31 October 2010

Trick or Treat

It's Halloween and already the doorbell has rung three times in the last half hour as avaricious, pig-eyed children demand I fill their bright orange buckets with sweets.

They stand there clad in cheap polyester costumes and shiny plastic hats, hands outstretched in supplication, expecting me to scatter free confectionery upon their tiny pink palms like God distributing manna from Heaven.

You might think that even a hard-hearted curmudgeon like me wouldn't begrudge handing out goodies to rosy-cheeked kids, but you'd be very wrong. I think it's appalling for two very distinct reasons.

First, this is not America.

Americans have seized upon Halloween in a big way and it's now a major holiday for them. Indeed, they are expected to spend $5.8 billion on it this year alone. Yes, that's right, $5.8 BILLION. That's probably more than they spend on feeding homeless people.

It seems to be a particularly American concept, taking a fairly inconsequential occasion and turning it up to 11. Shrove Tuesday, for instance, is a rather forgettable affair here in the UK. A small percentage of the population buys some ready-prepared batter mix and a Jif lemon of pasteurised juice, then spends half an hour in the kitchen rustling up a vast quantity of poor quality pancakes before retiring to the living room, rubbing their groaning bellies, and vowing never to do it again.

In some parts of America, on the other hand, Shrove Tuesday somehow metamorphosed into Mardi Gras. Pancakes are relatively low on the list of Mardi Gras celebrations which tend instead to focus on dancing ladies with big feathery hats, pitchers of beer, and women being photographed with their breasts out. To be fair, I'd happily choose that over a plastic lemon any day.

But we're not American, damn it. We're British. We don't celebrate lavishly, we smile and nod, hands behind our backs, shoes shined and hair parted, careful not to 'go overboard'. Pleasure is a sign of weakness. Stop it at once.

The other reason that I don't like this Trick or Treat nonsense is because I think it's a shocking imposition.

For 364 days of the year, I'm treated like a paedophile. That seems a strong statement, but I can and will justify it.

If I noticed a child lost in a shop, wet of eye and lips a' tremble, and knelt down to ask the child where his parents are, I'd most likely be wrestled to the ground and beaten with handbags until I soiled myself.

Should I desire to sit in a public park and read the newspaper, I have to make sure I'm not overlooking the children's playground lest a telephone call be put in to the local police.

Heaven forfend that a youngster should actually fall over in the street and I stoop to help them up. I'd be kicked to death by a group of angry adults, flecks of spittle flying from their snarling mouths.

In a world where a man is unable to so much as smile at a child without being reported to the authorities, I find it astonishing that once a year parents actually bring their offspring to my door and expect me to dish out treats for them.

My thoughts on this matter are quite succinct: Fuck you. Either I, as a single man, am a threat to your children or I'm not. I refuse to be labelled a potential paedophile one day, then a charity the next.

If you have kids, I hope they enjoy Halloween. I hope they have lots of fun, maybe a party, some costumes and cake. But don't bring them to my front door and demand that I feed them in an act of forced altruism.

Yes, I have sweets. Yes, they're for me. If your kid wants one, I shall fork it over once they've danced like a monkey for my amusement. Otherwise, try next door - the bloke there looks a bit dodgy so I'm sure he's invested in a stock of flumps for just such an occasion.