Due to circumstances beyond my control (yeah, right), this post has been delayed until the day after 31st October. Better late than never, right? Here goes:
If I may be a grump for a moment – and as creator, sustainer and sole dictator of this blog, I hardly need to ask for permission – I’m not the biggest fan of Halloween. I can’t really get into the olde-worlde ritual of the last dance of the dead: the creatures of the night haunting the living world before the final victory of the saints on November 1st. Or whatever it is ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ means again. Nor am I a fan of the modern incarnation from across the pond (sorry again, American friends!). I’m afraid all I smell is a rather too obvious commercial opportunity, a chance for manufacturers of candy and tat to somewhat plug the yawning gap in the calendar between Easter and Christmas. Yes, I’m a Halloween scrooge. Bah, and indeed, humbug.
Perhaps it’s because I have a peculiar phobia of face paint and ridiculous masks. Hats = good, masks = bad. Or maybe it’s because I can’t really see the point. What exactly is being celebrated? Even if you don’t observe it in a particularly religious way, most people who celebrate Christmas, for example, will at least subscribe to some vague ideas about love, peace and generosity and all that good stuff; and will see the benefits to society of slowing down for a few days, getting together as family and friends, eating good food, drinking a little too much wine or winter ale, and putting up sparkly lights by way of showing midwinter who is boss. Halloween? I’m not so sure. You could paint the costume wearing, etc. as a mockery of evil, and thus a kind of demonstration of the superior power of good (I think that is getting towards what it is supposed to be), but I doubt that was running through the minds of the hyperactive twelve-year-olds in witches’ hats lurching up and down our street earlier. I daresay there is no harm in a bit of meaningless fun*. But wanting everything in life to mean something is a bad habit of mine, so I can’t let it rest.
Setting Halloweenophobia (to coin a word) aside for a moment, and by way of contrast, I’m all for a bit of a fright-in-the-night if it’s in the name of nature explorations. So my observation of a fairly large, almost barrel-shaped bat flying determinedly over Barnsdale Road in Reading this evening was certainly welcome, and seasonally appropriate to boot. Apparently my friend who lives there (and possesses a bat detector) thinks they may be noctules, which is neat, as I’m not sure I’ve knowingly seen a noctule before.** I was reminded that I return regularly to the theme of nightlife on this blog: on the same date last year, and in various posts aboutowls, moths, stone curlews, rats and the gloaming. At least as many interesting creatures that occupy Britain are nocturnal as are diurnal, and many of them don’t get as much attention as they deserve. Perhaps this provides a way I can embrace the festival after all: as a celebration of ‘scary’ night-loving wildlife in all its ghoulish glory. That’s meaning enough for me. And on that note, I think I will wish you all, dear readers, a happy Halloween after all.
*Though is it harmless to knock on a bunch of strangers’ doors, most of whom were not prepared for you and have nothing to offer, thereby forcing an evening of unnecessary, embarrassing social encounter on an already reserved, anti-social nation? Trick or treating is basically organised mugging…
**Generally with bats I’m in a state of unknowing, beyond assuming that the common small fluttery ones are probably pipistrelles.