This week, I saw my first Christmas tree – a sure sign that Halloween’s a-coming. Working with kids, as this year I’m not, really brings home just how intolerably exciting this time of year is for young ‘uns. When I wur a lad, the chance to put on a bin bag and go round the neighbours singing Karma Chameleon, in return for nuts you couldn’t open, afforded a quite indescribable thrill.
At Halloween, it really did feel as though mischief-making spirits and sprites were abroad, and you were allowed to get up to all kinds of shenanigans that were unthinkable the rest of the year. I can’t help thinking that today’s guisers (some of you may have heard the term trick-or-treaters used for this), who only get to throw eggs at windows, are missing out on the deep levels of messy fun we had, back in the day and before health and safety happened. Below, then, are listed some old-time Halloween games, updated with a modern boak-factor rating for the health and safety conscious.
1. Dooking for apples – in this, children take turns to dip their faces into a bucket filled with water and a quantity of apples, in order to try and catch an apple by biting it. This generally ends up with lots of soaked and spluttering children and a bucketful of apples with bites out them, fit only for the bin. We loved it. One obvious downside of this game is that the longer it goes on, the more the bucket is patently filled with other people’s slevvers. Boak factor: 7/10.
(In the early 80s, some health nut devised an alternative to this, which is to kneel over the back of a kitchen chair, hold a fork between your teeth and drop this into the bucket, the aim being to spear an apple. This sucked on a range of levels: firstly it is precisely impossible to hunt an apple in this way: the fork merely glances off the apple, which then bobs off, in a frankly mocking fashion. Secondly, I’m not sure how a child toppling off a chair while brandishing a fork in their mouth is an improvement, health-and-safety-wise).
2. Jeely pieces – slices of bread, scones or pancakes are dipped in whatever sweetly sticky substance (jam, treacle, syrup) comes to hand, and are then suspended on bits of string from something, such as a broom handle (check with the witch first) or a pulley. Children then line up to try and bite them off the string. If the something can be jiggled to make the sticky pieces dance in the air, thereby slapping people in the puss, so much the better. Ultimate fun and mess is guaranteed here, and I think to this day, this is still my favourite thing to do in company. I did it with a group of kids a few years ago and they were still picking syrup out their hair on Bonfire Night. Fun fun fun! And a relatively low boak factor, at 3.5/10
3. A variation on the dooking idea, we’ll call this dry-dooking – this time it’s for a sweetie hidden in a bowl of icing sugar. Ideally, only one sweetie at a time should be hidden, and the icing sugar should be changed for each person. Unfortunatey, these rigid hygiene rules are sometimes flouted. One time during a dry dook, up to my ears and choking on icing sugar, as I was just about to get my teeth into my rightful haribo, I got an unmistakeably tangy mouthful of someone else’s crisps. Boak factor: Let’s just say that for this one, I’m going to need a bigger chart.
So, Halloween’s a-coming! Any children knocking my door this year, take note: call me old-fashioned, but I still subscribe to the tradition of doing a turn to earn your treat. If I’m going to be giving away tangerines, I want a song, godammit. Although I suppose you’ve probably earned it, by the time you’ve found me hiding behind the couch with the lights out. Happy Halloween!