Thursday 21 October 2010


As a child, we celebrated Hallowe'en in a curiously pagan way - the spooky shrunken heads of the swede lanterns were only the half of it: most of the rest of the entertainment seemed to involve apples. We'd peel apples, trying to get the peel off in one long ribbon, and then throw it over our left shoulders - it's supposed to land in the shape of the initial of the man you'll marry. I've never gone out with a man whose name begins with 'S', let alone married one. We did a lot of apple bobbing too - I told Trefusis Minor about it: he looked horrified and told me sharply that it was too dangerous and someone might drown. He is still the health and safety officer in this house. And there was also a game involving hanging apples on pieces of string from the door lintel - your hands were tied behind your back and you had to try and take a bite.

I've forgotten most of the witchy stuff now - it was pretty tame, I'm sure, and probably involved yet more apples and some candle magic. We weren't allowed pumpkins - if they were even available in the north of England of the late seventies - and although we had heard of 'tricky treating'[sic], the idea was considered 'American'. Nothing more needed to be said for us to understand that it wasn't something we would be able to do. Looking back on it with the distance of thirty years, I take my black pointy hat off to my mother and aunt - it takes some genius to keep a houseful of the under tens occupied for a whole day with nothing more than a large bag of apples and a few wrinkly swedes.

The Trefusis Hallowe'en is a little more commercial - these days pumpkins are more easily available than swedes in West London, and an awful lot easier to deal with. And if the children want to dress up and go next door to beg for sweets, then it's perfectly all right with me, possibly because I know they have no interest at all in the 'trick' part of the equation. It also offers a brilliant hook for keeping the children entertained for a whole day without them once uttering the vile words 'I'm bored'. I may not be much cop with apples and root vegetables, but I'm a dab hand at making spooky soup, and spider cake, and playing games like 'let's turn Daddy into a Mummy', though this is, of course, a terrible waste of a roll of white loo paper.

The Tiniest Trefusis has already had a fabulous preview of Hallowe'en fun, albeit not of the home made variety. She and I were lucky enough to go along to the press preview of Harrods' Hallowe'en programme, which runs over the Hallowe'en weekend. Activities on the fourth floor (toys, children's designer boutiques, Junior collections etc) include Fiendish Face painting (not terribly fiendish in the Tiny T's case - she wanted to be a butterfly), Creepy Crafts (we enjoyed making a bespoke witches hat), and Marvin's Magic's Freaky Body Illusionist (12-2pm in the Toy Kingdom). There's also delicious frozen yoghurt with spooky sprinklings available at the new YooMoo frozen yoghurt bar just near Way In, not that Trefusis Minor or The TT are ever to be fobbed off with frozen yoghurt - they think it's a terrible swizz and won't accept anything other than proper ice-cream.
For children between 5 and 8, Waterstones at Harrods is hosting a series of readings of Terrifying Tales (sessions at 2, 2.30 and 3pm) with tricks and treats for all and for grownups, my lovely friend Michael Korel is giving personal Tarot readings, also at Waterstones. For more information see the Harrods website.

Monday 11 October 2010


Autumn is easy to love: I think it's the slight faded quality the pale ochre light gives everything, as if in a thoughtlessly hung picture, colours all bleached in the sun. I like the quick sharpness in the air, and the hint of bonfire that uncurls itself the minute dusk falls.

Most of all, I love the way autumn is packed with oddly pagan rituals, so deeply embedded in the folk memory it doesn't matter they've long since lost their meaning - Hallowe'en in our family involves chiselling out swedes rather than pumpkins for lanterns (try it - you can't get a fabulously Papua New Guinean shrunken head look with a pumpkin), drowning for apples, and candle magic, and much as I grew up in the country, there's an odd disconnect between celebrating Harvest Festival in West London and your actual proper 'plough-the-fields-and-scatter' harvest. Don't even get me started on Guy Fawkes - much as we've reinvented it as bonfire night, scratch the surface and it's hardly the most ecumenical of celebrations, as anyone who's been to the November 5th activities in Lewes will attest.

But anyway, my delight in autumn lies not so much in the big events but in the tiny quotidien joys - the glorious scarlet of rosehips against a miserable grey sky, finding a recipe for rowan jelly on this lovely website, making jam with the glut of plums in my parents garden, and laughing and laughing with my children, whirling around trying to catch leaves falling from trees to make a wish.

And of course, there's the endless trips to the park to collect conkers: they're so pointlessly beautiful - the gorgeous burnt sienna glossiness lasts about four hours before they start to lose their lustre. Every year we bring a bagful home and put them in a bowl to admire them - only a few every find themselves strung on a string for a conker fight - and within days they're all shrinkled. It's a shame.

This year, I've started to over-identify with the poor conker : the notion that I'm now autumn, and no longer ripe with the bloom of summer, has hit me rather hard. I seem to have developed a deciduous quality and I don't like it at all: One minute I was all shiny, happily passing for thirty seven, then I woke one morning to discover a chill in the air, my bloom dulled, and I looked every one of my forty three years. I do love Donne for writing 'No spring nor summer hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face' but I stare at myself in the mirror and think he must have been blind.

And it's not just about railing against the physical changes that age brings, or at the invisibility of no longer being exactly young, it's also about the way my head won't adjust to being a proper grown up. And where does this idea come from that one's possibilities contract as one's days shorten? There are still twenty four hours - they are simply differently apportioned - and longer nights mean more flattering lighting, after all - but somehow the idea has taken root. I urgently need to find the notebook in which I wrote the list of people who had come up to the boil after forty, after a long and interminable simmer. I don't want to always be the watched pot.

As I look at the conkers gathering dust on the kitchen table, and at the autumn-hued leaves and berries Trefusis Minor has gathered for his school project, I try to summon up a sense of resolve: Autumn, with all its small pleasures and curious celebrations, must become my favourite time of life, as well as my favourite season..