Halloween's last hurrah
I'D like to say Halloween crept up on us this year and, with our lot outgrowing it, disappeared like a ghost in the night.
Then perhaps I could wax nostalgic about our years of pumpkin-carving kids that are no more, of standing guard at neighbours' gates as they filled their goodie bags; our decade-and-a-half of crumpled masks and groaning tums; of raking up wrappers and nutshells from every corner, the detritus of another annual spookfest that's soon to litter every lawn.
But it's not over for us yet.
The mid-term break has seen my wife and I, both working from home, wade through busy deadlines, meaning I never quite got around to doing all the fun Halloween things I feel a dad should probably do for one of the last times. Yet the house was well and truly 'Halloweened' this year by its one remaining devotee – our little girl.
She took to it with feverish vigour too, seeming to want to wring every last ounce from it all, as if she's had an inkling that this time next year, with all the newfound sophistication her impending teenagehood will probably bring, there may be other things more pressing than painting ghosts all over the sitting room window and the agonised wait for tonight's annual six o'clock flurry of sticky, grabbing hands.
Meanwhile, what this means for us is that we'll probably be ducking under cotton wool cobwebs for at least another week.
Christmas has its 12 days before the decorations come down and the wretched, wilting tree, stripped of needles, is finally dragged off to the council skip. Our house has who knows how many days of Halloween before it's crammed back into its box and spirited away to the attic.
In fact, it's been two weeks already as I jump for the umpteenth time at the plastic foam ghoul flapping on a string at the window in the front door while filling a bowl with some sort of fruit jelly eyeballs.
"What's up?" says my wife.
"It got me again," I sigh, emphasising the word 'it', which makes our little girl giggle. "Shouldn't that thing be facing the other way, not IN at US?"
It's all very well for them – my nerves are shredded after a week of this, for which I mostly blame a bumper bag of giant, lifelike plastic spiders that were this year's addition to our hoard of horrors.
"Seriously," I say, "whose idea were those again?"
"Mummy's," chuckles the little girl into her fist.
"Hmm," I say, not sure, but there might have been two of them in it.
"Look," she says, "what's that?" and points.
"Gah!" I reply, jolting uncontrollably at the appalling thing that's been blue-tacked to the wall beside the phone. "You know," I tell her, "there are all sorts of things that I can stand that you'd find as horrible as I find spiders."
"Like what?" she grins.
"Like ... cleaning up after the dog on a walk," I tell her. "But that's not scary," she frowns, "that's just disgusting."
"Or mopping up sick after someone's had too much chocolate?" I suggest.
"I had a tummy bug," she tells me darkly.
"Right," I mutter. It's plain to see that I'm wrecking all the fun.
There's no way around it, really. The yards of hideous cobwebs and plastic spiders stuck all over the house are here to stay at least a week after tonight, then who knows? Perhaps the box they're packed away in will become mysteriously lost.
"How many more years of Halloween?" I check with the little girl. "I dunno," she says, not quite understanding the question, then adds: "I love Halloween." "Clearly," I say.
It's not as if my wife and I haven't put the effort in for the guts of 20 years since the eldest was first able to barely stagger up to a front door in his little felt Mr Potato Head outfit.
And in the intervening years we've probably been through enough fake blood to rival the wave of gore that crashes down the corridor of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
But now our three boys, all teens and world-weary sighs, are content to spend another fright night in front of a film with their respective friends and, odds on, next year our little girl will finally find the whole Halloween thing just a little too childish and awkward to bother with too.
At this thought, for the first time this year, I feel a little pang of regret as I look at the Jack the Pumpkin King she spent so much time painting on the inside of the front window and the pumpkin she so laboriously carved so that the word 'boo' is in its mouth.
"So," I ask her, "after you bag all your booty, how long until all the decorations come down?"
"Mmm," she says, weighing it up as she irons a crease out of her costume with her hand, "we can probably take away some of the spiders, but maybe leave the window and the pumpkin for... a week?"
"I can live with that," I smile.
"And then," she says, perking up, eyes wide and glowing, "guess what?"
"What?" I say.
"It'll just be six weeks to go," she chirps, "until Christmas."