A Walk in the Dark


It was past 6 o’clock on Halloween and already dark as she crossed the road into the Yew Grove estate, the little duffle-coated figure trailing behind her. Oh, how tired she was, how she longed to get home and shut out all the posturings and jargon of her day, but he hadn’t wanted to leave his childminder – he’d refused to fetch his things, wanted to stay in the warm watching tv, and she’d got angry and said there’d be no trick or treating, since he couldn’t do what he was told. And certainly the idea of tramping from house to house smiling politely while hissing at him to say thankyou made her want to scream. But it was mean of her, she knew. She’d tell him he could go after all, just as soon as it was decent to relent. Meanwhile he was dawdling. He was in a sulk.

The houses in this estate were large and blank for the most part: neat blinds, trimmed borders, prosperous cars on brick-paved drives. There weren’t many children here, but a few people had decorated for Halloween, and they hadn’t settled for home-made cutouts or plastic skeletons from Centra. One house had a row of ragged scarecrows in the garden and a single pumpkin carved into a leering face; another had a giant black spider on the wall. “How clever,” she said to herself, but her pace quickened. “Hurry up!” she called to her son.

As she rounded the corner it turned quieter and far darker. Two of the streetlights weren’t working; instead of their yellow glow there was an intermittent white flicker which she realised after a moment must come from LED projectors. On the side of the nearest house a procession of stooped, bony shapes endlessly crept along the wall. Further on wispy ghosts scattered into the eaves. Behind, now the noise of the main road had receded, she could hear the stubborn little footsteps. Suddenly, a great shadow swept across the pavement, so dark she couldn’t help but jump and cry out – what was that? It looked like a clawed, grasping hand, but it missed her, thank god – and of course it must just be another projection, but what a horrible one! She scuttled a few yards more and then stopped and waited. “Hurry up! Run and hold my hand!” She heard him stumble, and looked back, but for a moment she couldn’t see him at all, and the dark lay over the pavement. Then there he was, walking on at the same pace as before. Well, be like that! If he wasn’t scared, he was tougher than she was. She turned and resumed walking.

Round another corner, and they were out of the Yew Tree estate and into the brighter and smaller streets of their own neighbourhood. Soon she’d be able to turn on the television, put on a kettle for pasta, make tea. She hurried to her front door, opened it and flicked on the lights. The small figure finally caught up to her; she let him in and firmly closed the door. And then gazed in horror at the blank white eyes of the creature that was no longer her son.



The Dressing-Up Box Nativity Play

This is a nativity play designed for the needs of the modern parent i.e. it uses only costumes that the average time-poor, pointless-crap-rich family already owns. It preaches a message of love, acceptance and extreme laziness highly pertinent to our frantic society.



A generic nativity play set with stars and stuff. Enter Mary (a princess) and Batman. All their luggage is piled on the back of a patient grey zombie.

Song: “Little zombie”

Mary We need somewhere to rest. I am about to have a baby and our zombie is very tired.

Batman knocks in mid-air.

Batman Is there room in the inn?

Witch No, but you can sleep in the stable where I keep all the ghosts, vampires and ghouls.

Enter ten children in their Halloween costumes.

Song: “A Wraith in a Manger”

Narrator (a knight) Mary had her baby and she called him Jesus. She laid him in the manger.

Ghost Wooooooo, what a beautiful baby!

Count Dracula He looks tasty.

Mary (indulgently) Count Dracula, you need to learn about the spirit of Christmas!


Still the same generic nativity play set, only now Mary, Batman and all the Halloween characters sit down at the side of the stage to indicate we can’t see them.

Narrator And there were superheroes abiding in the fields, keeping watch over the city by night.

Enter six or seven superheroes.

Song: “O little town of Bethlehem, how full you are of crime” 

Narrator Suddenly, the sky was full of princesses.

Enter fifteen princesses. Fourteen of them are Elsa from “Frozen”. The fifteenth is Xena, Warrior Princess, as she has a geeky mum who does cosplay.

Song: “The people that walked in darkness have Xena great light”

Xena, Warrior Princess Be not afraid! A child has been born in the city of Bethlehem who will save everybody much better than you do. However, he is being menaced by Count Dracula.

The superheroes have a quiet but intense argument among themselves.

Spiderman We will go to see him and bring him presents.


Same as Scene One but now with all the superheroes. The superheroes present the baby with a random selection of cuddly toys, weapons, pokémon cards etc.

Count Dracula This baby must be important, but I am getting very hungry.

Superman Don’t you dare try it, Dracula! We defeated you before!

Song: “Last Christmas, we skewered your heart”

By the way (thanks to Comics Alliance):



Nothing about the stage has changed, except perhaps a small ghoul has fallen off it. Enter three wise Jedi: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Song: “We three kings escaped the Death Star”

Obi-Wan Kenobi We felt a disturbance in the Force and set out to bring gifts to the newborn king.

Luke We bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh-derous lightsabers.

The Jedi lay the lightsabers beside the crib.

Count Dracula I admit it, I can’t harm this baby. There’s simply too much peace and goodwill around. From now on I will give up sucking blood and eat only foil-wrapped chocolate coins and chestnut stuffing.

Everybody Hooray! Count Dracula has discovered the spirit of Christmas!

Song: “Dracul, the sharp-toothed vampire”

Darth Vader Jesus, I am your father.

Teacher Stop it, Nathan, that’s not in the Bible.

Song: “Have yourself a very mixed-up Christmas”



Hugh’s second ascent

Dot writes: we’ve had a lovely day today. We needed it. Here’s a splurge of negative stuff from our week, but I promise if you wade through it you’ll get to some blue skies and cheering healthy exercise, not to mention good behaviour and delicious Avoca salad. You don’t get to eat the salad, but I can assure you I did a very good job of eating it on your behalf.

It has been an anxious week. Tib has not returned. Ken and the boys have leafleted everyone in our road and everyone in the road that backs on to ours and whose gardens Tibby may have run into. I have put up adverts on lostandfoundpets.ie and pets.ie and contacted the DSPCA and some local vets. But there has been no news and no sightings. I keep expecting him to turn up at the back door, but the days go by and he just doesn’t.

At the same time we have been dealing with another rather stressful situation. A bit over a week ago, Ken was offered a job – which is good – but in Bristol, which is rather less good, since it means him being away during the week; but it’s a great chance to get experience, and pleasing confirmation of the fact that he is a Good Thing, and we agreed he should take it. They seemed to want him to start very soon, and I signed up to AuPairWorld and began dealing with the flood of applications from eager young Spaniards (there are a LOT of Spanish girls who want to be au pairs). But despite the initial message of hurry hurry, Ken’s new employers don’t seem to be getting their act together. The guy who recruited him wanted him to come over to the UK for training and told him to arrange dates with the current brewer, but the current brewer told him to arrange dates with the other guy and seemed rather hostile if anything; neither of them has been back in touch, and now we are beginning to wonder whether this job will actually happen after all. I narrowed my au pair search down to three girls and then had to tell all of them that I’m no longer sure we’ll need them.

Also, Ken ran the marathon on Monday and has been a bit sore in the knees, and I’ve had a rotten cold. (The marathon deserves a post to itself. The cold doesn’t, but it was very snotty and repulsive.)

All those things on the minus side. But on the plus side, this:






Last time we climbed Great Sugarloaf Hugh was a little baby carried on Ken’s chest. This time both boys did it on their own legs with remarkable vigour and enthusiasm; it seems the secret of a walk without whinging is to make it as steep, rocky and pointy as possible. The wind was brisk but the sky clear, and from the top we could see all the way to the Mournes. Then we came down and had lunch at the Avoca outlet in Kilmacanogue (so that’s the tasty salad part I mentioned – for me and Ken only; the boys were being good, but not salad good – their lunch was rather less vitamin-rich); and then we went and visited our former neighbour, who has poor health and always likes to be visited. It was nice to catch up with her but also felt like something of a good deed. Since we last saw her she has had thyroid cancer (we didn’t know about this or we’d have visited more often) and, post-treatment, ironically feels better than she has done for years.

And so home, feeling pleased with ourselves and our day.

P.S. Here are the boys in their Halloween costumes. A nasty mother would say these costumes reveal rather than disguising, but I am not a nasty mother. And really the boys have been very good today.

An unexpected triumph for the team

Dot writes: today was the day of the annual Halloween Fancy Dress Sponsored Walk at Hugh’s school. I took the boys last year and quickly realised that a couple of masks coloured in with felt-tips really didn’t cut it (even though Julie drew the outlines and did a beautiful job). There were some astonishing costumes, including a boy dressed as a truly gruesome hunchback, a child disguised as the Empire State Building, and another as a washing machine with her head sticking up through the clothes basket on top. This year we needed something a bit more high concept. Hugh proposed the idea himself: “Why don’t I,” he said, “why don’t I have a box in the shape of a plane, and I can have it on straps over my shoulders and wear a swimming hat and goggles?” I’m still not sure whether he had this idea spontaneously or had seen it somewhere, but, either way, it seemed like a jolly good one.

Everyone contributed to making the plane. I found a large stout box in the attic and stared at it for half an hour trying to work out what to do. Eventually I drew some pencil lines on it and, with Ken’s help, began to shape it into the plane. Ken did the majority of the construction work during the week, making the wings and tail and covering everything in brown paper. Then Julie came round last night to babysit while Ken and I went to The Irish Pub (film, not place: though it was at the Lighthouse Cinema which allows one to take beer into the screening), and she and the boys decorated the plane with stickers, glitter glue, streaky paint and a rather delicate pink and purple propellor made out of paper. Oh, and I bought a hat with ear-flaps and made some goggles out of cardboard and insulation tape.

We almost didn’t go, though. Half an hour before the walk it was raining quite hard and Hugh wasn’t feeling well.


But he was determined to show off his plane. And with his blue jacket and a scarf the whole ensemble really worked, I think.


Again, there were some fabulous costumes. There was a child with trousers on his/her arms, boots on the hands, cardigan on the bottom and false head dangling below, pretending to be someone walking on their hands. There was an amazing gargoyle costume: the wings actually spread out when the wearer raised his arms. There was a robot in silver paper with LED lights. There was even an accompanying Dad in a huge box disguised as a milk-carton. The rain eased off briefly and we all went for a token walk of about four hundred yards just round the road directly outside the school.

Afterwards about eight prizes were given. The junior infant dressed as a carrot got one, as did a boy in Hugh’s year who had come as the old man from Up. Two particularly deserving prize-winners, to my mind, were a girl dressed as Marie Antoinette with her own guillotine (complete with a head in a basket and an artistically-placed rat) and another as Barbie, in the box. We had pretty much got to the end when the judge announced “The child dressed as a plane”.

Hugh was awfully pleased.

Now, I don’t actually think it was one of the best eight costumes there. The gargoyle was definitely robbed. But it was Hugh’s own idea, and he carried it like a Trojan,* even though he wasn’t feeling that good and it was quite heavy. And we all worked hard on it, especially Ken. So well done us, and hurrah for the sponsored walk.

*or maybe more like a Greek, given that it was a hollow model of a contemporary mode of transport and he was inside it.


Dot writes: the Irish do Halloween in a big way. When I first moved here I remember being startled by how big it was, and also by the fact that in addition to costumes, pumpkins in the window and trick-or-treating they have bonfires and fireworks. (Fireworks, as it happens, are illegal here, but they have them anyway.) As a child I don’t remember celebrating Halloween particularly, but there was a festival in late autumn when we had after-dark parties with bonfires and fireworks, and it was one of the highlights of my year, right up there with Christmas and the Royal Norfolk Show. We’d eat jacket potatoes cooked in tinfoil in the bonfire and then we’d take our sparklers round the corner where it was dangerous and dark and wave them about to see the trails of light they left. The festival was Guy Fawkes Night and involved burning a Catholic in effigy. It took me an amazingly long time to click why it wasn’t celebrated in Ireland.

Anyway, this helps to explain why I really wasn’t up to speed with the Halloween jollities. There were no pumpkins in our window and Hugh wore a costume that his childminder bought for him last year, after a half-hearted last minute dash to Dunnes Stores on my part yielded no results. He didn’t go trick-or-treating either (the costume was shown off at a birthday party). At least we did have sweets ready for when the doorbell rang and, to an enthusiastic cry of ‘Trick or treat!’ from their parents, Peppa Pig, Spiderman and a skeleton pirate wandered vaguely in and started playing with Hugh’s toy garage. Our friends Sarah and Dave and John and Emily are rather more organised than we are. I have until next year to think of two stupendously excellent ideas for Halloween costumes, learn to sew, and get them ready. Suggestions on A4 paper with extensive instructions, please.