Im sitting here watching Martha Stewart talk about Halloween. My mouth is flapping open at the pure tasteless tastefulness of it all, and the incredible thing is, shes just not stopping. Ive tried waiting in the hope that if I just stare it intently enough, itll go away; Ive tried turning over, but something just keeps me switching back and finding that
no, no, shes still there, bibbitting away about making sure your floral arrangements match the fake blood trickling down the side of your mouth, and just how many pumpkins might be too many (answer: none. There is NO such thing as too many carved pumpkins, says Martha)
Things I never knew anyone would want to know, she is telling me:
How to make it look like theres a frozen ghoul floating in your fruit punch, for example; how to make driveway decorations of gigantic spiders that glow in the dark out of all those polystyrene balls and rave sticks you have hanging about; DIY dry ice for your very own porch (wear gloves!), and how to make your child look like a chicken. How to make all your children look like chickens. How to make yourself look like a chicken, while cooking a chicken for all your children who look like chickens (dont cook the children!).
I never realised the scale of Halloween in this country – not even slightly – until I came for a press trip to Alabama (last year? Only last year? Pissflaps, but this year has gone fast) and there were ghosts and witches hanging from almost every porch and in almost every window, and the stores that we stopped in had cobwebs on the doors and skeletons hanging off the end of every shelf. Every shelf, meanwhile, was groaning with fun-sized chocolate.
I thought Well, maybe its just one of those kooky Southern things, eh?
And then I moved here.
Two weeks after we arrived, in the middle of September, or so, I first noted that there were more bags of fun-sized confectionary than I would usually expect to see in any serious-sized shop. And then I started noticing orange ornaments and things going BWA-HA-HA in quiet, tinny voices when I walked too close to their sensors in the toy aisles in the grocery store.
(I said store under duress there, by the way, but chemist sounded wrong – its a drugstore, but what kind of chemist would sell laughing gravestones? Thats just tactless. And shop just sounded like I was trying too hard)
All the social and comedy and cultural events I was thinking of ploughing into now were getting more settled are all having their own Spooky Month! and every other television station seems to be having its own Thirteen Nights Of Halloween (which, strictly speaking – it being the eve or All Hallows and that – is a bit like having the fifteen eves of Christmas, or something. But no one IS speaking strictly, so it doesnt matter: they are simply having a very jolly time hanging skeletons in doorways and making spiderwebs out of spun sugar and the dripping blood of a murdered bride out of strawberry jam).
Which is all well and good I mean I absolutely seriously do not understand why such a powerfully Christian country is so skippy and excited about what could so easily appear to a bunch of aliens landing for the first time as a celebration of the occult, but whatever, I understand its probably tied up with the Day of the Dead and so many other things, and what the hell, people like it. Its fun. Its good fun, and people like it, and I like people enjoying themselves, no matter how weird it might be.
But MY problem is – and lets not forget this is all about me, shall we? Because it is; its my sodding blog, thats how they work, right? – Im the most nervous thing since nerves were invented. Halloween is one thing at home: I dont revel in it or end up at many fancy dress parties, for reasons well come to very shortly. In fact, Im more scared of Guy Fawkes night five days later because – well, quite apart from the burning human effigies thing – theres a LOT of banging noises.
But here, Im terrified of the very thought, because people LIKE to be scared over here, it seems.
They like it a lot. I, on the other hand, dont.
As we found out yet again in Alabama last year. Id been taken to a restaurant by a river – Im not sure if any of yall know the one, its owned by the sister of someone famous, apparently, and I was taken there to eat all the blackened shrimp, fried green tomatoes, crab claws and L.A caviar I could stuff in my mouth. And then some more. And some margaritas.
The only thing was that besides the raucous bluegrass band in the restaurant, entertainment was also being provided by a bunch of local schools whod worked together to make a haunted house in the car park. It was the first weekend in October, after all.
Id managed to avoid a nasty situation on the way in, when Id seen a man in full ghost pirate regalia walking toward me. There are a few things I can be prepared for, but two things I cannot under any circumstances take are:
a) Jumpy things
(I appreciate that covers most Halloween delights, yes. And most scary movies. And haunted houses. I once went round a whole haunted house ride in a theme park with some friends – not having wanted to appear weak or been a party pooper. When the special in-the-dark photo was printed at the end of the ride, you could see them, one screaming at something on my left, the other jumping at something appearing on my right, with me, wedged in the middle, perfectly serene due to the fact my fingers were wedged into my ears, and my thumbs pressed over my eyes. Id spent the whole ride like that; from the moment the carriage juddered on the rails to the moment the brakes clanged it to a final stop and the seatbelt released)
2) People in full face masks.
(Cant stand it. If i cant read someones face, if their eyes are hidden behind gauze or pinholes or whatever, I will freak out at them. No matter whether they are approaching me as some kind of student prank, or their job, or some kind of complex and deep performance art: I will go quite postal in my freaked-out-ness.)
So on the way in the pirate had approached me, Id managed to back off, look at something else, talk to a member of our party that had wandered off, and generally got away with it while still maintaining a professional air.
On the way out, our hosts told the assembled press (all three of us, I think, at that point) that we would go into the haunted house on the way out. No, I wont. Ill just go look in the shop, if thats ok?
You HAVE to come in, its a RIYYYUT! they squeaked.
My fight or flight started to take the ugly path. No. Seriously. No.
Oh comeahn! Itll be great to write about?!
Im here for the wildlife, really, and besides, I dont think anyone wants to read about me screaming obscenities in the face of children for surprising me
Oh, we dont mind a few naughty words! Theyll have heard them all before!
Not the ones Ill be using, they havent.
Eventually they left the tight-upper-lipped party-pooper in the car park where, knowing me, I probably gave up giving-up smoking once more – Im always doing it on press trips; every bugger smokes – and ran around the outside of the gift hut trying to escape the pirate.
Only once I came face to face with him, while I was standing trying to maintain a professional conversation with some governmental representative of the tourist board and I was saying something about previous trips Id done and places Id be interested in going, and asking about where she covered when I noticed her eyes drifting over my shoulder and I turned around
. to find the ghostly pirate standing just a couple of feet behind me.
My temperate grown up professional conversation therefore ran So is your work mainly focussed in the Gulf area at the moment and where do you think the whu? ARGH! FUCK! FUCKOFF FUCK OFF FUCK OFFFFFF! before running away with my heels hitting my bottom and my arms flapping in the air while hot wet fear spurted horizontally from my tear ducts.
Well, it was either that or punch the pirate, and frankly I had no way of knowing there wasnt a twelve-year-old girl in that suit.
Not that she wouldnt have deserved it.
By happy happenstance, I happen to be going out with the one man in the world that can give me a perfect excuse for not being the horror-lovin Halloweeny.
Its his birthday, and since while growing up, that meant someone would ALWAYS turn up to your party with a sheet over their head and a bucket to collect sweets, no matter how many times you told them this was YOUR party (you know, for me, so you can take my presents out of your fucking bucket please, Steve) since that point hes not been so into it.
At home, that merely meant going out to avoid pasty little scallies with a traffic cone on their head banging on the door and shouting Trick or TREAT! and demanding money, then walking past pubs (full of unconvincing young men in complex costumes covered in fake blood and young women dressed up as sexy vampires, sexy devils, sexy witches, sexy kittens (?), etc etc) tutting before meeting up with friends somewhere rational and getting drunk.
But here, the whole thing is so prevalent, so insistent, so fun, so HUGE, that Im not sure I can go out at all without bumping into someone in a scary mask, and then possibly bumping them off.
Which has led to a very awkward conversation to hold with a man who will be so far away from all the friends and family and everything you might want to be near on quite a big birthday.
Darling, anything you want for your 30th, anything you want to do. Anything at all, we can do that Apart from going out. You really want to? You do? Ohgod I suppose we can if you REALLY want, but dont hold me responsible for the consequences
He is, to be fair the only man in the world I would do something that scary for, of course.
And if I started punching children out of fear, let it be known that it could have been avoided, and its All His Fault.
You can be my witnesses.
And yes, feel free to add these things, particularly masks to the thing I am scared of list, anyone who might be keeping a tally. I think that brings us up to about no.87,405.
I cant sleep, can you tell?