Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween II - The Sequel

Well, we did it. We did Halloween. And we didn't just do it, we did it to death. For a mob of hitherto naysayers, we plunged headlong into this most American of festivals. If Princess Michael of Kent is more royal than the royals, we went more American than a large crying person blabbing intimate details of their private life on Jerry Springer.
Over three days, we embraced our eldest daughter's school Halloween party, a Halloween-themed birthday party and not one but two nights of trick-or-treating. And we've still got youngest daughter's school party tonight. That makes five functions, and that makes Halloween officially grander than Christmas.
What a sell-out. I feel a little dirty, a little cheap, or maybe its just a side-effect of the lollies, which is after all what Halloween is all about. I also feel like I've sold out my principals and dignity for the sake of mass appeal, but that's what this blog is all about. And you can tell every single person you know I said that on

Jack O'Lantern ... bigger than Jesus?
But really, I learned on my first Halloween that it was mostly harmless fun. I still wouldn’t want to see it popularised in Australia, but I don't feel moral decay consuming me any more than usual. Actually, I learned Halloween is widely used by charities as a time for helping others.
We didn’t do any of that. We just got lollies. But to be fair, we scored a truckload of them. OK, we kind of made pigs of ourselves.
The Chinese talk about capitalism with Chinese characteristics, meaning Communist characteristics. We did trick-or-treating with our particular characteristics - a pure, unadulterated form of capitalism based on minimal outlay for maximum return. That is to say, we collected plenty of lollies and gave out virtually none. This is definitely the way to go. Sure, the model is unsustainable if too many people do it, but if you're shrewd ...
A Canadian friend pointed out, nicely, that my actions showed as much adherence to spirit and etiquette as a golfer stomping his partner’s ball into the green. But I’m not a complete ignoramus. I will nobly concede that if I felt guilt I’d be feeling it right now.
And it wasn't entirely my fault. I had planned on showering other people’s children as my own were showered. But my wife Stef had to work - tending the sick, no less - and our maid couldn't come, so we couldn't leave anyone at our flat to dispense the goodies while we were out collecting ours. Our predicament arose too late for our name to be taken off the list of participating apartments. I contacted the organiser but she said not to worry. So what do you do?
To those on the list who turned up at our place to be met with a darkened, silent apartment, can I at least say this, and I really mean it: Bad luck and thanks for the lollies.
We won't be invited back next year, will we? It was nice to experience it once.
If you're wary of sweets, you can instead make the kids
something like this. The good news is you can usually
wrap it up fully intact and put it in the
freezer until next year.
Having now done it, I can happily report Halloween is not all about the confectionery. The costumes were fun as well. Youngest daughter Evie was happy with our old witch's hat. Thankfully, for her school party, Lani wanted to be a ghost. For this I opted for an innovative though tricky method I like to call "Putting a bedsheet over her head and cutting two eye holes out".
I’m not much of a needle-and-thread person, but I can hack up a bedsheet. And as we got into it, I recognised that I was carrying out one of the great rites of passage of the parent: The taking of an old sheet and turning it into something else. My parents did it for me, for a banner supporting my football team. Now I was doing it for mine. The emotion ran high.
First, though, came the truly scary part – selecting the sheet. I don’t care much about bedsheets. I can sleep on hessian sacks. I know this from my bachelor days. But my wife is a sheet freak. We all learn new things from our spouses, and from mine I have learned that there is something called a “thread count”, and it is apparently vitally important. For example, if something has a thread count of 200, it means there are 100 crossways threads and 100 lengthways threads per square inch.
It’s funny to look back now on days when 200 count used to do. We were young and poor but we were happy, huddled together against the discomfort. We’ve since climbed the social ladder and are currently at 400 with a bullet. Stef is very excited by word from our dealer that a secret lab in Switzerland is working on a 1000 count bedsheet, which was previously thought to be the work of the devil.
Still, you could fool me. With my wife at work I nervously went through our linen cupboard, trying to feel which were the good sheets. They don’t put the thread count on the label, you see. And they’re all called roughly the same thing – Wondersoft; Softy Soft; Extreme Soft. It would have been far easier if I’d found a sheet called Needles and Pins or Jonelle’s Rough-as-Guts.
In the end I got one, put it over Lani’s head, cut eye holes out and cut it to length. My wife still hasn’t seen or felt it, so I’m hoping for the best. I went all flamboyant and added a mouth hole so Lani could breath. I looked upon my work and was very pleased. The outfit not only looked good, I could see it having the added purpose of keeping Lani hidden away from boys. She's agreed to keep wearing it until she’s ready to start dating at about 30.
Lani's elaborate costume led to various questions, such as
"How will we stop it slipping down?" and "Daddy,
what's a mujahideen?"
Thankfully we had some dry ice on hand for extra spook.
Shame Lani couldn't see it.
For day two’s festivities Lani wanted to be an octopus. Not so scary, I thought, but at least she insisted on a blue ringed octopus. If you don’t know, blue ringed octopi are one of dozens of things that can kill you in Australia. A tiny, colourful octopus for heaven’s sake! God we’re hard.
Her request took a bit of pondering, until I hit on the idea of stuffing two pairs of Lani’s appropriately spotty stockings with scrunched up toilet paper and tying them to her waist. Despite having so many limbs, this outfit was a bit lame. I’d wanted to attach string from Lani’s wrists down to her new legs to effect realistic octopus-like movement. But no, the six-year-old knew better.
What happened in the end was she looked like someone with two pairs of stockings tied to her waist. In the classic style, I distanced myself from the project, and told everyone she’d made it herself.
A blue ringed octopus yesterday ...
... and Lani. Even I'm having trouble
 telling them apart.
We made it home after trick-or-treating relieved to see no disgruntled kids had egged our door upon finding us absent. But then our doorbell started ringing. First a team of Chinese kids arrived. They had their list of participating apartments, and were obviously determined to visit all of them. They weren’t even dressed up! I handed over some sweets but told them to try harder next year.
A group of teenaged girls who had gone to a bit more trouble arrived and reaped. But it was getting quite late and Stef and I had to go out for dinner. Our middle-aged Chinese babysitter, bemused by her first look at Halloween, sought instructions on what to do if more kids showed up after we'd gone. “You open the door," I said, "and you tell them to 'bugger off'." The grinch had returned.
On Sunday night we went to my in-laws’ compound, where management threw a "party" featuring a buffet dinner which had the dual effect of feeding the kids some pretty ordinary food while keeping them from trick-or-treating. There was much disquiet in the camp. Fried rice and chicken doesn’t quite trump bagloads of candy.
My in-laws know how to party.
At least management had set up a  haunted house which was done quite well. At one point little Lisa gave me a start by screaming her head off right behind me. Lisa is the mum of two of our kids’ friends and is in her late 30s. Suffice to say, it was a bit too well done for our trembling children.
Looking back when we got home, Lani said: “Daddy, I reckon that haunted house was the worst part of my whole night.” That’s what I thought she said. When I sought clarification she said “…worst part of my whole life.”
Oops. She should be OK by next October.


  1. For the Powers in Kyneton it was a bowl full of lollies, cheap dress ups from Woollworths at 8pm (half price) and Poltergiest at 11pm for the boys and daddy. I"m sick of driving around to friends houses with lollies to give to my kids who'll be knocking any time soon!!
    Clearly this finest of Celtic traditions is alive and well in China.

    All the best,

  2. I need approval?! Well, that's no fun! Are we living in some sort of crazed Communist dictatorship, or something?!