The one where Halloween was a bit different

It’s always extra special when a fixed date event like your birthday or Christmas falls on a weekend (unless, of course, you work on a weekend in which case it’s not quite as special).

This year, fans of Halloween would have been excited about it falling on a Saturday but this Halloween, for obvious reasons, was different and most plans to party will have been scuppered.

As a child, I used to love dressing up for Halloween and trick or treating. I was brought up on a housing development built in the late 60s/early 70s and it was very family friendly so it felt really safe to go wandering round the nearby streets with our torch-filled turnips (I’m not sure if you could even get hold of pumpkins back then) visiting the many neighbours who we knew well, saying hello to their children who were out doing the same.

My husband did something very similar but our daughter hasn’t had the same experience of Halloween that we’ve had. When she was very little, we lived in the town centre and we didn’t know our neighbours. Everyone’s opinions on this will differ but both my husband and I are of the belief that you shouldn’t be knocking on doors of people you don’t know. There could be a vulnerable person behind the door, fearful of who is knocking, and it seems to contradict the ‘stranger danger’ messages from school.

When we moved out of town, we found ourselves living somewhere with very few children so, again, we didn’t really know our neighbours and the same principles applied so she still didn’t go out and about as where would we go?

Then we started going away over the October half-term and this invariably meant we were away on Halloween itself.

She never missed out on dressing up, though. Over the years, she’s dressed up for school or simply for fun and, one year, we did join friends in a nearby village to trick or treat with them … after they said we’d only be going to people they knew well who wouldn’t mind an infiltrator!

She’s carved pumpkins many times and we bought her a spooky gingerbread house this year which she loved decorating (and eating!)

This Halloween turned out to be unexpectedly special for us. My dad got in touch a couple of weeks ago and said he and mum were missing seeing us (a theme for us all this year) and he proposed a series of Halloween barbecues at their house. I have two brothers who are each married with two girls. Under restrictions, we couldn’t meet as one big family unit but one family per day, outside, would stay within the rule of six.

My parents live in the same county as me but North Yorkshire’s the biggest county in the country and it can be up to two hours to get to them if we get stuck behind a slow driver or tractor; a regular occurrence. We therefore only saw them a few times when restrictions lifted over the summer and I haven’t seen my brothers at all.

Our visit was scheduled for Friday and it’s lucky my dad planned it in as we had the announcement on Saturday of England going into lockdown once more and, with the munchkin back at school this week, would have lost our window of opportunity otherwise.

I rummaged in my dressing-up box and found some of my old Halloween costumes for the munchkin and I to change into. I used to be a Brown Owl, running a pack for 7.5 years. We did a few Halloween parties so I had built up a selection of outfits, my favourite being my pink witch’s hat and my highwayman outfit. I’m proud to say I made the cloaks for both outfits and the highwayman’s face covering (way ahead of my time there!) but they weren’t the most demanding of projects.

If somebody had told me last Halloween that I’d be spending this out having a barbecue outside, I’d have laughed at them. However, this is the new world in which we live and we find ways to adapt. It was really quite lovely with the log burner on and LED heating under the parasols. We had a rainy patch where we sheltered under the parasols and a chilly moment after eating when the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the wind picked up but, generally, it was really pleasant.

As for the day itself, hubby and the munchkin watched a horror film while I cleaned the bathroom. Not sure which was the most scary!

If you don’t like being spooked and prefer to stay cosy at Halloween, I did a reading from one of my favourite cosy scenes in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes. You can access it on Facebook here.

Wishing you a fabulous start to November and sending best wishes to those who might struggle with a second lockdown. There will be an end to this eventually. It has to rain for us to see a rainbow.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where it’s Hallowe’en

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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!

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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.

P1040134I 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.

IMG_2572In 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!

P1040101I 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.

Jessica xx