“Heaven,” said Tom, “would be a year with no Halloween.”
The land letting year in Northern Ireland ran from 1st November until 30th September the following year. The conacre system of eleven month lets discouraged tenants from improving land as there was no guarantee that, when it was “set” again during October, it would not be let to a tenant prepared to pay a higher rent, taking advantage of the previous tenant’s work and investment. Rents were payable on 31st October, ahead of the next letting in conacre. Tom rented the land he farmed and Halloween always represented a big demand on finances. Perhaps not heaven, but a year without Halloween would have represented an easier life.
The clock in a colleague’s classroom has stopped at 4.20. It seemed a symbolic time, the moment when the Period Six, after school, activities are mostly over and the homeward drift begins. I suggested stopping the clock at 4.20 pm might be the equivalent of a year without Halloween. Another colleague said his clock had stopped at ten to three, five minutes before the end of the school day. His classes spend time thinking the day is almost over and then realising that the clock will never reach the final bell.
No rent at Halloween, a clock stopped at 4.20 pm, the thoughts that most please are not the dreams of wealth or success or fame, they are the thoughts of individual freedom, freedom from financial pressures, freedom to use time according to personal inclination. When people are asked about what they would do with a lottery win, they generally talk about the difference quite modest sums of money would make to their lives. There is no wish for tens of millions of pounds, rather there is a desire for the sort of money that would bring them freedom from bills, and that would allow them the free time they would want.
Perhaps we all grew up listening to too many children’s fairy tales, too many stories where living happily ever after was about becoming king or queen, or about finding fabulous treasure, or other equally improbable outcomes. While there is no such thing as “happily ever after”, the sort of happiness that most people seem to seek is not the sort found in stories. It is in the ordinary and the commonplace, it is in having your own fields, or in not having to go to work on a Monday morning (although farmers like Tom would find having no work at all to be something with which they could not cope).