herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Hallowe'en is just the giddy, giggly ghost of all of our childhoods

David Diebold on how Hallowe'en conjures up nostalgic childhood memories

Michael Jackson's Thriller
Michael Jackson's Thriller

MY dad had the uncanny ability to transform me into any creature I wanted for Hallowe'en without spending so much as five pence of the silver horde that jangled in his pocket so tantalisingly as he worked his magic.

Ten minutes with a burnt cork and I was half werewolf, the rest was up to me. "Howl," he'd say. "Aroo!" I'd try. "Louder," he'd say, standing back, arms folded. You had to get into character. Hallowe'en was only partly about the costume. You had to work for it, year upon year.

Half a roll of toilet paper taped around my head with plasters, then splattered with ketchup, probably made me look more like the contents of a rubbish bin from a hot-dog van, but when I dragged my foot behind me and groaned, I was Tutan-bloody-khamun.

Another year, I was a vampire and Dad cut fangs from a white washing-up liquid bottle. "You won't find these in a shop," he said. He was right. He swiped eye-liner from mum's bag and drew dark circles under my eyes, draping his velveteen bathrobe over my narrow shoulders.

"Now, say 'I vawnt to drrr-ink your-rr blawd'," he told me. I gave it my best shot. The fangs cut into my gums and when I tried to speak, I drooled involuntarily and voluminously.

"Hold on," he chuckled, reappearing with some red food dye. "Have a gargle," he instructed. In minutes, my white shirt, pinned shut with a paper bat, was a coroner's slab of gore.

That night I made children cry. A neighbour opened his door and staggered backwards at the sight of me. "Jesus Christ!" he muttered. I'd made a grown-up curse. It set the bar. It was the best Hallowe'en ever.

It might seem like this was all an age ago, and me some sort of flat-capped granddad sucking his teeth and droning about 'Hallowe'en, eh? 'Tweren't like this in my day...' But these were modern times. I had a Commodore calculator, for crying out loud, and when you tapped in '710 0553' and turned it upside down, it spelled 'Esso Oil'. I'd little doubt that in a few short years, we'd all be flying around in hover cars on Hallowe'en - on the freaking moon.

Hover cars never came. I grew out of Hallowe'en. My height soon made me seem older than I was and, that final year, wearing a crumpled paper sack over my head that Dad had worked on with a pen and scissors, I was singled out from the other kids on someone's porch.

"You. The tall lad at the back. Aren't you a bit old for Hallowe'en?"

I reddened, sizzling beneath my brown paper, then slunk off, ashamed. I tore off Dad's work of art and shoved it into a wet hedge. Me and Hallowe'en were 'so over'.

For the next few years, we'd leave the house empty on Hallowe'en and have a meal at the Swiss Chalet, or see a film at the Forum in Sandycove. Then I grew out of my family too, and would just slink around in the dark with my gangly mates, chuckling bitterly at the little kids in their shop-bought masks, as cheap fireworks fizzled overhead.

Giggles

I can still see myself sometimes, small and thin, face upturned, waiting for the burnt cork, the smell of Dad's aftershave as he whistled softly under his breath; me fidgeting as he drew my monster eyebrows; the little herds of footsteps and giggles out on the road.

"Hurry up!" I'd whine, trying to look toward the door. "I'm missing it all."

I couldn't have imagined a time when Hallowe'en might become just another night, but for years, I forgot it. Even the nuts and broomsticks stacked around shops each October barely garnered a pang for something lost.

It wasn't until I had children of my own that Hallowe'en took a curtain call and it's probably no surprise that I was a dab hand with a burnt cork.

But our children are only really children for the wink of an upturned would-be werewolf's eye, and home-made Hallowe'en quickly became no match for the sort of Hollywood-horror latex faces in every store that probably would've scared puddles out of some of my childhood neighbours - and brought the rest of them out of their houses waving burning torches.

This year, our lot will be far more concerned with school trips, college projects and internship applications over the midterm break, than with carving pumpkins and rummaging through the old dressing-up box.

But I'd like to think that they'll be home and helping to answer the door for that magic time between about five and half past six, when the giddy little ghosts of all of our childhoods skitter up the driveway for a handful of Hallowe'en.

I just hope my plastic, washing-up bottle fangs don't freak them out too much.

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