• Henry Michael

Writer's Block 4 - Halloween

It’s that lovely time of year again when people are allowed to put on masks and threaten old people for sweets, a tradition I’d happily follow all year round, and it’s easy to see why the holiday’s so popular. A big theme of Halloween is mischief, and everyone loves a good prank; I often amuse myself by sneaking into Blackwells and hiding copies of A Child Called It under the section titled “parenting guidebooks”, and I have a friend who likes to order takeaway pizzas to Weightwatchers meetings. It’s also a great time of year to play tricks on close friends, as there’s no better way to get revenge on someone than by silly-stringing their house, with the possible exception of clipping a note saying ‘I have 4kg of cocaine stuffed up my arse’ onto their back as they attempt to pass through customs.

But there’s more to the holiday than mischief and intimidating the elderly. It’s also a great opportunity for fancy dress, just so long as you take care to judge the level of effort required: too little and you look like a spoilsport, too much and you can find yourself sitting quietly at a dinner party dressed as Bin Laden. I’ve found that it’s always a good idea to check ahead, as this can save much embarrassment at a later point. In my second year I humorously turned up to a Halloween social dressed as the Elephant Man, but then found out that we were actually going for a smart-casual meal to Pizza Express, and had to spend the rest of my evening convincing people in shirts and chinos that I hadn’t had a nervous breakdown.

Of course, a lot of people will remember Halloween for the games we used to play as kids. I’ll always have fond memories of bobbing for apples; at primary school, we used to amuse ourselves every year by fastening the apples to the bottom of the bucket with string, a light-hearted little joke which lead to the unintended mass drowning of half our nursery class. Another classic we used to play was the “get blindfolded and guess the object in the box” game, which our PE teacher used to set up for us in his office, with objects varying from a large German sausage to a pair of hairy eggs. Traditions like these helped define my childhood, and I like to try and keep them alive through volunteer events at my local youth centre; events like “Halloween film night”, where we get all the kids from the local area to bring sweets, dress up, and watch spooky films in the dark. Last week was The Human Centipede, and while most of the under 7’s have started to string together sentences again, I still can’t help but feel responsible for the ones who’ve needed counselling.

These days, the only scares we face are wondering what we’re going to do after university. I’m slightly terrified that after 4 years of medical training, the extent of my clinical knowledge seems to be saying “are you ok?” when someone falls over in public. I’ve also learnt all my patient skills from watching emotional dramas like ER and Good Will Hunting, and now rely on solving every problem by putting my hand on the patient’s shoulder and saying “it’s not your fault” over and over again until they start crying.

All in all, I guess we should be thankful for Halloween. It gives us a chance to escape from the real fears in life, busy ourselves with silly outfits, and carve faces into pumpkins without looking like we’re mentally ill. It’s also the only time when you can wear a Nazi uniform and not get arrested, which, truth be told, is probably a good thing, but will always be the reason why I relax more around now than at Christmas.

Letters to the Editor - This week: Moral conondrums

Dear Henry,

My girlfriend from home just told me that she’s pregnant. Should I drop out of university to be a father?

I’d play it by ear. Having a child can sound terrifying, but if Tamagotchis have taught us anything, it’s that babies require little in the way of attention or support, and can live for weeks in their own filth as long as you remember to praise them regularly. In fact, for people in Merthyr giving birth is often looked upon as a humorous anecdote, and usually means little more than rescheduling your Key Stage 3’s. I’d carry on with life as normal, but maybe remember to give it a name before it starts primary school.

Being a student, I can’t afford to shop anywhere other than the big supermarkets, but I detest the way they cut costs through unethical animal conditions. Who are the worst offenders to avoid?

Living on a student loan can make it very hard to shop ethically, but it’s important to take positive steps wherever you can. Tescos is famous for treating its livestock badly; to cut costs, animals are housed inside larger animals, and sheep are forced to spend 10 hours a day running their own abattoirs, everything from admin down. Meanwhile, poultry conditions at Lidl are pretty much the same as Guantanamo Bay – all the chickens wear orange jumpsuits, are regularly waterboarded, and one of the farmers is hired to creep round the back of the cages and whisper things in their ears like “chop chop” and “you’ll be kievs soon, you fluffy bollock”. The prices at these places may be low, but we must do everything we can to encourage more responsible brands, like Waitrose, whose animals live in the apartments from Centre Parcs and attend regular trips to the National Theatre.

How stupid would it be to write an entire article about the Chilean Miners, not realising they were attempting a life-threatening rescue that very same week?

Very. Only an idiot would do this.