Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Diabolical Delights - Remembering the Joys of Halloween Masks

I vividly remember walking, as a three, four, and five year old, through the now non-existent Trinity Street Arcade, an understated, winding labyrinth of shops constructed in the 1970's and demolished a few years ago to make way for the soulless Trinity Leeds, an enormous draughty precinct where a million shops are stacked on top of one another. The old arcade had a definite identity, its tiles, and decor distinctly 70's, its arthritic escalator shuffling slowly upwards like a hungover slug, conveying us past mannequins decked in 80's fashions, towards the silvery steeple of the Holy Trinity Church, which spiked above the rooftops of the city in slightly wonky looking grey, and through a tunnel-like row of shops. 


But my infant memories of those slow ascents are not of church spires or window displays - save for one in particular - a now forgotten toy shop at the top level, at the end of the arcade, to which, from mid September,  I was beckoned by a gallery of grotesque faces.  Throughout the summer I would ask how much longer to wait until the masks might appear, and as Halloween approached would feel the lull of fear gripping me as we came closer to that hideous window, inexorably, irresistibly.


Buying a mask, preparing costumes, venturing out to "Trick or Treat," these were the pleasures of those infant autumns, evoked each time I pass a shop window festooned in pumpkins and fake spiderwebs, see a tribe of pint-sized ghouls and witches on some unsuspecting street, or wait for a knock at the door with my jars of vegetarian sweets.  It is probably not long before Halloween, and its related masks and costumes, are banned in Britain, but no amount of social conditioning, religious over-sensitivity or political absurdity can erase the impressions of those eerie faces, scowling, grimacing, back at me from beyond the glass, and now from beyond the tides of time, their villainous visages glimmering like macabre mirages through the mists of memory, ravenous fanged mouths arced in warm, devilish smiles.

MASKS

Like grisly batiks they hung head-high
grimacing in ill-lit windows,
the grinny scowls of green-cheeked witches,
thin-eyed skeletons' taut jaws
and shrunken features in greyscale morbidity,
a long bunched line of chunk-jowled monsters,
snarl-scrawled ugly mugs punching air with leaden stare,
devils, demons, wolf-men, bone-white ghosts,
blood-faced ghouls and vampires dripping
with nightmarish evil -

how I loved these seasonal arrays
of diabolical delight,
irresistible faces, haggard, shaggy masks
resplendently grotesque
and radiant
with all the gory glory of the damned.











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