiming that warty, long-nosed masks were “disrespectful to real witches” and promoted a “derogatory stereotype” of followers of Wicca.

Hallowe’en follows Christmas and Easter in commercial profitabil­ity, and is a mix of Christian and pagan, traditional and modern. It evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain, a kind of old year/new year, harvest-home, gather-round-the-fire-and-get-totally-bladdered knees-up that made Pope Gregory feel so left out that he moved All Saints’ Day from the first Sunday after Pentecost to the beginning of November, so that Christians could join in.

And what a killjoy, party-pooping lot they turned out to be. They spent the next 1200 years pursing their lips and accusing Hallowe’en revellers of being superstitious devil-worship­pers meddling with the forces of evil.

Frankly, they should, as my teenagers say, take a chill pill. What is wrong with putting on a green wig or a bit of black make-up once a year? Apart from the fact that every­thing sold under the name “Hal­lowe’en” is terrible old tat, surely it is a harmless way of con­nect­ing with our inner Goth? It is a brief, slightly transgressive thrill that has nothing to do with genuine Satanism.

That happens in private, behind closed doors, when the Baby Ps of this world are tortured by their mothers’ sadistic boyfriends and no one notices or does anything about it. And that happens far more often than once a year.

Rabbit-pie day

ANOTHER kerfuffle recently after the “Emperor of Exmoor”, a hand­some nine-foot stag, disap­peared from view at the end of last month, supposedly shot by a trophy hunter.

Deer-expert friends tell me he was not that special — only a “12-point”, i.e. he had only six little twiggy bits on each antler. (This must be like wearing a frightfully heavy hat, but, apparently, stags are very strong and put on lots of muscle before they rut. I wonder if they gradually lose it afterwards, like their human counter­parts. I doubt it — not many deer spend their lesiure eating takeaways in front of the TV.) But the Emperor’s alleged death caused national mourning, as if he were a sort of cervine Princess of Wales.

While I cannot see why anyone would want to bag the creature for the dubious pleasure of sticking his head on a wall, I am sure he would have been good to eat, if stewed long enough. Venison is, apparently, the ideal food for dwellers of the British Isles: we have cohabited with deer for many thousands of years, and our digestive systems are much more attuned to the low-fat, iron-rich delights of venison than to the meat of Mediterranean upstarts such as sheep.


In frugal times, it makes sense to eat what is plentiful, local, and free-range, and the burgeoning deer popu­lation is certainly free-range. My husband recently brought one home that had run into the road and been killed. He had slung it in the boot of the car and returned, de­lighted with this triumph of masculine provision. He then hung it in our shed, and waited to find someone to butcher it. And waited. And waited.

I refused to have anything to do with it. Gralloching is not my bag. Plucking birds or gutting fish, yes, but a dead deer is another matter. To cut a long story short, my husband forgot all about the deer, and eventually, when I reminded him, he took it out to the woods for the foxes. He is now referred to by the children as “the hunter-ditherer”.

But, despite this not-entirely success­ful sally into roadkill, I am very keen on the idea of wild food. When I catch the red gleam of a hundred bunny eyes in my head­lights late at night, I think how humane and sensible it would be to eat more rabbits. No horrible factory farming or long journeys to distant abbatoirs, just a quick bang and voila! — a deliciously lean and tender corpse of the kind I had plenty of when I was small (and people were poorer).

Sadly, the small-scale, local infra­structure that made this sort of food easily available has disappeared. Meat is a now multi-national, multi-million-pound business, and animals are intensively reared and travel long distances to be slaughtered.

So, yes, it was sad that the Em­peror was killed and can rut no more. But nothing like as sad as a battery chicken, a crated veal-calf, or the lastest proposed horror: a cow from a vast indoor dairy-herd.

Oenone Williams lives in Salisbury with her five children and a husband who sings in the cathedral choir.

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