Net curtains the height of Halloween horror in the 70s
Expensive get-ups that would do a Hollywood special-effects team proud are a far cry from what those of us who remember Halloween in the 1970s went out trick or treating in, writes Leona O'Neill – net curtains were the last word in terror back then
I TOOK my kids into town at the weekend to get them geared up for Halloween. After visiting at least 95 Halloween shops – Derry, being officially the world's finest Halloween destination, has them in abundance – I went home significantly poorer and weighed down with wigs, face paint, overpriced comedy glasses, devil horns and cheap plastic pitchforks.
The next morning I got them all ready for their school parties. They left the house dressed to the nines and looking like extras in some manner of Hollywood horror film, complete with face make-up, flashy accessories and fake blood-stained attire.
It made me think about our own Halloween experiences. For if there was any other experience that beat a 1970s Halloween in Northern Ireland, I'd love to know. I doubt, though, that such a thing even exists, for if we did anything with class and style back in those days, it was Halloween.
There was none of this fancy, expensive-costume malarkey back then. Everyone was a duffel-coat monster. Horrible, cheap, hard plastic masks were the order of the day. They had a tiny hole through which it was almost impossible to breathe and minute eye slits which made it very difficult to see anything at all, never mind where you were going.
But when your mum asked, you said you could breathe and see just fine before racing out of the door with your plastic bag in hand.
Your friends would generally be turned out in exactly the same attire. But there was always one mum who had gone all out and cut two holes in an off-white sheet that had seen too many washing machine cycles and been destined for the bin and sent junior out as a bed-sheet ghost.
I remember a friend of mine had planned to go out as a duffel coat monster but was heartbroken after his dad sat on and cracked his plastic monster mask. His poor ma, who hadn't a spare bed sheet in the house to chop eyes into, took down one of the white net curtains from her kitchen window.
While warning him that he wasn't to get a mark on it or she would murder him, she put it over his head (and duffle coat) and, because it wasn't long enough to cover his whole body, secured it with a black curtain tie back around his chest.That child held his dad's torch under his chin the entire night, and was able to roll back his eyes so that they were all white. It was a truly terrifying sight. I still wake in the night screaming about it.
You'd run home with your plastic bag brimming with monkey nuts and penny chews and eat them until you were sick or your tooth fell out, or both. If you were lucky you'd get one of those packets of sweet yellow powder that, if you it drank with cola, you'd feel like your stomach was exploding. You swore to God that you'd never, ever eat sweets again. Or at least not until 7am the next morning.
And then there were the Halloween activities. Blatant, shameless and terribly expensive commercialism of the seasons hadn't been invented yet and we had no real Halloween-themed activities to attend and therefore had to invent our own fun.
Modern-day health and safety boffins would have had a fit over apple bobbing – the practice of dunking several heads in a big bucket or bath of freezing water to grab apples with your teeth. And God knows what they would think of all the Irish mas baking the 50ps into the Halloween apple cakes. And we'll not even mention the homemade fireworks fashioned from match heads and bolts.
These days it's all expensive, elaborate costumes that take months of preparations and thousands of pounds worth of fireworks exploding in the air over our cities. I'm no spoilsport, I love this season, but I'm going to bring a little 1970s Halloween into out house this year. Not the match-head fireworks, though. They belong to stay in the 70s, alongside the kitchen curtain ghost.