Halloween: The Gourd, the Bad and the Ugly

Halloween in the twenty-first century is how I know I am not a genuinely modern person. I am a twentieth century person in disguise.

Yes, I love some of the innovations of this millennium. Park Assist is just great, Netflix has changed my life and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of a bionic penis.

But essentially, I come from a simpler time. Four TV channels, rigorous use of the rear view mirror and regular sausage, no microchips.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties before supermarkets had diversified into fright costumes, ghastly masks and witchy wigs.

The practice of ‘Trick or Treating’ was not widespread in the Essex suburbs and even if it had been, there’s no way my parents would have let me knock up the neighbours of an evening to demand sweets.

And the idea that I might egg their Austin Allegro if they didn’t hand over a fistful of Spangles would simply not have been countenanced.

We did have Halloween back then, but it was an altogether paler, more sunless (oh, that’s the point!) British version; a distinctly DIY affair.

Not for us the ticketed, costumed, Hocus Pocus parties  or the pumpkin festivals with free face painting for the under tens! No, we ‘celebrated’ All Hallows Eve in the back garden, trying to avoid treading on the family tortoise.

These days, you can’t move for excited parents carving pumpkins. Back then, if he’d got in from work early enough, your dad might take a Stanley knife to a misshapen gourd but pumpkin carving wasn’t competitive in the way it has become and it certainly wasn’t art.

In twenty-first century Britain, gourd artists are carving famous paintings in vegetable flesh. Hokusai’s The Wave? Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring? Pass the fruit knife!

Back in the days before stencils were available on the as-yet-uninvented internet, the carved pumpkin faces achieved in our house were fair representations of the early stages of a stroke. Along with a serious indictment of NHS dental cut backs.

Left by the gas-effect fire, our master sculptures would slowly rot.

Now, no self respecting pumpkin sculptor would leave their gourds naked. No, they massage them with vaseline and spray the insides with bleach. (You’re welcome.)

At least as big as pumpkins at Halloween though, were apples.

Before there was waterboarding, there was apple bobbing, a form of domestic torture for children who, like me, weren’t overfond of a) water and b) apples.

Add into the mix a blindfold and hands bound with a damp tea towel and you have a form of entertainment which would have gone down well with the Spanish Inquisitors.

Just about bearable was the toffee apple. What a great way to get rid of all that floury, past-its-best fruit!

The supermarkets were clearly  learning.

And they have come a long, long way.

A quick tour of the big supermarkets and you’ll find rafts of products which were simply not conceived of thirty years ago. Who’d have thought you could find an inflatable coffin (£10.99) available in the seasonal aisle? Or a severed hanging head party prop (£24.99) across the way from what, for all of October, will not be ‘French Fancies’ but ‘Fiendish Fancies?’ (Mr Kipling is a capitalist too.)

You’ve got to hand it to them (3D zombie hands party decoration £3), they’ve convinced us to spend, spend, spend.

My mother’s jam sandwiches rolled into fingers and decorated with flaked almond fingernails don’t cut the mustard in the twenty-first century.

Halloween party food has become a show-off zone for the culinary capable, worthy of  its own week on the Great British Bake Off. Chocolate mousse grave pots, eerie eyeball pops, Frankenstein cup cakes… feeling inadequate yet?

I’m afraid I haven’t made any ghostly gourmet edibles for any Trick or Treaters who may stop by my door.

I can’t quite bring myself to do the @Markgsparrow trick of coating real brussel sprouts in chocolate and passing them off as treats but I do share the sentiment.

I shall be handing out raisins. I’ll join in the spirit of the occasion by calling them rat droppings. The kids will be disappointed of course, but I consider this the least I can do to combat the obesity crisis amongst Britain’s youth. Oh yes, they’ll bloody thank me later.

And then I’ll mix myself a Zombie Apocalypse and watch Fright Night, sorry, News Night before taking to my bed where I will suffer night terrors at the hands of horror brothers David and Evan Davis. 

Happy Halloween.

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1 comment

  1. I agree, totally over the top nowadays. Bring back the apple bobbing, creepy crawlies in a bowl of spaghetti worms etc. That said, I did pass a field of pumpkins the other day and thought it was quite a marvellous spectacle!

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