Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Curse of Hallowe’en

I’ll lay my cards very firmly on the table. I loathe Hallowe’en with the same sort of passion that Ebeneezer Scrooge reserved for Christmas. The difference is that, in my case, it is unlikely that any ghouls, ghosts or things that go bump in the night will come along to point out the error of my ways.
It was not always so. As a child, I loved Hallowe’en. Of course, it wasn’t as good as Christmas or your birthday, but it nicely broke up the long stretch between summer holidays and the sheer ecstasy of the end-of-year festivities. Naturally, I refer to ecstasy in the old-fashioned meaning of the word.
Nowadays I dread it, and I suspect I am not alone. Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that I hate to see children enjoying themselves. They should come in from a hard day at the pit, eat their bread and then slink off to bed, shattered. What the International Court of Human Rights doesn’t know, they needn’t worry about. Why should they have all the fun, while we adults have to re-mortgage the house to purchase all the synthetic, unhealthy tat that we’re expected to donate to complete strangers on Hallowe’en?
Of course, my hatred for the feast day begins about a month prior to that in late September, when the first fireworks come sailing over the estate behind us and explode near my back door. What is the purpose of this? If a stack of fireworks has been purchased for Hallowe’en, why let them off three or four at a time in the month leading up to it? It’s like finding your Christmas present in November, and then have nothing to look forward to on the big day.
However, that’s nothing compared to the bright young sparks – I’m assuming they are young, but for all I know, they could be pensioners – who let their fireworks off in the middle of the day. Truly, the mind boggles! It really is quite unnerving that, as a nation, we can produce people who think it’s a good idea to light fireworks on a sunny afternoon.
And then you have the interminable sight of processions of kids wandering around looking for wood for the bonfire. No problem there, of course, but it can be quite wearisome explaining that actually, I would like to retain my side gate, if at all possible, and that the young tree outside our house is not dead, but deciduous. Better by far, I always say, to go and rob the wood off the bonfire in the next estate. It promotes a healthy sense of inter-community rivalry, and is always taken in good spirits.
But the night of Hallowe’en itself always fills me with despair. I pray desperately for rain, but obviously, with the day that’s in it, I’m praying to the wrong people, for it normally remains dry.
Where to begin? I suppose it mainly goes back to my own childhood. Hallowe’en wasn’t such a big thing then, and I can’t really remember many of them well, except one, when I was about nine years old. I was invited around to a friend’s house for a party. All afternoon, my mum and I toiled over my costume, a black bin bag, decorated with coloured bits of paper stuck on with sellotape. The hat was another masterwork of Blue Peter creativity, a piece of cardboard, folded into a cone and coloured black with silver stars. Lipstick and mascara suitably applied completed the job.
In the evening, we assembled at our friend’s house, where his ma had a pumpkin and a knife for each of us. It took about an hour to hollow it out and make the eyes, nose and mouth, but nobody got fed up, or bored. Then we played ducking for apples, and another game where you had to try and eat an apple suspended from a piece of string, both of which I was rather good at, as even then I had a big mouth.
Finally, we donned our costumes – all of them home-made, placed lighted candles into our pumpkins, and ventured out into the night. We didn’t knock on doors, looking for sweets, but still collected quite a large congregation of onlookers who came out of their houses to admire our costumes as we passed. It was a brilliant night, and one that I still remember vividly after all these years.
One wonders how many Hallowe’ens will be remembered by today’s children in forty years time. I genuinely feel that the effort we put into it made the night all the more special. Today, the costumes come ready-to-wear from the Pound Shop, and the plastic Taiwanese pumpkins are no more frightening than a shopping bag. This is nobody’s fault. The world has changed, people spent so much time commuting, that quality time as a family has shrunk alarmingly, and thus the disposable society has emerged. Sadly, one of the costs of this is the diminution of the joy of creating. But I digress.
Another thing that irks me is the whole “Trick or Treat” scenario. What on earth does this piece of Americana mean? Kids knock at the door and ask you this question. By reply, you are supposed to fill their bags with sherbert and sticky fruity fizzy pops. Why? What would happen if you answered “Err, trick?” Probably the kids would mug you, and raid your house for chocolate.
Traditionally, I suppose, the children asked for fruit and nuts. Can you imagine the expression on the face of a child today if you dropped an orange and a handful of walnuts into their bag? Or better still, some broccoli. Actually that mightn’t be such a bad idea, and would certainly discourage them from knocking on your door next year. If all adults get together, and decide to reward callers with sprigs of broccoli, we’d have this whole culture wiped out in next to no time.
Now, I’m not a great television lover, but I always manage to find some interesting programme on the telly on Hallowe’en. It’s like wanting a pint on Good Friday – you’d not be interested any other time of the year, but on that particular day, enforced absence makes the heart grow fonder. At Hallowe’en I’d just be settling down to watch some thrilling documentary on rock formations in Antarctica, when the doorbell would ring. And ring. And ring. Guaranteed I’d be up and down to the door fifty times until my programme was over, when the callers would mysteriously cease.
Combatting the hordes of children demanding that you give them the werewithal to rot the teeth out their heads is no easy feat. Not answering the door doesn’t really work, unless you turn the lights off and crouch down behind the settee, which is not much better than answering the door to the little darlings. A lot more fun, though liable to get you into a spot of bother, is opening the door, saying “Oh thank you,” taking the bag opened out expectantly in front of you, and closing the door again. Normally I just go down the pub for a few hours until the madness is all over, though I’m not convinced it works out less expensive than buying skip-loads of dolly mixtures. Whatever way you do it, you can’t really win, though I’m sorely tempted to try the broccoli idea this year.
Bah, humbug!

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