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Leona O'Neill: Halloween's not what it used to be – where have all the bed sheet ghosts gone?

As Halloween approaches, parents are under pressure to purchase oddly specific and usually quite expensive ready-to-wear costumes for their kids. Leona O'Neill longs for the days when bed sheets and bin bags offered cupboard-ready Halloween outfits for sugar-crazed young trick-or-treaters...

Homemade Halloween costumes used to be perfectly acceptable

HALLOWEEN is a big deal around Derry. From as far back as I remember, while the rest of the country was not paying much attention to the spooky season, us Derry ones were rooting in the airing cupboard for bed sheets to use as costumes, saving up for those scary plastic face masks and stockpiling plastic bags for our loot.

Things have evolved somewhat from when I was a girl. There's less emphasis on DIY and more on buying a costume, the more elaborate the better. My daughter decided this year she wanted to dress up as a character from a computer game – whose name I have already forgotten – and we went searching for this very specific inflatable costume on Saturday.

After an extensive and exhausting search of Derry's maybe 20 Halloween shops, we gave up and decided coffee was needed to fashion a plan B. I threw ideas at her and she shot them down.

"I don't want to be a witch."

"A zombie? No."

"Nope, vampires are totally out of fashion."

Two years ago, when it wasn't an immediate health risk to go trick-or-treating, her brother went for the traditional airing cupboard ghost look. Desperate to go home at this stage, I suggested that.

"I'm not being a ghost either," she told me, her head high. "I'm going to be Kim Jung Un."

Random. OK. But let's go with that. Yes. So if anyone knows where I can get a North Korean standard Supreme Leader Approved hairstyle cap, please do let me know. I'll be over here in the corner weeping, rocking, and wondering why my children can't just be normal.

Back in the olden days when I was young, Halloween wasn't so much of a commercial thing. Now, we have to buy the best costumes, have the best parties and adorn our houses with the best decorations, even Christmas-esque Halloween trees and lights.

Back then you'd be lucky to mark the season breaking your tooth on a 50 pence piece hidden in an apple cake. It was a one day affair, planned yes, but not dragged out since summer and costing a fortune.

I can't help but hark back to the era when Halloween night was wall to wall brown duffle coat monsters. When net curtains were torn down from the kitchen windows to make the most terrifying ghost get ups. When youngsters were tearing off their 50p plastic masks to get some oxygen. Where a child with a torch under his chin was thought of as a serious player on the CGI scene.

The streets were packed with bed-sheet ghosts and children of mammies who made minimum effort and weren't afraid to show it.

There were stripy pillow cased shepherds, giving their Christmas school panto attire another run out, and little boys who raided their mum's best make-up set to create a lipstick zombie.

There were kids with their da's belts over their shoulder and across their chest adorned with dozens of empty plastic bags who told you to shut up when you asked them what they were supposed to be.

Health and safety wasn't invented back then so plastic loot bags were filled with nuts, teeth-breaking, fillings-removing toffee, out of date sweets left over from last year that no-one wanted and those yellow crackly sweets that, if washed down with a mouthful of Coke, exploded in your stomach, leaving you frothing at the mouth and writhing in agony.

The pioneers of the future's healthy Halloween food would maybe give you an orange or an apple in your plastic bag, which was duly lobbed into the nearest hedge on your way down the street.

You'd go home, bin all the yucky monkey nuts and eat a year's worth of sweets until you were sick. The night wasn't truly a success until someone puked, a theory many have taken into the bars and clubs of our adult lives.

Oh Halloween of old, simpler times.

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