Thursday, 31 October 2013 13:56


Halloween, rather like Christmas, seems an essentially modern and rather American innovation. Trick or Treat seems to follow the Sicilian-American business model of extortion with menaces. The Christian church of course had All Hallows Eve, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. The Christians probably instituted this to replace various Pagan ‘Samhain’ type death festivals in which surplus livestock got slaughtered before winter.

However I grew up in Britain and for me the season seems always associated with ‘Guy Fawkes’ or ‘Bonfire’ or ‘Fireworks’ Night, initially instituted to celebrate the failure of a catholic plot to destroy a protestant parliament with a load of gunpowder barrels on the fifth of November 1605 and retained as a general celebration of British identity as anti-catholic and anti-papist etc, although for reasons of social harmonisation and political correctness this has become somewhat bowdlerised over the centuries into a mere firework festival, except amongst the protestants of Northern Ireland who still take it really seriously.

I spent my mid teens compounding rocket propellants and bangs from weedkiller and recycled fireworks, nobody bothered much about such pyrotechnic enthusiasms in those days. For me like many of my contemporaries it formed the basis of an interest in chemistry. Today one could easily end up interrogated by MI5 for such hobbies.

Despite my distaste for Catholicism, famously described by Richard Dawkins as ‘the world’s second worst religion’, and my enjoyment of fireworks, I’m refraining from incinerating an effigy of the pope on Guy Fawkes Night this year. For the first time in a while we seem to have a pope with some post medieval ideals, unlike the two  mad old fools who preceded him, I feel guardedly optimistic.

Incidentally he used to work as a chemist, as did Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel and I.

Funny old business chemistry, it teaches you to think scientifically but unlike biology which has ‘life’ as its field of study and physics which has the entire universe to ponder, chemistry seems a bit bereft of higher philosophical implications, no wonder so many chemists abandon their trade and go on to more interesting activities like politics or esoterics.

I couldn’t help noticing that in upgrading his coat of arms to mark his ascension from cardinal to pope, Francis has replaced a five pointed star with an eight pointed one.

In other news, these mandrakes which I had unearthed because they had lost all their leaves, started to sprout again so I replanted them a week or so ago, now they all have a fine crown of new foliage, and will maybe flower in time for xmas.

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