Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 29 November 2015

Sean O'Grady: Why I’m fighting a war on trick or treat terror

Published 31/10/2008

Every year we all have to fight our own little war on terror. And in this war the weapons aren't imaginary, and the people they are aimed at don't get anything like as much as 45 minutes' notice of an attack.

We're talking about ‘trick or treat’, of course, and as we all know, it is not half as charming as it sounds. In the name of Hallowe’en, whatever that is or was, children are given leave to terrorise whole neighbourhoods. You, too, may dread the knock on the door in the appropriately darkening evening time.

If you don't cough up then the little Talibans will throw eggs at your windows, push dog excrement through the door or deploy some other, possibly more imaginative, variety of criminal damage. Sometimes I think I've been caught up in a scene from the Saw series of horror movies.

Trick or treat. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Even the nation's paranoia about predatory paedophiles has failed to quell the rise of it. And now old people are being offered stickers to put in their front windows saying ‘No trick or treat’. Useless.

As with those pictures of a Rottweiler's head with the words, “I live here” alongside it, you might be better posting up a creepy picture of Gary Glitter with the legend “Gary's in, do you wanna join my gang?” as a possible deterrent, but I doubt even that would stop the greedy brats from their mission. Besides, you might invite a more lethal threat from the local vigilantes.

Trick or treat — in truth the mass commercialisation of Hallowe’en — is the nastiest American import since tobacco. I am old enough to recall when Hallowe’en meant nothing more than hollowing out a pumpkin, sticking a candle in it and lodging it in the front window, for no good reason. End of Hallowe’en story.

Nowadays every supermarket has an aisle devoted to the same sort of grim tat — witch costumes, rubber spiders, green slime, heaven (or hell) knows what.

This low-value merchandise plugs the gap between the back-to-school season and Christmas. Of course what hard-pressed retailers would really like is for us to also import the American Thanksgiving festival on the fourth Thursday in November being the ideal bridge between Hallowe’en and the obscene orgy of waste that is Christmas.

Maybe Asda, Tesco and the rest will try and persuade us that we should give thanks that the Pilgrim Fathers left English shores for the New World in 1620. For now, at least, we have to eat turkey only once a year.

Yet the damage that trick or treat does is year-round, and permanent. For it has turned an already tremulous population into a near terrified one. We are, let's face it, less willing than ever to answer our front doors, and the searing experience of Hallowe’en hasn't help us open up to our neighbours.

Along with all the other lamentable indices of a nation turning in on itself, the propensity to confront a stranger at the door has declined to almost hermit-like proportions.

I used to enjoy the appearance of a Jehovah's Witness or a canvasser from a political party on the doorstep, always finding them an entertaining opponent, what with their batty ideas and bad hairdos.

That treat is increasingly one that I, like millions of others, have had to forgo. I feel tricked.

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