I don’t mind rude letters, really I don’t. I don’t mind much, actually, which probably illustrates a fatal weakness in my character. But I do mind having eggs thrown at me. There I was opening my front door the other evening and, wham, splat, an egg was hurled in my direction. With unusual dexterity, I leapt to one side and the egg hit the door before squelching to the ground in a trail of yoke and shards. Then the culprit tailed it. But not before a noise like a gun going off shattered the now still darkness.
I bent down and examined the egg. Indignation rose in my breast. It wasn’t even free-range. Let alone organic. It was one of those battery-hen-laid-salmonella-infested eggs people buy for 20p a carton. If you are going to be hit by an egg, it ought at least to be a trifle more upmarket. Then I began to wonder who might have thrown it and why. Was it articles I had written supporting hunting and the right to wear fur? Surely not. An animal rights activist wouldn’t throw an egg — that would be murdering an unborn chicken. And there are so many Jewish ladies with minks around here that it would take at least 200 cartons to do much damage.
So I went back inside and started watching the news. Half an hour later the doorbell rang again. I debated whether to open it wearing a gas mask. A second thought had occurred to me. Perhaps bin Laden supporters were now using chemical egg warfare. I kept the chain on the door and peered out. Oddly, when people ring your doorbell they usually say who they are or make some sort of verbal noise. But there was silence. Then I saw two small persons dressed in black, crouching. Suddenly I remembered. It was Hallowe’en.
‘I’ve got some chocolate upstairs,’ I said brightly, in my best Mary Poppins tone. One of them replied rather aggressively, ‘We don’t want chocolate. We want money.’ ‘Will a pound do?’ I asked nervously. The children were suddenly looking rather large. ‘No,’ said the other. It looked as if it wanted at least £5,000. It drew itself up to its full height. It was about six foot. I slammed the door. The ‘children’ started banging and hammering on it. ‘Bugger off or I’ll call the police,’ I yelled.
So this is what Hallowe’en has come to. Where were the delighted little faces of six-and seven-year-olds, thrilled with half a stale Mars bar or some Smarties? Where were the cute little girls in witches’ hats like Tootie in Meet Me in St Louis, who could jerk the tears from Caligula’s eyes? The anxious and embarrassed parents apologising for disturbing your evening vegetation? Instead we unfortunate householders are faced with young hooligans bearing eggs and possibly firearms or criminal parents pretending to be children.
I blame the American gun culture. I really do. I know it’s a voguish thing to say — and I don’t blame it for everything (like domestic murders) — but I do blame it for ‘Happy Hallowe’en! Heeere’s Johnny!!’ More than anything, I despise John Kerry for being pictured with a gun. This line about the right of Americans to bear arms is always grossly misunderstood, perhaps deliberately, by the gun lobby. It was written into the Constitution at a time of turmoil, when a new nation faced external enemies. You never knew when some dastardly Brit or Indian might burst into your house waving pistols. But one thing it was not was a licence for Americans to bear arms and blast each other to pieces.
The Founding Fathers would be horrified by the number of gun shops in, say, Virginia, the home of Benjamin Franklin. Nearly every ten miles along the highway is some iron shack selling the most lethal-looking apparatus. I asked the friend I was with to stop the car in order to inspect one. A great big redneck behind a counter pounced on me immediately. ‘Looking for a shotgun, ma’am? Or some other weapon? No ID required.’ He didn’t even seem to care when I told him I lived in London. But perhaps he thought that was just south of the Rocky Mountains.
There was no pretence either that these guns were for shooting game. For no sooner had I turned down his sawn-off shotgun than he whipped open a drawer and produced a mother-of-pearl-handled pistol. ‘Fit just snug in your handbag, lady.’ I asked him what he expected me to do with it. He smirked and said, ‘Well, you never know.’ Did he imagine I wanted to use it as a sex toy? ‘Let’s go,’ I told my friend. The shopkeeper looked disappointed. He was so disappointed that he ran after me brandishing the pistol.
I admit it was a pretty thing. I could imagine it strapped to my stocking top. But knowing me, it would accidentally go off during a dinner party and shoot my host in the foot. More dramatic, perhaps, than throwing an egg. But it would still be the most appalling and unacceptable criticism of the dinner. I mean, a girl would never be asked out again. What would Nancy Mitford have made of it all? Indeed, what must our parents make of present-day Hallowe’en? I’ve changed my mind. Next year I’m going back to Virginia to buy that pistol. If you can’t beat them, shoot them.