I’ve been on the hunt for a Hallowe’en costume for the boy this week. His request for this year is to be Harry Potter and he has approached it with great seriousness, googling costumes and presenting me with the results telling me where I could get a cloak, wand and Harry glasses at the best price.
“This one’s only £30,” he said, with the enthusiasm of a child who has no knowledge at all of the actual value of money. I thought of all the lovely, £10 costumes of Dracula and the like hanging on the rails of supermarkets the town over and tried to persuade him down that road. But no, his mind was made up. It was Harry Potter or bust.
I could have been creative, I suppose and sat down to try and make him a costume but my sewing skills are a thing of legend - and not in a good way. He would have ended up looking like “I can’t believe it’s not Harry Potter” with a dozen forgotten about pins ready to jag him if he so much as sat down.
I probably would have spent three times as much in botched attempts and ended up in a crying heap - so I gave in and purchased the elusive costume (at cheaper than £30, admittedly) and had a very happy child on my hands.
He insisted, of course, in stopping off at his granny’s house to show her his impressive new kit. She smiled, told him he looked fab and then later told me things sure had changed in the last few years.
His new costume was a far cry from the costumes we wore as children - when sometimes going out ‘dressed up’ for the big night was as complicated as pulling up the hood of your duffle coat and putting on a mask, bought for 10p in Wellworths. The whole look was completed not with a fancy loot bucket but with a Wellworths bag which would be filled to bursting with nuts, grapes and apples and the occasional disintegrating Rice Krispie bun.
These days you’d get hung out to dry for slipping a monkey nut into a child’s Hallowe’en lootbag in case the poor critter had an allergy. And you’d get nothing but bad looks for handing out apples and grapes.
Hallowe’en has instead become yet another feast of overindulgence - ladling handfuls of Haribo and squashed Celebrations into loot bags while mammies and daddies the town over have to work extra hard to make sure their children don’t over indulge too much and boke everywhere.
My children will probably never know the joy of separating out the different kinds of nuts and using the back of the poker to smash hazelnuts because someone else had use of the nutcrackers. I’m sure we ate more shell than nuts a lot of the time but we didn’t seem to care.
For the years when we went “all out” and dressed up more than with just a gawdy coloured false face, my mother would go into overdrive, hauling what she could from the hot press, the attic and the back hall to make us a costume. There was many a night we went out as a monster, wrapped in an old curtain, or, if a First Communion had taken place that year you got to don your frock again and dress as a fairy. If you were lucky you got a self made star wand to cart around with you - the star cut out of a Cornflakes box and covered in tinfoil robbed from the kitchen.
We would get together in our gangs - one street in Creggan pitted against the next, and walk round to all our neighbours’ houses asking if they had “any ‘hing fer Hallowe’en?” in our sing songs voices before walking on, peeking into our carrier bags every now again to assess our haul.
We all knew there was one woman on Broadway who gave out the most delicious toffee apples known to mankind, but you had to get to her house early. Rumours would quickly circulate over who was being generous - which few houses had sweets (some of which were left over Quality Street from the previous Christmas).
Similarly rumours would spread like wildfire if there was a whisper of a raid - where a gang from one street would steal your carrier bag and make off with her night’s work without a care in the world. Raids were a serious business - they struck more fear into our hearts than any tale of monsters, ghosts or vampires ever could.
There were no fireworks, no city centre carnivals, no wealth of storytelling and themed events. But it was still magical. If I close my eyes and think about it I can still smell the crisp Autumn air and hear the shouts of my friends that “they’re raiding at the top of Dunaff”.
Yep, there is a wealth of top class entertainment available over the weekend. The children of Derry have never had it so good, it would seem, and yet I kind of think that back in the day, we had it pretty good ourselves.