Hallowe’en

It’s only a few hours before the local urchins (faces covered in fake spots and skewiff hats on their heads) come banging on my door for treats. Is there is anyone who actually asks, ‘OK, trick, what you can show me?’ I wouldn’t risk it out here in the country. They might have something up their sleeves. Like a man-trap.

There was no Hallowe’en hocus-pocus about 25 years ago. It is a recent import, like high school proms, and, like the school-leaving shenanigans (stretch limos and very expensive dresses for every aspiring 16-year-old), I am pretty sure it owes its new popularity to a film. In the case of the school prom etc, it’s Grease. In the case of Hallowe’en, it’s not the slasher movies of the same name, but E.T. The scene in which Spielberg’s bug-eyed alien is able to dress up in disguise is almost certainly the origin of huge fortunes in the mask and nasty-looking sweet industries. It has predictably spread to surprising places. I went to the building society to visit my cash today, and all the cashiers had pointy witch-hats. In fact, there’s a bit of a pile-up in the streets at the minute, what with Guy Fawkes day just around the corner, in which jolly red-cheeked children celebrate the murder by torture of a Roman Catholic, followed by Remembrance Day. So there are purveyors of warts, sparklers and poppies in the High Streets. It is not surprising that the Government has recently backtracked on creating a ‘British’ day. Where would we put it?

Still, it must have made the pumpkin industry one of the certs for heavy investment. In the UK – no, all right, I am sure it happens a bit – we don’t eat pumpkins, we just carve holes in them, and put candles in them (there are of course plastic replicas of pumpkins for sale, which does seem to be missing the point). I am not sure that many of the other traditions associated with Hallowe’en are much carried on in this country – for instance, apple-bobbing, which I associate with birthday parties in my childhood. I can’t resist throwing in one of my favourite Dorothy Parker gags at this point. At a party (perhaps it was Hallowe’en, I don’t know), she observed a woman trying to catch an apple with her teeth. “What’s she doing?” asked Parker. A friend replied, “She’s ducking for apples.” “There,” flashed Parker by return, “but for a typographical error, is the story of my life.”

When the first outbreak of Hallowe’en occurred in the South West, it was severely censured by a local Conservative coucillor, a notorious local GP, who later stood as the candidate in a general election, and was rightly barracked for the many homophobic comments he made during the campaign, which failed by a large margin. His name was (is) Adrian Rogers, and he happened to be a governor of a local middle school. He tried to have Hallowe’en banned as being Satanic. But then, he also tried to ban the children wearing plimsolls, too. He was a bit indiscriminate.

Not having ever traipsed from door to door with a mask on as a child, the nearest experience I can share was my attempt at carol-singing, which I tried one foggy eve etc. etc. in about 1961. I went straight for the affluent suburbs: not hard, because that’s where I lived. I sang my heart out for two hours, and went through the whole card of Christmas songs I knew – in Latin as well as English! I stayed for a particularly long time outside a large house occupied by a baronet. Not a sausage (which would, in the literal sense, have been welcome). I returned, freezing, with the princely sum of 1s 3d. “Where have you been?” cried my parents, who, rather surprisingly, had noticed my absence from the proximity of the TV.

“Carol-singing!” I replied happily, showing my spoils.

“Begging,” said my father, who put the money in an NSPCC collection egg which sat by the phone. I could have said “Trick?” but it was years before E.T. , and besides, I suspect he might have reacted without the spirit of Christmas. That taught me a lesson.

Lie to your parents.

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