When I was growing up no one bothered with Trick-or-Treat on Halloween. The closest anybody came to it was by watching the Bill Melendez Peanuts cartoon where Lucy’s naïve younger brother Linus awaits the coming of the Great Pumpkin. Instead of scoring loads of goodies by going trick or treating with the gang, he merely pisses his night up a wall in a pumpkin patch and gets diddly-squat for his trouble. Even Charlie Brown thinks it’s a dumb idea! It’s probably an allegory. The BBC used to screen the Charlie Brown films every year without fail when I was a kid. Sadly, you never see them anymore. Too bleak perhaps. Too much like real life.
In Leeds we had Mischief Night. It was basically Trick-or-Treat minus the treat bit and with extra helpings of the old ultra-violence. It was not for the faint-hearted, demanding of the participant an arsenal of eggs, flour and toilet rolls – and parents who didn’t seem to mind if you were out at all hours. Consequently my experience of Mischief Night was entirely second-hand. Next day the school playground – my generation’s equivalent of a water cooler moment – would reverberate to the sound of tales so tall, and yarns so ripping, they should by rights have been serialized and bound in leather. The orgy of devastation was so catastrophic that (if believed) my corner of West Yorkshire was a more dangerous place to live in than the Lebanon. It was complete and utter bollocks, of course, but I so wanted to believe.
Talk of targeting our teachers was always rife, thick with the heady perfume of schoolboy bravado. The problem was that no one really knew where teachers lived. Mars probably. Too far away in any case. Being naturally bone idle, most people I knew tended to shit on their own doorsteps so to speak. My friend Lee claimed to have set fire to his neighbour’s garden. I checked the veracity of this particular porky the next time I was in his neighbourhood, and could see nothing to give it succour. On a different occasion, Norman Watson – the bully’s bully – bragged that he had put pinholes in all his dad’s rubber johnnies. (A few months following this sophisticated japery, Norman’s sister got pregnant. It turns out her boyfriend had been dipping into their old man’s stash.) Paul Mason – who hung around with the cocks of the school (time since having added an extra layer of delicious irony to that once proud boast) – got run over on Mischief Night. Twice! The driver of the car reversed back over him just to make sure!
I’m certainly not advocating a return to those bovver-booted days of yore. Personally I like seeing parents with their kids all dressed up wandering the streets in search of food that glows in the dark. Trick-or-Treat is an altogether better natured affair compared to its low-rent, yesteryear cousin. One year I had to inform a group of teenage boys – their sole concession to Halloween being to dress identically in Iron Maiden t-shirts, as if by sporting a guitar wielding cadaver that was enough of an effort to have made – that we had run out of treats and so they better have a decent trick up their sleeves. (That confused them for a start!) There was a ripple of confused panic, followed by an embarrassed shuffling, as each looked to the others for guidance. ‘No. You’re okay mister,” one of them finally muttered. “It doesn’t matter.” At which point they shambled away, moaning loudly as they did so (about me, no doubt, rather than in character as members of the living dead).
The sad fact is that Halloween doesn’t really live up to anybody’s expectations the older you get: dressing up as Jimmy Saville (2013’s Halloween costume of choice apparently) simply marks you out as a dullard; rewatching the films that scared you aged 12, brings on the realisation that Hammer was a by-word for Hammy, not Horror; even the nightmares you once had, where you desperately struggled with a giant killer squid in a dimly-lit swimming pool, have all been replaced by Freudian-laced scenarios involving public nudity. (Proof-reading my recurring childish nightmare just described, I am struck that Dr. Freud would have his work cut out: “What exactly does the giant killer squid signify in your dream, do you think, Mr Mudd?”)
On 31st October, when the knock at the door inevitably comes, I will have treats ready at hand. I may even pretend that I am scared by the evil spirits that have appeared on my doorstep (I actually excel at doing this without seeming sarcastic incredibly).
But for the parents accompanying them, I have a horror of my own to bestow: according to recent Government figures, the cost of raising a child in the UK was pegged at a little over £227,000. Happy Halloween Everybody!