An answer to a question about Halloween

I was asked recently by a neighbour’s kid why I liked Halloween. It was an earnest and heartfelt question. He genuinely wanted to know what it was that I liked about Halloween (and probably also why I put a graveyard in my front yard and hung screaming ghouls from my trees and put cobwebs all over my house at this time of the year). Three or four years ago I’m sure I could have answered easily with an age-appropriate response. But on this particular night and at this particular time, I was operating on three hours sleep, we were in the middle of a party, getting some sausages for dinner and I was uncomfortably aware that this little chap had very recently lost his grandmother and her funeral had been only the day before. I hesitated and stumbled and tripped over words, couldn’t find the right ones so just said, “I’m not sure. Because I’m weird, I guess?”

As soon as I said it I knew they weren’t the right words. To give a bright kid such a flippant response when he was genuinely asking what seemed to be an important question to him was just not the right thing to do. I felt terrible that I couldn’t give him a proper answer and moreso that I couldn’t even explain WHY I couldn’t give him a quick, 1 minute, nearly-five-year-old-appropriate answer.

I shouldn’t have said I’m weird for liking Halloween, because that’s not true. There’s nothing weird about liking Halloween. What I wanted to say – and what I should have said – was that I like Halloween because when you become an adult, you eventually find out that the truly scary things in life don’t just come out once a year on the night of 31 October. They’re around all the time, every day, and some people (strong, brave people) have to face true fear every day. I should have explained how, as an adult, once you’ve experienced death and sadness and the loss of loved ones (and lived through the entire range of emotions that goes hand in hand with those things – anger, longing, the sense of loss, the loss of self, the depth of sadness that can envelop a whole being sometimes for years), it feels a little bit good to be able to make a mockery of death for one night. It feels good and right and powerful to be able to say “up yours!” to death – and to cancer and diseases that take loved ones away well before their time; and to people who commit random acts of violence that kill hundreds of people and to natural disasters that destroy entire towns and cities in a matter of hours. It’s a way to celebrate the living, and to celebrate that WE are still living. And it’s also a way to remember and honour our dead. In conquering fear and death on this one night by sharing light and love with our neighbours and strangers, we are saying, “Not tonight, Death.” We can prove to death that we’re not afraid of it, that it can’t hurt us. We can show that whatever scary things go bump in the night or might jump out in front of us and shout boo or cackle wickedly in our ears, WE ARE NOT AFRAID. And we are not afraid because we are TOGETHER.

And I think that probably should have been my short, kid-appropriate answer to that question: my answer is TOGETHER. I like Halloween, no, I LOVE Halloween because it BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER. It encourages people to walk around their streets together, neighbours leave their lights on for each other and for strangers, they get to meet their neighbours, share lollies and treats with kids, and maybe even give them a little scare as well (because when you’re a kid (if you’re a lucky kid), the only scares really are little ones). And for the kids, it’s one night where they get to dress up, roam around the streets with their friends and get free lollies and chocolate, right? To my inner kid at least, that’s what I remember being so cool about Halloween.

There’s so many things that we ask of kids – wear this now, because I said so, be here at this time, go to this practice, tidy your room, do your homework, practice your flute, don’t forget to go to after school care today, look after your brother and sister, sit at a desk in school for six hours a day, be a good person, don’t yell at people, don’t hit your brother even though you’re really frustrated, kiss Aunty Marge even though she stinks, remember your manners when you talk to everyone – that I actually think it’s good for them to be able to have a fun night – for nothing. They don’t have to do anything in return except stay together and respect people who don’t want to participate. I think we lose that part of ourselves that remembers what it’s like to be a kid. We get so caught up in being grownups and having to be responsible and paying the bills and feeding the family and making sure Tommy’s done his homework and Gina has to be at TWO parties on the weekend AND a rehearsal on Sunday, and having to go to funerals for friends who are your age and who have kids the same age as yours, that we need to break it down and remember that part of being a kid and having a childhood is actually about having fun, with nothing being asked of you in return. When you’re allowed to just be, and to just do. Being a child.

So I will don my costume tonight. I will dress my kids in their costumes and give them their lolly buckets and instructions not to go to houses where the lights aren’t on. We will be together and have fun together and be scared and laugh and talk together. And before we leave the house I will take a moment to pause and to share a thought for those people we have lost along the way of life.

For now it’s almost time. We’re nearly there. The wind is starting to pick up, and it’s almost time for night to fall and for the darkness to gather in the corners of my house. It’s nearly time to be scared – but don’t worry, I promise it will be a good scare, it will be a SAFE scare.

So come, take my hand and let’s set off into the night and push away the darkness together. There’s plenty of time to face the real monsters tomorrow once tonight has gone and the daylight returns.

31 October 2017



Please if you haven’t watched Seasons 1-4 of Vikings yet, I implore you, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. Don’t be tempted to read on, not even just a little bit. Don’t do it. Finish watching Seasons 1-4 and then come back over here and read on.

Disclaimer: If you haven’t watched all episodes and you do choose to read on, I take no responsibility whatsoever for anything you may find out that you wish you hadn’t.

Okay, confession time: I am a massive Game of Thrones fan. I think GoT is the best thing on TV ever. I totally love it and am obsessed with it. I’ve spent hours (and hours and hours – always late, mostly after midnight after the kids have gone to bed) devouring it, and can’t get enough of it. Having to wait for this next season has been a bit like stabbing a hot poker in my eye daily for the last 11 months.

However – and yes, what follows has certainly raised some interesting questions about my own moral fibre – in the lull between GoT seasons (see above comment re the relationship between hot pokers and my eyes) I let my guard down and thought I’d give History’s Vikings a go. Sure, I thought to myself, it’s had lots of positive reviews. Most people I’ve spoken to have loved it. But how good can it really be? On a scale of 1 to ‘Battle of the Bastards’, how good could it really be?

So, against every Stark/Snow/Targaryen-loving, Lannister/Bolton-hating (actually that’s not true, I adore Tyrion and Jaime, so probably just Cersei-hating) fibre of my being, I watched the first episode of Vikings. Pfft, I thought afterwards. It’s a bit boring, isn’t it? A bit soft? It’s certainly no GoT. Where’s the action? Where’s the drama? Where’s the killing and nudity and violence I’ve so come to enjoy and expect in a TV show? Oh well, I thought, settling back on the couch, There’s nothing else to watch till July anyway, so I might as well watch another couple of episodes.

So I watched episodes 2 and 3. Then I watched episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7. Then the rest of Season 1 … and then Seasons 2 and 3 and 4. And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Ragnar. I fell in love with Lagertha. I fell in love with Ragnar AND Lagertha … and Rollo and Bjorn and Athelstan and Kattegat and Floki and Helga and King Ecbert (though not necessarily in that order). I fell in love with the Viking beliefs and their way of life. I wanted to know more about the Gods and Valhalla. I went internet searching for any information I could find about the Norse Gods – Odin and Loki and Thor and Freya and the rest of them. I was totally hooked – and unbelievably, the show challenged me and my beliefs. It brought history to life and showed me things I’d never seen before. It opened my eyes to the way I looked at and thought about religion. It made me think about all of these things even when I wasn’t watching it. It made me laugh and cry (for days and weeks and months) and hate with a passion I’d never before encountered (King Aelle, I’m looking at you).

So in a moment of Vikings fan passion, I’ve written a list of 25 things that watching Vikings has taught me about life. See you for the Season 5 premiere later this year!

25 things I’ve learned about life from watching Vikings

  1. Blood and fire are perfect multitasking tools. You can’t go past either of them for making things and fixing things. They really are the WD40 and duct tape of the 9th and 10th centuries.
  2. Sons are more valuable than daughters. But if you’re a king and can marry your daughter off to the neighbouring king’s son and overthrow that king, then a daughter will suffice.
  3. Any religion that is not your own is weird and wrong and ought to be avoided at all costs. If possible, you should kill all of its followers too, because they’re likely to think you’re weird and will probably try to kill you first.
  4. Fur is equally beautiful for soft furnishings as well as for items of clothing. Another multipurpose item. Take note Kmart.
  5. There is not a man in the universe who doesn’t look incredible wearing a leather skirt, beard, shaved head and ponytail. #truth
  6. Women and men can both be lethal in battle. Another #truth. Pretty sure some of Gal Godot’s prep for Wonder Woman would have involved watching Lagertha in her battle scenes.
  7. Try to avoid your husband going on month-long raiding parties, especially if he’s likely to meet a witch. Any union between husband and said witch is likely to destroy everything good you’ve ever known.
  8. When someone in the know (with the know?) foretells your life or a significant event in it, you must lick their hand and be thankful for their wisdom. (*shudder*) Even if you’ve just been given crap news about the rest of your life.
  9. Once you become King or Queen, you are likely to lose your hunger, passion and go crazy. You’re also likely to develop a nasty habit of some sort, or get killed.
  10. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that number 9 won’t happen to you.
  11. Learning a new language and assimilating with a new culture can really, spectacularly change the course of your life. Just ask Rollo, the king of self-reinvention.
  12. Drugs are bad and will completely and utterly ruin your life.
  13. Beware of beautiful and intriguing people bearing ‘medicine’ that magically makes the world a wondrous place and makes you feel instantly better about everything. Because number 12.
  14. If you live alone in a cabin for a while in the middle of winter you will eventually ‘find yourself’. Or go crazy. You could also end up battling a bear and a berserker with your bare hands and some fish hooks. Whew.
  15. Beware the handsome, smooth-talking, story-telling stranger who strolls into town. He wants to share more with you than just his stories.
  16. Beating drums mean good and/or bad things are about to happen. Usually bad.
  17. If you’re invited to a ‘ceremony’ with your new friends and hear drums beating, see number 16 and silently slip away. Do not tell your new friends of this plan.
  18. You must show hospitality to all guests who come into your home. Even if you are to face them on the battlefield the next day and expect to kill them.
  19. Never name your kid Aelle. Revenge and hatred are likely to follow that name for ever.
  20. Be careful what you say to someone or about someone at their funeral. Make sure they’re actually dead before baring your soul to them and sharing your true feelings.
  21. Travelling by boat can open your eyes to a whole new world. Especially when you get to hoist your boat up and over cliffs and roll it through forests. Contiki trip anyone?
  22. Family is important. But not so important that you can’t kill a sibling who is really overstepping their boundaries and annoying the s^%@ out of you.
  23. God and/or the Gods are vital for life.
  24. A blood eagle is most definitely NOT a type of bird. No sir, it is not.
  25. Your family is the most important thing in life. And after life.

Thanks very much for reading through to the end.

Wishing you a very happy day.

Yours in Vikingness,



PS I will definitely be watching the new series of GoT on 16 July.

PPS Skol!