Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

How many friends do you have? Two, six, thirty?  Or perhaps, like one of my fourteen year old pupils, you have 762. Really? The word friend and its meaning is becoming debased and devalued, thanks to social media which, as far as I can tell was set up by the socially inept and is now creating social ineptitude on a global scale. A recent BBC news item stated that in a survey of twelve to eighteen year olds, twenty-five per cent of them felt more comfortable dealing with ‘friends’ via a screen or on their phones than face to face.

Friendship as we know it is a dying art. Friendships these days are conducted through the medium of Facebook or Twitter on whichever small screen is to hand. Popularity is measured by how many people like whatever crashingly boring news you’ve just posted on your page, be it the mundane making of beds, washing the family laundry or having a night out at the 02 to see Michael Buble. Your page or thread of inane consciousness instantly means something to somebody, desperate for you to ‘like’ them back. These people immediately become your friends. All it takes is a little thumbs up logo. It’s not unusual these days to have hundreds of friends: Stephen Fry, for instance, has a Twitter following of messianic proportions (now there’s a thought. If Twitter had been around two thousand or so years ago maybe the New Testament would have panned out differently) – but how many of these buddies would drop everything on a freezing cold morning to come round and help him jump start his car? How many of them would bake you bread in return for dropping their offspring at school? How many of these push-a-button-quick friends would you invite to your wedding or significant birthday? How many of them would you go on holiday with?

I think I have quite a lot of friends, as it goes. Probably between ten and twenty. There are different groups of them – old friends, tennis friends, writing friends, work friends, book-reading friends and friends I made when Son was small. Some of these friendship groups overlap but they all have one thing in common. They are real. I know what these people look like, know how they think, what’s likely to upset them, what will make them laugh and which ones I can call on for advice or a trip down memory lane. I know when their birthdays are, how old they are and whether they are sensitive to my knowing. They know all this about me. Most of them know some of my family; I know, or know of, their nearest and dearest. I might know some of their deepest darkest secrets, their hopes and dreams, the successes and failures they’ve made and they will know mine. They are the people I share celebrations with, remember to send cards to and phone when it’s time to get together. We meet, we interact, we pick up where we left off. Face to face. As friends do.

The internet is a powerful tool. Of course I can see the potential of Facebook and Twitter in a commercial sense. If I had something to sell or I wanted to raise money or awareness about something then it would be foolish not to sign up, even though it irks me to have to sponsor somebody through their online giving page. All big businesses now use Facebook (it’s easy PR – back in the day, my life in publicity would have been such a doddle) – even BBC news has a page although I’d much rather visit their website for updates, but that’s just personal preference.

The internet can also be extremely destructive if not treated with a little caution. Splashing drunken photographs of yourself across a Facebook page may seem highly entertaining when you’re a student but may come back to bite you when (as happened to a friend’s son), fresh out of university with a good degree, you struggle to secure employment because the potential employer has checked your suitability via social media. There’s no hiding from it once it’s out there.

Posting photographs of children online is done either with complete naivety or a flagrant disregard for child protection. I came across an alarming post on WordPress recently highlighting the plight of one family who, quite innocently, posted a video of their six year old son performing in his school talent contest. The pictures got into the ‘wrong’ hands and went, as they say, viral. The family were traumatised by the salacious comments made towards their son and began a long and partly unsuccessful journey to have the video removed.

Sadly cyber bullying is rife amongst teenagers –just to be ‘unfriended’ causes untold grief. In the real world, some friendships fizzle out naturally due to geographic distance or a change in interests perhaps – but it doesn’t mean that the original friends have parted acrimoniously. Life goes on. Then there is the sinister issue of young people being ‘groomed’ on the internet and Facebook is the first port of call for this lowlife. How do teenagers assess the authenticity of a wannabe friend?

Which brings me to blogging. Blogging is a form of social media, so what’s the difference? Why do we blog? To seek out similar interests, to inspire and be inspired, to be informed through an alternative channel to anything else that’s published or broadcast. To have our say, I guess. We build communities with like-minded bloggers – we visit each other’s sites and leave comments. A comment is valuable; it can set off a discussion or a different train of thought.  Blogging creates a form of friendship but, without wishing to offend, it’s a two dimensional one.

I don’t know you, not really, and you don’t know me (although through our creativity we get to know one another on a certain level), so how do you know that I’m not a sociopathic inmate residing in a high security prison? With a good imagination?

How do I know that you aren’t?

I’ll leave you with that spooky thought this Halloween week. imagesKUGEYSAW

Have a good one.



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I have a couple of items to share mid-week. The first is an addendum to last week’s post on the merits or not of Halloween. A non-blogging friend, who seems to read my ramblings on a regular basis, sent me an email describing her memories of Halloween Bonfire parties. I thought they were too good to keep to myself, so have reproduced her message here:

 As children we celebrated Halloween with a big party for all the children in our road.  My parents couldn’t afford fireworks therefore Halloween was a big bonfire with lots of games:

Courtesy Clipart

Courtesy Clipart

buns on the washing line, bobbing the apple, blindfolded tasting (disgusting!! especially tasting a spoonful of some hideous spice!!) and Dad always told us a gruesome story about Lord Nelson – we were blindfolded and I vaguely remember having to stick my finger in an eye socket (half an orange) and walking the plank (an old scaffold plank, child balanced on it, Dad made it rock a bit, child had to jump but actually you were only a couple of inches off the ground).  All very terrifying and all brilliant fun.  My Dad has always been really creative.

Always baked potatoes and sausages in rolls. So our Halloween didn’t go outside the garden, no ‘trick or treats’ and we had a sparkler to finish!

 Very fond memories and one that I continued with my own children until very recently.

 Now, doesn’t that sounds like a great family tradition in the making? My friend can have the last word on this one.

 Secondly, I am sure many of you are aware that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – have a go at writing 50,000 words in thirty days and get a first draft of that ever elusive novel down in black and white.  I know that two of our blogging chums have taken up this daunting challenge and I’d like to wish them both the very best of luck. Interestingly, they are both also long distance runners. Writing a novel is like running a marathon – it requires dedication, determination and perseverance, even when the going gets tough; which it undoubtedly will. Runners have to warm up, train regularly, whatever the weather. Sustained writing requires similar strengths: do it every day – not just when the creative urge strikes. To commit to writing what amounts to just under 1700 words a day is no mean feat, as the rest of us know all too well.

So, just as if they were running a marathon, I shall be standing on the sidelines, cheering them on, delighted when they cross the finishing line.

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Many years ago, while on holidayPhoto0006 in the south of France, we discovered a delicious rosé wine: dry and crisp, and served very chilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of lunchtime moules marinière. We bought six bottles, stowed them in the back of the car and wended our way back to Blighty, by which time the rosé had turned to vinegar and was undrinkable.  We learned a salient lesson on that trip – that some things just don’t travel well – a bit like, dare I say it : trick or treating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I’ve ripped my fingers to shreds whittling a spooky face into an over-sized pumpkin with the best of them; I’ve even been known to make fairy cakes, cover them in luminous orange icing and pipe black spiders on top which, for someone who loathes baking, shows a certain amount of maternal resolve, I feel. When Son was small, he and his friends would make their own scary masks and paper hanging bats and get together for Halloween teas. Trick or treating for them was confined to a few pre-primed neighbours. I wasn’t going to let him miss out just because I don’t ‘get’ it.

 Trick or treating, in its current guise, is a relatively new concept here in the UK. When I was a child it didn’t exist, neither did any of the paraphernalia that goes with it. I don’t remember even seeing a pumpkin – the nearest thing we had was a swede or a turnip which, I believe, were used by the ancient Celts to fashion tiny lanterns to light the ancestral way on All Hallows Eve. We were brought up to wait until offered a sweet; never to ask for one and not to speak to anyone we didn’t know; so even now, the idea of allowing children to knock on the doors of strangers and demand confectionary makes me uncomfortable.

 The local TV news yesterday morning reported that measures had been taken to ban the sale of flour and eggs to anyone under the age of eighteen and that police cars would be patrolling the area advising marauding gangs of hooded youth how to trick or treat responsibly.

So, bearing this in mind, I armed myself with a bag of cheap sweets to ward off any evil little spirits who banged on my door last night hoping it would prevent an omelette adhering to my windscreen. When all this malarkey first started, I was never sure whether it was me that should deliver the trick or the treat and I have been known to squirt expectant visitors with a water pistol. It’s all very well having fun, but the line between fun tipping over into vandalism and intimidation is a fine one: some elderly folk are truly frightened.


A sample of merchandise available in a local store

 I’m not bothered about our shops and garden centres being stuffed full of hideous Halloween miscellanea made in the Far East. The amount and variety spreads each year, like fast growing bacteria. Even our top end supermarket (the one that prefers to be called a food store and was the last major chain to capitulate to Sunday trading), has been seduced by the Halloween potential: and why not – it’s a huge, money making business leaking nicely into the run up to Christmas. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

We can’t claim trick or treating as a tradition, either. To be sure, I checked the definition in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which confirms:

 Tradition; [Mass noun] the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Traditions, therefore, have to evolve – we can’t just steal a tradition from another country, from another culture and expect it to work or be accepted by all here.  On the whole, Britain is pretty hot on tradition: we are steeped in it. In a few days time we’ll be celebrating Bonfire Night, commemorating the foiling in 1605, of an early activist called Guy Fawkes, from blowing up the Houses of Parliament. (With hindsight, and beautiful iconic building aside, he might have done us all a favour had he been successful, given the current shower of ineffectual incumbents).

Several of the villages around here have been building bonfires for weeks, as they have done for years, in the way that beacons have been built and lit for centuries. Life-size models of Guy Fawkes will be prepared to sit atop each fire. The weekend skies will no doubt be full of the sights and sounds of loud, flamboyant fireworks.

I wonder if this celebration is exportable? Probably not: I can’t imagine that burning effigies of terrorists in public would go down too well anywhere else…but you never know.

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