31st October 1966 was Punkie Night at Long Sutton Primary School, not that many of us would have had pumpkins with which to make Hallowe’en lanterns. For most of us, it would have been more appropriate to have called it mangold wurzel night.
Mangold wurzels are bigger forms of what English people call swedes and what Irish people call turnips. They were grown for winter fodder for cattle and were usually pink or purple or orange on the outside. In the absence of the exotic pumpkin, they did the job perfectly.
There was a competition for the best punkie, but when you are six years old competitions don’t mean very much. It was the occasion that mattered. We all walked around the village green with our punkies lit before going into the village school for our Hallowe’en party.
My Dad had made my punkie. It was a longish mangold that had been hollowed out and had narrow, evil looking eyes. The mouth was wide with matchsticks at odd angles for jagged teeth. The hair was the best bit. He had combed out lengths of coarse twine to give the punkie a full head of hair, but had plaited this on either side to give it pig tails.
After the party in the main room of the school we were all made to sit on chairs set out in rows. I was in the second row, watching the proceedings over someone’s shoulder. Various announcements were made and then the prize for the best punkie was announced.
I was so surprised that when I went forward for the prize I felt more bemused than excited. I was even more bemused when I got the prize. I walked back to my seat and was asked what it was by the children around – I didn’t know.
I looked at it. It was a booklet with pale blue pages, pages that were wider than they were long. Each page had lines of darker blue squares, two rows of four squares across each page. The only time I had seen squares of colour on a page was on a card my Nan had got from the paint shop, but those squares were different colours, these squares were all blue. My moment of glory had ended in confusion.
My Dad explained afterwards to me that it was a National Savings book. You bought savings stamps and stuck them onto the pages, over the darker blue squares. The stamps were half a crown and the first stamp had been stuck into the book for me.
Half a crown? Couldn’t they have just given me the money?