Life

Leona O'Neill on scary Derry days of old

They do Halloween differently in Derry, hi. Leona remembers the good old days before expensive shop-bought costumes, when young trick or treaters would be happy with a haul of monkey nuts and 50p dug out of their ma's special apple cake

Trick or treating was a much simpler affair in days gone by

HALLOWEEN is a really fun time of year anywhere, but you might have noticed that we do things different like round these parts – as in Derry.

Everyone and their granny dresses up in our city. You might get a taxi driven by Elvis in his burger years, be served in Sainbury's by a green-faced, silver suited alien or meet your kid's teacher in the town dressed as a busty barmaid from the 1800s.

Dracula might be at the ATM in front of you, while four Donald Trumps will be posing for a selfie outside the chippie – and no one bats an eyelid.

For weeks shops and online costume emporiums have been doing a roaring trade, selling cheap tat for extortionate prices.

It wasn't like this when we were kids. The 70s and 80s were a golden era for Halloween. There were no £25 witches costumes in those days: back then it was wall-to-wall brown duffle coat monsters and the onus fell on mums the land over to construct a costume that would stay intact for at least the time it took to visit every house in the street with an outstretched plastic bag and a pleading look on your face.

Net curtains were torn down from the kitchen window to create terrifying ghost get-ups and 50p masks, which made breathing or seeing virtually impossible, were order of the day.

Miniature Boy Georges and Madonnas joined tin-foil star fairies in their First Communion dresses and bed-sheet ghosts. There were stripy-pillow-cased shepherds giving their Christmas school panto outfit another run out and little boys who went to town on their mum's make-up set and weren't too sure who or what they were supposed to be, beyond messy.

There were the kids of trade unionists dressed as striking nurses or miners and there were the boys who used two toilet rolls and a bit of Sellotape to replicate the undead.

There were the lads into CGI who shone a torch under the chin when they knocked on the doors for maximum dramatic effect and got extra hazelnuts for their presentation and effort.

Then there were the posh lads who used their mum's red velvet hall curtain as a cloak and thought they were Somebody.

Black bin liners were a favoured attire of everyone from witches and nuns to zombies and bats.

No one decorated their houses back in those days. Shops then were not packed from September with LED skeletons, maniacally cackling witches or crooked gravestones that play organ music when you walk past them.

Back then there were the Halloween lovers and haters – the houses that happily dished out the loot and the ones who closed the curtains and pretended they weren't in.

Word soon got round the neighbourhood about a house that was peddling penny sweets among the standard nut fare.

In the days before health and safety was invented, monkey nuts and hazelnuts were order of the day. Every household dished them out until your white plastic bag was full to the brim with them.

Kids would go home and eat the lot, as well as the apple cake your ma would bake with 50ps in it and bobbing apples as well as the toffee apples.

You always knew the night was a success when someone boaked, an ethos many of us Halloween veterans have carried into nights out in our adult years.

They were simpler times then, cheaper times too. But as with everything, things change.

The kids' costumes now cost a fortune, some of them are akin

Hollywood movie standard. The kids' bags are full of sweets and we send thousands of pounds worth of fireworks into the night sky to round off the celebrations.

Although I love it – the parades, the costumes, the craziness and the fireworks – I still hanker for the days when the bed-sheet ghost, the duffle coat monster and the sweaty 50p mask ruled supreme.

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