Wednesday, December 24, 2014

When the Devil came to Wapping on Christmas Eve

When the Devil came to Wapping on Christmas Eve


Christmas around again and all is merry and bright, but there have always been some who think that it needs  a little bit of something different.
Before the war we lived in Wapping and were part of the fairly large Catholic community so that Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was quite a large event.  The church was full to overflowing and the the Parish Drum and Fife band played for the carols. After Mass there was the usual chinwagging outside the church before the congregation started to wend their way home to try the mince pies and the crackling off the roast pork.
We lived in a flat on the top floor of a building just down the road from the church so many of the congregation passed by as they went home.
My older brother Tom, about 16 or 17 at the time, a teenager but they weren't called that then, always good for a laugh, had acquired a cows skull, I know not from where, as cows head was not a common dish on east end tables.  So he dashed home immediately after the Mass and and put a lighted candle inside the skull and dangled it on a stick just like a fishing rod out of the window just as they first passers by approached.  He had tipped off his mate Leslie Munns about this and Leslie was supposed to just point it out as he came along.  Leslie though was as big a wag as Tom, he had a deformed back and used to do impressions of the Hunchback of Notre Dame so he did his performance whilst pointing out the skull floating mysteriously in the air.
 Difficult to imagine these days that anyone would be frightened by such a thing, but there was complete pandemonium in the street for some considerable time. It was not clear if it was the antics of Lesie or the skull which was more to blame, but one woman actually fainted and others ran screaming back to the church for protection.  Fortunately the candle soon blew out and the skull disappeared from sight so that those who had not seen it were doubtful that it had ever been there.
Tommy opined to me many years later that there must have been quite a few guilty consciences around that night for so many to imagine that the Devil had come to get them on Christmas Eve. 

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