Fakery is something we live with nowadays. Fake news, above all, dominates both politics and political reporting (if those are indeed two different things). You can tell when politicians are lying, as the joke goes, because their mouths move. Yet the specific descriptions – lies, distortion and propaganda – are seldom used by the media, which avoid making such accusation. As a result, the term fake news is now so commonplace that it’s had the effect almost of sanitising deliberate falsehood. It’s not actually lying, you see: it’s just fake news.
Well, at least our domestic lives remain authentic. I mean, our children may be addicted to virtual reality games in which they can shoot, maim and massacre others: but that’s only digital. Real-life home family activities are still genuine and wholesome. Take the forthcoming season (actually, it’s only a day) of Hallowe’en, a bit of harmless fun with spirit-scaring, perhaps even the transatlantically-imported Trick-or-Treat game, and some jolly apple-bobbing.
Yeah, right. Bizarrely, that one day has indeed become a season, commercialised to the hilt. Junior schools must apparently run spooky discos, small children must dress as witches or warlocks, frequently getting confused with Harry Potter-style wizardry, and a fortune must be spent on the right gear, masks, pointed hats – and cobwebs.
Have you seen the cobwebs? I mean, you can now buy plastic imitations of the real thing. Who wants fakes when we have so many of the genuine article? Since my retirement to the soft and warm South, I seem to spend my life hoicking huge webs out of our window apertures. I’ve even got a colony of web-spinners living in my car’s wing-mirrors, creating new entanglements faster than I can remove them. Nonetheless, from next week onwards its will be hard to get into any shop without braving its displays of vaguely satanic merchandising: black garments, wands, artificial spiders’ webs and… pumpkins.
Ah, pumpkins. Now, there’s an innocuous, old-fashioned aspect of Hallowe’en which is surely alive and well. You grow or buy a large orange pumpkin, cut the top off, scoop out the soft inside (which may or may not be converted into pumpkin soup, a dreary concoction without a lot of added ingredients and spices), carve a face with a toothy grin on it, stick a candle inside and… hey, presto! Stick it in the window or the porch on 31st October and you’ll keep all those ghouls and ghosts at bay.
We always used to keep them till 5th November when, by then smelly and rotting, they’d be flung onto the bonfire. When we still had family bonfires, that is, before it became easier and safer to go to a civic firework event where all Health and Safety matters are organised by the local Council. When they had the money to do it, of course.
The first time I did this job as a parent, some time in the late 1980s (when our daughters were very small), we were too late to buy a pumpkin, so I bought a turnip. That vegetable must have the hardest, densest flesh of any, and I blunted knives and spoons and cursed as I wrestled with the task. I don’t recall now how effective the result was. But, hey, that’s the nice thing about tradition, funny old customs incorporated into family life, most of the enjoyment being derived from the making.
If only. On visiting my local supermarket last week, I was horrified to spot on sale a pile of artificial pumpkins. Not candles or lanterns shaped somewhat like pumpkins, nor any of the other gourd-associated tat to which we’ve become accustomed, but actual plastic constructs designed precisely to resemble – indeed, to replace – the real, home-carved article.
I know. It’s the way of the world. And I must be fair: the same supermarket is now selling racks-full of genuine pumpkins. Nonetheless, it seems as if everything wholesome, organic and requiring at least a little labour is eventually synthesised and mass-produced.
Except beer, perhaps? Oh, if only that were true! Nowadays bog-standard lager is two-minute-brewed and mass-produced, completely fake in my view. Then there’s cleverly made (and actually rather delicious) so-called craft beer which blurs the line between traditional cask ale and chemical artifice.
But you can still get the real thing in any decent pub and indulge in an unspoilt centuries-old tradition, as I did this week in The George, an ancient coaching inn off London’s Borough High Street, once frequented by Charles Dickens and still free from anything fake, as far as I could see.
So I’m attaching a picture to cheer you (and me) up. Cheers!