It’s that time of year again when the old Celtic festival of Samhain gets celebrated in its more modern incarnation – Halloween – in various parts of the globe. This mostly takes the form of donning costumes, making lanterns out of pumpkins and letting one part terrified and 99 parts hyper children loose on our streets, chanting the well worn mantra, “trick or treat.”
I happened to be out walking with my own children at dusk the other evening and I asked them what did they want to do this year for Halloween.
“Nothing,” the little fella replied.
I was somewhat surprised as he usually has a plan regarding his costume, for the big night, a few weeks in advance.
“Huh?” I asked, “nothing?”
“Nope, nothing,” he confirmed.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of those creepy clowns,” he said in a voice that tapered off towards the end of his sentence as his eyes scanned the shadows, “they’re everywhere.”
“Yes, they’re everywhere!” His sister concurred in that all knowing voice reserved solely for use by big sisters.
I stopped walking. I was a little bit on the concerned side at this point. I don’t want a bunch of fools with nothing better to do than dress up as clowns and go around creeping people out turning my kids into a pair of agoraphobes.
“Hey guys,” I said, “come on, we’ve got to get this into perspective. Those creepy clowns are nothing but a bunch of idiots with nothing better to do. And it’s not like there’s been any spotted around here.”
My children stood there in the half light, the looks on their faces telling me they remained unconvinced.
I soldiered on.
“Hey, those fools have more to fear from the people they’re trying to scare than the other way around,” I assured them. “A few of them have been punched and beaten with baseball bats.”
The little fella seemed pleased with this news.
“Really?” he asked with a smile.
“Really,” I confirmed.
“Cool,” he announced, “I’m going to bring my baseball bat with me when I go trick or treating, that’ll send them a message.”
With that he walked on, quite happy now he had a plan to deal with the creepy clowns.
His sister looked at me. “I’m not so sure the creepy clowns have too much to worry about from Baseball Bat Boy but I’ll think about it.”
“Okay,” I said as I fell in beside her as we resumed our walk.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I stopped to get it out. My daughter walked on. The night was nearly fully upon us.
Thirty seconds later I practically bumped into my daughter as I put my phone back in my pocket. She was standing on a patch of grass looking at an old house.
“Creepy,” she whispered.
I looked at the house. It’s one I am familiar with as its on one of my walking routes. I’ve only ever seen it in the day time and it’s definitely on the creepy side. However, here in the near dark of the night it looked positively sinister.
“There’s someone watching us,” my daughter said, her voice hushed.
I looked at the house, in particular at the windows in the centre of its structure. I’d initially thought it was abandoned but every time I walk past it I feel like someone is watching me. However, I wasn’t about to mention this to my daughter!
“Oh, I think there’s been too much creepy talk tonight,” I laughed nervously.
She looked at the house and then she looked back at me.
“No, there’s something in there,” she said, quite certain, “on the other side of that window.”
Silence fell between us. I don’t believe in dismissing my children’s feelings on things. I’ve never uttered the words, “don’t be silly” when it comes to situations where they feel uncertain. I want them to develop and hone their instincts so that they learn to trust them, thereby following them and staying as safe as possible in an increasingly unsafe world. On the other hand I don’t believe in them scaring the shit out of themselves either! There’s a fine line that needs to be tread here and I was grappling to find my way along it in the Brisbane moonlight the other night.
Thankfully, Baseball Bat Boy saved my ass.
“Hey!” He shouted from down the street, “what are you two doing? I’m getting creeped out here all by myself!”
“Okay!” I hollered back, “we’re coming!”
I placed my hand in the small of my daughter’s back and gently nudged her along. There was no hesitation on her part but she was still looking up at the window. The very same window I always feel there is someone on the other side of – looking at me as I pass.
Later that night I dreamed of a house from my own childhood, a house I was terrified of. It was a beautiful old property surrounded by ancient trees and it had a huge, shiny green door with an enormous brass knocker. However, to my ten year old’s mind, it always seemed dark. Even on the brightest of days you could never see through its dark windows. I never saw a living soul at that house but always felt like someone was watching me as I walked by. Other kids used to take a shortcut through its grounds or climb its trees on their way home but me, never. I never set foot within its domain.
Was there something sinister there or was my fear of this house a result of my exceptionally overactive childhood imagination – something my daughter has in common with me. I don’t know but I do know this: whenever I’ve trusted my instincts in my life, they’ve never, absolutely never, been wrong.
And on that note I would like to wish you a safe and not too scary Samhain.
It’s been a while since I’ve been here and I’ve missed this space. A lot has been happening in the past seven weeks. I got to reconnect and spend time with dear friends. I finished my first full-length novel. I somehow managed to keep the balls of mother, wife and writer in the air. I watched my darling Billie, my little four-legged soul sister, come down with cancer and I had to make the impossible decision and let her go.
All in all, it’s been something of an emotional roller-coaster since I last connected with this space and to be honest I’m feeling a little wrung out. As regular followers of this blog will know, one of the things I most like to turn to when I’m not feeling the best is poetry. And as luck would have it, I came across the perfect poem to lift my mood this evening and I’d like to share it with you this Christmas Eve.
The Poem Of Snow
In the loud snowing space as I am waiting for my turn
I can see…
So much snow! Which way to go?
Skate on ice? I don’t know!
I can feel…
I am so cold even with my woolly hat
No-one can get this cold… but
I have my doubts
I can hear…
The last hot chocolate calling my name!
Outside I can hear kids laughing and giggling
I can smell…
The fresh new smell of the old barked trees
That smell is the best, when it comes with a breeze!
I can taste…
The sweet chocolatey taste of the hot chocolate as I drink
But as I come outside again I start to sink!
ALL THE SNOW HAS RISEN!
Oh, no! Oh, Yes!
This poem was written for me by my daughter last year and she presented it to me as a present on Christmas morning. It’s very much her and I love it! I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s wishing you a joyful and peaceful Christmas.
It was 1976 and Northern Ireland was a war zone and into this war zone came a little girl, with a newly discovered talent for mimicry, and her mother, who could best be described as having a writer’s imagination.
The little girl, her mother and the rest of the family had spent the day navigating checkpoints and unapproved roads, visiting family and friends and the little girl had stared open-mouthed as soldiers with real guns had interrogated her mother each time as to where they were going and who they were visiting. Barbed wire was everywhere along with an all pervasive tension that hung thick and heavy in the air like an invisible fog and each time they were stopped at a checkpoint the little girl could feel unseen eyes watching her.
The same little girl had a fascination with cars and loved the sound of the engine of the Ford Cortina MK II as it responded to the touch of her mother’s foot on the accelerator and zipped along the twists and turns of the country roads. She loved the smell of the leather and the feel of it under her hands and she loved the squeak that came from the boot every time they went over one of the many bumps, which drove her mother crazy but made her smile secretly to herself. And this day she realised the car she was so fascinated with made another sound. Every time her mother put the indicator on there was the most satisfying tick tock sound, like the loud but dull ticking of a clock. The girl loved the perfect timing of this sound and started copying it in her mind. Soon, she switched to mimicking the sound quietly to herself in the back seat. The sound was soothing and the little girl loved how she could reproduce it flawlessly.
Soon the family arrived back at the rural farmhouse they were staying in and the little girl and her siblings were fed and put to bed. However, this little girl always found sleep elusive and in the absence of a book to read she contented herself with practising the tick tock sound of the indicator. Soon she was fast asleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night she woke up and was surprised to see the reflection of a blue light flashing through the window. She crept out of the bed and peeked out through the net curtains. There were lots of men in black uniforms. They were different to the soldiers she had seen throughout the day but they still had that hard look in their eyes. No-one was smiling. No-one looked friendly. There were also soldiers a little further down the road. Soldiers and guns. They seemed to be guarding the entrance to the property. The little girl didn’t know what was going on but she knew when there was trouble, somehow she was usually to blame. However, on this occasion she couldn’t see how it was anything to do with her so she crawled back into bed. She resumed the tick-tock sound of the indicator and was soon fast sleep.
The next morning she found her father fixing things on the car. She thought this odd as she hadn’t realised there was anything wrong with it. She mused to herself that maybe he was looking for the mysterious squeak. Her father didn’t speak to her. Next she met her great-aunties, Nora and Kate. They looked at her curiously and Kate even smiled but they didn’t speak to her. Then she met her mother and her mother didn’t have to speak, the little girl knew from the thunderous look on her mother’s face that she was in trouble on an epic scale.
The little girl stood there waiting for the storm of her mother’s fury to hit.
“You,” her mother stuttered, “you.”
The little girl found it strange how her mother didn’t seem capable of talking. Word failure was not a problem her mother suffered from.
She was also breathing hard as if trying to control herself and the little girl was reminded of a dragon and half expected to see smoke coming from her mother’s nostrils.
“You,” she choked out the word, “do you have any idea of the trouble you caused here last night?”
The little girl thought back to the men dressed in black uniforms and the soldiers but couldn’t for the life of her figure out how any of that had anything to do with her. However, judging from the look on her mother’s face, her life very much depended on figuring her connection to these events out.
“N…o….” she replied, cautiously. Very cautiously.
Her mother took a step towards her and she quickly took a few back.
“You only had half the police force and the bomb squad out here last night, you little witch. You and your weird little noises.”
Realisation was starting to dawn on the little girl…..
Her mother narrowed her eyes.
“If I ever catch you making your weird little noises again, I’ll kill you myself,” she exclaimed as her hands clenched into a pair of fists and unclenched again, as if she was seriously trying to control the urge to carry out that threat immediately.
The little girl didn’t understand how sounding like an indicator from a car could cause such trouble but she thought better of sharing this with her mother. Instead she slinked off in the direction of the nearest field and decided to see if she could figure out how to talk cow instead. It seemed like a much safer option.
The little girl was, of course, me and this is a memory from my childhood that I had completely forgotten about until I saw the photos of Ahmed Mohammed being led away in handcuffs from his school in Texas.
Back in 1976 in Northern Ireland the main detonation device for the many improvised bombs was a clock. On hearing an unidentified ticking sound, my mother called the authorities who thankfully didn’t arrest me when they discovered I was the source!
Poor Ahmed wasn’t so lucky but if it’s any consolation to him I’m sure his techie talents will see him go on to have a stellar engineering career, which is more than can be said for a gift for mimicry which got me absolutely nowhere.