Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


October 31, 2019

As costumes go, it was remarkably close to the real thing. On my eighth Halloween as a human being, I marched into the school gym wearing a homemade version of Jack Pumpkinhead from Return to Oz. To the surprise of nobody present, I waltzed back out with the grand prize.

If you’ve never seen the movie, I don’t advise hunting it down – it’s terrifying. To this day, I can’t look at a chicken without expecting it to talk, and don’t get me started on princesses who think it’s fine to keep heads in jars.

That movie was nightmare fuel from beginning to end. From bad guys with wheels instead of hands to a king made of rock whose hobby is to turn people into objects, not to mention that Dorothy, our heroine, starts out in a lunatic asylum, it wasn’t the child-friendly adventure I was promised. I think there’s good reason actress Fairuza Balk went through an extended goth period.

This was a shame, because I don’t recall being as excited about the release of any other movie during my childhood. I was six years old when it hit theaters, and I had no intention of missing out.

A Saturday morning children’s show called Going Live ran a contest for tickets and it never crossed my tiny mind that I wouldn’t be a winner. I wasn’t, for probably the same reason that I was never chosen to appear on the show Jim’ll Fix It, in which a wizened presenter with white hair and a hooked nose made dreams come true for children who wanted to experience new things or meet their heroes.

I, for reasons I cannot recall, wanted to meet Boy George. I may have fared better had I actually mailed my entry form, rather than placed it out for the milkman with a polite note asking him to take it to Jim.

I don’t believe the milkman did anything of the sort, which was not very kind of him. He also doesn’t appear to have taken my competition entry to Going Live, because I wasn’t selected as the winner of those tickets.

I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but I decided I’d won the contest anyway and informed my parents they would be taking me to see the film. No doubt dazed by my logic, they concurred.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been so frightened in my life as I was through that travesty of a movie. I spent the entire time seated upon my father, crying my little eyes out.

You might be wondering, then, why I asked to dress up as one of the characters for my school’s Halloween bash a couple of years later. Dear reader, so am I.

Every so often, I have cause to realize that the child version of me was an entirely different person, who made choices I would not dream of making today. Wearing a Jack Pumpkinhead costume was exactly such a decision; I can only guess that I must have taken Halloween literally and assumed I was supposed to be dressing as the thing that scared me most.

I took my idea to the people most likely to make it happen: my grandparents. My nan was a dab hand at making clothes, while my granddad – an engineer who once built and mended warplanes – could make or mend anything you put in front of him.

To their credit, they barely blinked an eye. I doubt I properly appreciated how much effort my nan put into finding exactly the right material to make me a ragged shirt, hand-knitted scarf and patched purple trousers, or felt the proper level of gratitude for the perfectly carved pumpkin granddad fashioned for my head. I even had bits of shrubbery sticking out of the arm-holes.

I may not have liked Jack Pumpkinhead, but I did so love that costume. I kept the head in my toy cupboard for months, until my parents figured out where the swarm of flies was coming from.

It also impressed the judges at my school’s Halloween contest, who sent me home with a tin of chocolates and plenty of praise. I do hope I shared those chocolates with my grandparents.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it was my only truly successful Halloween, coming from a country that doesn’t go to nearly the same lengths for the season.

I didn’t realize how paltry our efforts were until a friend from Israel came to stay with me. She was beside herself with excitement about the spooks and scares, having grown up with American movies and television, but we couldn’t find much Halloweening to do.

We managed to find a carnival and a pub that had bothered to put up a few tatty decorations they’d clearly been wheeling out once a year for the last decade, but that was about it. My poor friend had built her expectations so high that she cried.

It’s not even mandatory to carve a pumpkin, which made Dad-in-law very sad. My first Halloween on this side of the pond, I was presented with a pumpkin and carving kit then left to my own devices. I can occasionally be ambitious but I’m not known for a steady hand, so the results were…mixed.

Maybe it’s because we’re all more excited about Guy Fawkes Night on November 5, or maybe we’re just too lazy to decorate our houses. Trick-or-treating might have its origins in the “guising” kids did in the middle ages (it’s short for “disguising” and was a tradition of mimicking evil spirits so that the owners of the house could give them offerings to ward off evil) – the whole shebang is based on Celtic traditions, in fact – but I don’t recall ever knowing of a consistent Halloween celebration I could look forward to.

I am giving you this information because I’ve come to realize I have a lot of missed fun to catch up on. Thus my question of the week for you all is as follows: are there any circumstances at all under which it is acceptable for a grown woman to knock on your door and demand candy?


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