Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Friday October 31st

When I was a child, Halloween was more of an afterthought than anything else. The extent of the commercialism, as far as my family was concerned, was my grandmother buying two extra apples from the mobile greengrocer. This was to facilitate the 'spooky' games of bobbing apples and swinging apples that my sister and I would play at my grandmother's house in Merthyr Vale. For those of you not au fait with budget, 1970s fun, bobbing apples entails filling a washing-up bowl with cold water, floating an apple in it, and taking it in turns to 'bob'. To 'bob' was to submerge one's face in the cold water/saliva solution and try bite the apple. The first one to take a bite was the winner, and the prize was to help oneself to the mauled fruit.

Swinging apples, I discovered later in life, was a game played solely in my grandmother's living room. For this game, the second of the extra apples had string threaded through it, the end of which was in turn attached, via a nail, to the door frame of the pantry (a small, cool, dark room that served as a perishable food storage area, before the arrival of refrigeration in the Welsh Valleys in the early 1980s). With the apple suspended at the height of my sister's teeth, to make things fair, my Nanna would proceed to 'swing the apple'. As in the more common bobbing game, the goal was to take a bite out of the apple first. Swinging apples, however, was the Extreme Sport version of the game. Consequently, in addition to being covered in one's sibling's saliva, the swinging apple was soon covered in blood. Milk teeth were swiftly knocked out, tongues were bitten, or caught between apple and tooth, and emerging 'Big Teeth' were rocked from bleeding gum to root. Still, a free apple though.

These days Halloween has become another exercise in marketing. The aisles of supermarkets are filled with all manner of tat, and local shops sell bite-size bags of sweets, which constitute little more than protection money. I never saw one trick or treater when I was a child. Apparently it went on in the council estates and BBZs, but even there it was a small-scale affair. These days bands of ne-er-do-wells, many old enough to know better, roam the street terrorising the local population. I fail to see the link between the traditional folk celebration of All Hallows Eve and a teenaged father throwing an egg at a taxi. I called the police last year when I witnessed a bicycle gang (doubtless all wheeliers) launching a volley of eggs at a mini-cab. The operator informed me that it was Halloween. I thanked her for stating the obvious, and assured her that if the startled driver mounted the kerb and mowed down a pensioner, I would console the grieving family, with the news that their love-one's death was merely a result of high spirits. She laughed. I further assured her that no pun was intended, and ended the call.

On the positive side, in recent years the Halloween party has become an established part of the social calendar. This year my wife and I attended the party organised by my friends Marcus and Jeff (they are not a couple), which took place at the West End Club in Barry. The event has grown from a gathering at Marcus' house, to an annual event held in a function room at the club, with around eighty people attending. They, and their wives, had gone to a great deal of trouble, and there was a buffet, karaoke, a raffle and a disco. Furthermore, everyone had taken the effort to come in fancy dress. My costume was both diabolic and minimalistic, though to the casual observer, it may have appeared to be me wearing my everyday clothes, with red make-up on my face.

We had a good time at the party, and I always enjoy meeting up with Marcus and Jeff. After leaving school we didn't see each other for nearly fifteen years, but, since being reacquainted, see each other every few months. This make them, at the very least, ten mile friends, using my Friend Radius Rating (FRR). Simply put, the better the friend, the wider the friend radius. My best friend lives more than 6000 miles away. Clearly if I didn't greatly value his friendship and love him, in a manly, heterosexual, way, I wouldn't bother maintaining a link with him over such a distance. Similarly, I have had 'friends' who I stopped seeing the instant that we stopped sharing the same office. Even if they lived in the same town, any effort to stay in touch would have made no sense. They were 6 feet friends. A case in point; at the party I saw a chap I was in school with. We hadn't seen each other in twenty years. At one point we found ourselves the width of a buffet table apart from each other. By the time we had filled our paper plates with cheese sandwiches and pickled onions, we had adequately caught up on the events of each other's intervening two decades. For the rest of the evening my wife and I stood no more than ten feet from him. There was no animosity, but I would estimate that my school 'chum' had a FRR of three feet. As I was standing a good seven feet outside of our friend radius, I had no further contact at all with him that evening and, in all probability, never will have again.

Before leaving the party I gave a sterling Karaoke rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Devil in Disguise', before my wife and I said goodbye to the Heathfields and the Hills, and thanked them for a very enjoyable night.

To my great disappointment, I did not cross paths with Beelzebub during the short walk to our front door, after pretending to lock the Micra . I asssume that this is a busy night for him. That said, he may well have been inhabiting the body of the cat, intently watching me from next door's garden.

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