It’s Hallowe’en today. If I was a horror or crime writer, I’d be using the day to the maximum to promote my books. Uplifting stores of love and friendship aren’t exactly the natural partner to all things spooky and nothing I write has ever featured Hallowe’en. Didn’t stop me buying a couple of gorgeous Squishmallows to pose with my books, though. Have you felt one? They are soooo soft, it’s an effort for me to put them down and get on with some work!
When I was little, I loved dressing up on Hallowe’en – usually as a witch – and going door to door with my older brother, Michael. There were loads of families living nearby so the streets were busy with friends and neighbours. Pumpkins weren’t around back then so Dad would have carved us a scary face in a large turnip and we’d carry that using a string handle, with a small torch inside it. Oh my goodness, those turnips reeked! I don’t particularly remember being given sweets either, although we must have been. A handful of copper coins sticks in my mind instead.
I have a younger brother too – Chris – and he started accompanying us until an incident completely put us off. He must only have been about six so I’d have been twelve and we went out without Michael. We called round at a house on the next street. It was a family we knew and who we called on each year, as were all the families we visited, and the son (who was a couple of years younger than me) answered the door. We said our usual greeting of ‘trick or treat’ and he cried ‘trick’ and threw a bucket of water over us. It was the first time that anyone had ever tricked us and, until that moment, I’d never even thought about the meaning of our greeting; it was just something you said instead of ‘hello, give me some sweets’. And weren’t the visitors meant to be the ones doing the tricks? Anyway, there we were, wet, frozen, our costumes ruined, and we had to go home in tears. It was unexpected and completely unnecessary but there you go. As I say, it ruined it for us. Never went out again.
In my second year at university, I had another Hallowe’en-based trauma. I was appointed social secretary for my halls of residence and had organised a trip to a Hallowe’en night at a nightclub in the next city which meant hiring a coach to transport everyone. Normally a popular event, only a handful of people from the 300-ish living in that hall had bought a ticket and it looked like the event was going to run at a massive loss and wipe out all the committee’s funds. I was mortified. Thankfully my fellow-social secretary saved the day and did some negotiating with a nearby hall for discounted tickets. My boyfriend at the time turned up in my room dressed as a vampire and offered to come with me but we weren’t going to know anyone there and our relationship was on the rocks so I really couldn’t face it. I childishly sulked in my bedroom that evening, cursing Hallowe’en!
I had a couple of good Hallowe’ens in my twenties. I went to a hen do for a work colleague at a big hotel event and, a couple of years later, hosted a fabulous Hallowe’en party two years in a row in my first house in Birmingham. My favourite part was dressing up and seeing the imagination that went into friends’ costumes.
Work and home changed, the group of friends from those parties drifted out of my life, and Hallowe’en became just another day. I’ll admit to being a bit bah humbug about it. I don’t believe that children should knock on doors of people they don’t know because it’s not safe for them. I used to put the lights out, hide at the back of the house, and ignore the door.
My daughter has only ever been trick or treating once. There aren’t many families where we live and the few there are, we don’t really know, so we’ve (perhaps meanly) refused for her to go out because it goes back to my must-not-call-on-strangers rule. We’ve also been abroad for a few October half-terms meaning we’ve been away for Hallowe’en anyway. The one time she did go out was when we visited friends in another village maybe four or five years ago. They knew loads of people and one unknown child with their two daughters and a couple of friends wasn’t a problem. She didn’t like the dark or everyone being dressed up. Can’t win, can you? She hasn’t missed out completely, though, as she dressed up for primary school and at out of school clubs.
When I was a Brown Owl, we often held Hallowe’en events at my Brownie pack. Most of the girls – and the leaders – embraced the opportunity to dress up and we’d have spooky games and food. I was particularly proud of a pink witches hat I bought one year in Clintons, a donation from which went to breast cancer research. I made a black cloak with a pink lining and, one year, had the chance to wear it at Brownies and then at a bootcamp Hallowe’en party a few days later.
Then I left Brownies and I left bootcamp and I’ve never dressed up for Hallowe’en since.
On Sunday, we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington where they have a lovely woodland walk. For half-term, they decorate it with spooky displays. We’ve been three or now and it was great to see a fresh set of displays this time.
Up the coast in Whitby, it was Goth weekend. It’s quite a spectacle with the most amazing costumes. We took Ashleigh several years ago and she was desperate to dress up. It was only a supermarket costume but she looked fabulous in front of Whitby Abbey and in St Mary’s graveyard. A few years back, we visited again but it had become a bit too popular and there were photographers everywhere, like the paparazzi, so it was hard to move around and even harder to get any photos of the costumes.
As for today, Ashleigh is now twelve and a Thursday night is her piano lesson. She made some comments about trick or treating and we had the usual discussion about not being allowed to call on people she doesn’t know and, besides, it’s piano. I’ve (reluctantly) agreed to take her to a spooky theatre tour after piano at the YMCA where she attends classes on a Saturday. I don’t know what to expect. I have a horrible feeling it may be one of those set-ups where actors jump out on you. I can’t bear things like that and it’s going to go one of two ways with Ashleigh; she’ll either love or she’ll end up sobbing. Even though she likes reading spooky stories and is showing a love for (tame) horror films, my money’s on the sobbing. Or maybe it’ll be me who’s sobbing. Or both. Argh!
Happy Hallowe’en, whatever you have planned.