I am quite willling to deplore most of the dreadful customs that we British import from our colonial cousins in the United States of America. That is not to say that I am anti-american for almost all of my favourite music comes from those shores. However, the way that Halloween is celebrated these days has much to do with what I have seen on TV, film and in print as more part of American culture than British.
In particular, i find the growth of “trick or treat” over the past few years to be a very worrying trend. As parents, we tell our children all year about the potential dangers of approaching strangers, yet at the end of October each year far too many parents encourage their offspring to knock on the doors of houses and demand sweets with menaces. This then lasts into the following week as “Penny For The Guy” replaces “Trick or treat” before “Carol Singing” becomes the year’s final excuse to harass the neighbours.
Partly to avoid the irritation of the Halloween door knockers, but mostly because we have a huge amount of fun, Sue and I have spent the past couple of Halloween nights at Peak Rail.
This year, Sue went to town and made us each a brilliant fancy dress cloak in black with gold braid trim. It’s not too clear in this picture, but I also had a staff with skulls on the top and there were spiders and centipedes (plastic ones covered in glitter) on the gold coloured streamers hanging from the staff. I was also wearing a black woolly hat under the hood of my cloak which was rather more visible than I would have liked when this photo was taken.
Pretty well as soon as we arrived at Rowsley South station we were christened “The Druids” by one of other Peak Rail volunteers, although the children who came to join us on the train later in the evening immediately started calling me Dumbeldore; the Head Teacher wizard in the Harry Potter series.
After tucking into our tea of bacon cob and chips from Rowsley Buffet, Sue and I went to greet the children as they arrived with their families to join the train. Many of the children and a lot of the adults had made as much effort as Sue and I to dress up and the station platform soon became crowded with witches, zombies and other monsters. The journey to Darley Dale and Matlock was fun because we switched all the lights out in the train, to the great delight of the children and the consternation of some of the parents.
At Darley Dale, Sue and I left the train and joined a couple of professional actors on the platform and we all went up and down the train, peering in a windows and generally scaring the people sat beside them. My skulls had flashing red “eyes” which were particularly effective in the dark. Once we left Darley Dale station, I encouraged the children in the two carriages that Sue and I were travelling in to scream and shout and the atmosphere became even more fun in the darkened train. During our pause at Matlock, we put the carriage lights on while the steam locomotive ran round the train and again ventured onto the platform. I really enjoyed this, especially when one little girl poked her tongue out at me so I opened the carriage door and went inside the train to talk to her face to face; a face that became a real picture as I approached.
It was then that I developed my ultimate Halloween “chat-up” line that worked with children of all ages for the rest of the evening. I told the children that I was looking for a small, but chewy, snack to eat either with chips or chocolate sauce, clearly indicating that the child could well be that snack. I tempered the potential for frightening them by asking such questions as “were they wearing a stripy jumper” because stripes get stuck in my teeth and when I asked their names, I would say things like, “The last Kelly that I ate tasted horrible and I’m not eating another one”.
By the time the train left Matlock, many of the older, more confident children were going up and down the train using their own costumes to add to the overall atmosphere of friendly fun that permeated the whole night.
Once back at Rowsley South station, the first trainload left us, but the fun was not over because the firework display takes place between the two train journeys. This year’s display was as spectacular as ever, with Peak Rail staff member Rob Sanders and his team putting on a great display.
The second train journey was similar in format to the first, although some of the children did get a little over-excited. At one point Sue had to rescue one of the actors who was dressed as a ghost who was in danger of having her white wrappings pulled off. Sue threat’s to get Dumbledore to sort them out seemed to do the trick.
I must mention the decoration of the station and of the train itself. This was really spectacular. Jackie Statham, the railway’s joint Managing Director, and her small team of helpers do a fantastic job of staging all the railway’s special events, but Halloween night was a real triumph. The ramp to the platform is turned into a tunnel with spiders webs, skeletons, ghosts and an amaing avenue of pumpkins. It’s a great welcome and a fantastic scene setter for a wonderful evening.
I lost count of the number of compliments and thanks we received from families as they left the platform at Rowsley. I was also delighted that many of them said that they will be back for the Santa Specials in a few week’s time.