The period that stretches from Halloween to Guy Fawkes Night has got to be the worst week of the year if you’re a parent of young children. At the time of writing, I’ve managed to get through one and have one to go.
I vaguely recall attending a few Halloween parties as a youth, but the custom of going door-to-door, threatening innocent householders with a ‘trick’ unless you’re given a ‘treat’, is entirely alien to these shores. Like other ‘traditional festivals’ that my children demand to take part in — Mother’s Day, the school prom — it is an unwelcome American import.
But that’s the least of it. First, you’re forced to buy all sorts of ridiculous costumes so your children can dress up like anti-capitalist protesters. Then there’s the inevitable argument as to which parent is going to be lumbered with the job of accompanying the motley crew on their rounds. After that comes the excruciating embarrassment of knocking on your neighbours’ doors so your children can thrust their plastic cauldrons under their noses. Finally, there’s the sybaritic finale in which the little scallywags gorge themselves on all the goodies they’ve managed to accumulate. That means having to wait an extra hour before you can get them in bed and uncork the first bottle of wine.
If only that were the end of it. Long after mine have gone to bed, there’ll be a knock on the door and some tiny little girl, barely any older than two, will be standing there, holding out her hand. Meanwhile, her mother will be loitering in the background, smoking a fag. It’s enough to make you want to call social services.
The worst part, though, is the teenagers. Every year, gangs of adolescent boys appear on our doorstep, sometimes as late as midnight, demanding treats with menaces. What’s so bizarre is that these youths would bother to go to these lengths for a handful of sweets. Shouldn’t they be out chasing girls or something? At their age, my idea of a good night out was a pub crawl with my fake id.
While I was out with the children on Monday night — yes, it’s always me who draws the short straw — Caroline answered the door to a lad who was taller than her. His only ‘costume’ was a hooded sweatshirt.
‘How old are you?’ she asked.
‘Twelve,’ he replied.
‘You’re not twelve,’ she said, laughing. ‘Nineteen, more like.’
‘You calling me a liar?’
‘No, no. What would you like? A gobstopper or a lollipop?’
Bonfire Night is even more unendurable. Here, the worst offenders are grown-ups who insist on letting off fireworks in the middle of the night, thereby waking up my children. It never ceases to amaze me that people can be so selfish. Don’t they know there’s a 9 p.m. cut-off when it comes to loud noises in residential neighbourhoods? Didn’t they get the memo? It wouldn’t be so bad if it was only one night a year, but as far as these yahoos are concerned ‘Fireworks Night’ is more like ‘Fireworks Month’. It begins a week before 5 November and extends well into December.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every time there’s a loud bang outside three-year-old Charlie’s window he wakes up with a start, convinced the house is under attack. After a few moments of silent terror, he then starts screaming at the top of his lungs, thereby waking the other three. No sooner have I got them all back to sleep, than there’s another blast and the whole process begins afresh.
After all this, it’s little wonder that Charlie doesn’t like fireworks. Problem is, he doesn’t want to look ‘babyish’ in the eyes of his two older brothers so he won’t admit it. Oh no. According to him, he loves the bloody things. Consequently, each year he insists on being taken to the spectacular £250,000 display at the local sports club — which costs me an arm and a leg, I might add — and then begs to be taken home the moment the first rocket goes off. Caroline gets to watch the fireworks with Freddie, Ludo and Sasha, while I have to run the gauntlet of pyrotechnical maniacs on Acton High Street. Nice.
I’m afraid I sound like a grumpy old man — and I suppose I am. That’s the result of having children. Everything I used to love as a child — Christmas, birthdays, holidays — I now dread because it involves a colossal amount of extra work and expenditure. Roll on January. The sooner we get back to mind-numbing routine, the better.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 5, 2011