The Fabulous Halloween Party

We haven't really celebrated Halloween this year. I wanted to do something with Nick but he is tired and says he wants to have a quiet night watching TV. So I'm spending the night in a more traditional way, stroking our black cat and sitting quietly for a while under the stars, thinking about our family ghosts and one of my favourite childhood memories from this time of year. 

When I was ill in bed as a child I’d beg my parents to read to me from an ancient copy of Grimm’s fairy tales.
Read me the wicked fairy book, mummy! Again, please, daddy!” 
Delirious with fever, I’d lie in my rumpled sheets while toads oozed from the pages to hop around the bed, and outside the window flying horses flared their fiery nostrils, ready to bear me far away into the starry skies.
Yep, I was a weird little kid. I think my parents worried about me a bit and tried to discourage my occult leanings…as one day the book mysteriously disappeared and I only found it years later, going through old boxes in the wardrobe after mum had died. 

So it was remarkably sweet of them, if not a stroke of absolute genius, to come up with a stunt for which I will love them all my days.
Obsessed with ghost stories, potion making and Egyptian mummies, I felt it was only natural that one morning the post brought an invitation for me, and one for my brother, to attend a Halloween gathering. The invitation came on orange paper cut in the shape of a jack o’ lantern.
The date: October 31st. The time: 7 o’clock. The place: “The Witches’ Coven”.
But of course.

Only after excited checking out with all our friends on the street that everyone else had received an invitation, did someone point out that we didn’t have the exact address of the witches’ coven, did we?
I wasn’t too bothered, I was sure we’d be able to find it. We had a week to go. We’d think of something.

Anticipation tightened in our chests – the thrill, the thrill! It was the 1960s and trick or treating was something people did in America, not in suburban Sheffield. Halloween then was low key, nothing like the industry it is today. People didn't really have Halloween parties. Witches' hats were made out of a cone of black paper and we had never even seen a pumpkin. 
But I felt absolutely in my metier, and all week the electric excitement running through our gang was contagious. It was all we could talk about. But we still didn’t know where the witches’ coven was.

We looked in all the obvious places – the rough ground behind the church being first suspect, but among the rusty tin cans and blackberry bushes there was no sign, no clues.
Then the big tree beside the sandpit where Mr Groats the ghost lived – not a genuine ghost, you understand, we’d simply invented him one day as a character in one of our long make-believe games. Nothing there either. 

Two nights before Halloween we were getting restless. After tea we all set out to look in earnest. The clocks had changed; it was getting dark. We carried on looking. Now venturing far from our familiar neighbourhood, lit by orange street lights, we began knocking on people’s doors.
Excuse me, do you know where the witches’ coven is?“
until eventually somebody must have recognised one of us and phoned our parents.
Our parents, collectively, went mad. It was after ten, pitch dark and way past our bedtimes and they’d all been frantic for hours.
You could have caught your deaths of cold!” shouted Iain’s mum. 

Next night, straight to bed after tea and not another squeak about witches. Nick and I felt subdued. But as Halloween day arrived, the angels – or the witches – took pity on us.
When we called for Robert on the way to school, his mum said casually, “If you’re looking for the witches’ coven, try looking for the house with a turnip lantern in the window
And she said we could come back to their house for tea, which was always a star attraction because we could feed their guinea pigs and be messier and noisier at Robert’s with his two little brothers than at anyone else’s house.

And so, later that evening with mouths full of Robert's mum's bonfire toffee and clutching our ragged invitations in sticky hands, we set out again in search of the party. Brown crispy leaves crunched in the gutters, the air smelled of firewood smoke and and the street lights were coming on. We looked about expectantly for the house with a turnip lantern in the window and there it was. Just across the road. It was OUR HOUSE.
The witches’ coven was at our house!!! 

Shrieking, we belted across the road. 
The heart-bursting pride and wonder I felt as we knocked on the front door and watched it swing open spookily on its own – I will never forget it.
Our mouths stretched into oohs as our eyes became accustomed to the candlelight and took in the amazing scene: our front room turned into an enchanted cavern with yard upon yard of glittery tinfoil ribbons hanging from the ceiling, lit in ghostly green. Black slithery polythene over the carpet and my dad at the door ushering us in, eight foot high, standing on a step ladder draped in a long white sheet with just two holes for eyes. He shook hands solemnly with each child, using a rubber glove filled with crushed ice. We squealed happily with delight at the shuddery feel on our little fingers and screamed as my mum, dressed as a witch, leaped out of the shadows with snakes in her hair.
In the kitchen my granny was stirring a big black smoking pot of purple witches’ brew (hot Vimto) and a tape recording of ghoulish laughter echoed through the walls.
Anyone unlucky enough to need the lavatory was confronted by a plastic skeleton swinging over the cistern.
Nick and I gawped at the transformation of our hardly recognisable home.
My parents nearly wet themselves laughing afterwards as they recounted our total ignorance in the face of all their clues. They said they couldn’t believe we had not realised the party was happening at our house. But we were so bound up in spooky stories and mystery and the supernatural that we couldn’t see what was right in front of our noses.

We got the last laugh though. Mum was never that bothered about cleaning but she did like the place to look half decent. Little boys are experts at finding hidey holes in unusual places though, so it must have been some weeks later that she was hoovering under the stair carpet and found an unwelcome cache of festering marshmallows. Dozens of them had been hung on strings for a game at the party, and this little collection had been experimentally chewed, spat out, squished and hidden by my brother under cover of low lighting.
She couldn’t be too cross though. It had been the great party of its time and really set the bar for all future celebrations. All the local kids talked about it for years afterwards and social success for our whole family was assured.