Tag Archives: pumpkin

Why has Halloween become the acceptable face of begging?

YOU’LL probably think me a party pooper, but I can’t stand Halloween.

Really, it’s not a ‘holiday.’ It’s an excuse to bleed for cash out of parents. You don’t even get a Bank Holiday out of it. It’s basically a celebration of expensive but cheap dressing-up outfits and even cheaper sweets.

But of course, the kids love it. They’ve seen the American films and TV shows that show Halloween as a great big sweetie filled night of pure joy, where their parents don’t just let them join in, they join in themselves. Bah. Maybe in America, but not in my universe.

Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of ‘proper’ UK traditions involving October 31. It should relate to harvest and the changing of the seasons, and in Scotland and Ireland they make you dance a little jig or recite a poem to earn your fist-full of Haribo, but still . . . bah!

Our Boys will testify, I’m a completely stubborn misery guts over Halloween.

Over the years they’ve all tried to persuade me that Trick-or-Treating is normal, and that I should let them wander the streets of Semilong begging for confectionery or threatening householders. It doesn’t work.

The few times we have ever foolishly opened our door, all we’ve been faced with is a couple of pubescent boys with their hoods up and the usual pallid complexion of someone who spent the entire summer in a darkened room on the Xbox.

But what the hell has happened this year?

Not only did we accidentally end up at Alton Towers over half term during ‘Scarefest’ (most of the screaming came from Bloke on a tiny rollercoaster), but Bonnie was given a witch’s costume, Billy became a Vampire, and the kids were invited to three Halloween parties in as many days. Argh!

There’s one concession I do make for Halloween, and that’s growing pumpkins. But as they take five months to grow, you do have to remember to plant the seeds back in sunny May or June to get them to a decent size.

I don’t grow them to eat – there’s a reason the American’s add a tonne of sugar and fat to make pumpkin pie – I grow them so the offspring can watch while I unskilfully butcher a face into them. Then they can light them in the kitchen until the smell of singed vegetables becomes too much to bear. (Putting them in sight of your front door only encourages the door-steppers).

Nope. I’m still not swayed to embrace my inner ghoul and pester the neighbours.

By the time you read this Halloween will be all over for another year. And I can start being a miserable witch about standing in the cold and rain at Bonfire Night celebrations instead. . .

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It’s not the size of your pumpkin, it’s what you do with it

Obviously my pumpkin is so large it didn't fit in this photo

IT’S harvest festival time. Time to raid the back of your cupboards and send your offspring off to school with a can of chick peas and a pack of cup-a-soup – preferably not out-of-date.

It’s a terrible thing, how half-hearted you get after throwing several children through the education system.

With your first child, in their first year of school, you’re brilliant. You’re efficient. You bake cakes for the fête rather than buy them. You turn up on time for everything, try your hardest to read with them every night, analyse their every comment about what they did that day and worry endlessly that you aren’t doing something right and are going to stunt their education forever.

Then by the time they start their second year, you’ve chilled out a little, realised that the staff pretty much know what they are doing. You get more into the routine – parents evenings, outings, library books, PTA events, the nativity – it’s been done for decades and it works.

That’s not to say you neglect your second/third/fourth children. Far from it. I loved Billy’s harvest festival assembly last week just as much as when my elder two boys took part in years gone by. You can’t stop yourself grinning, trying to wave at them from the back of the hall, and mouthing their lines when it’s their turn to speak on stage.

Billy’s enthusiasm for his class’s harvest festival assembly re-ignited my enthusiasm. This time, I wouldn’t send Billy with a tin of sardines for the food parcels for the homeless and elderly. I was going to send in a proper harvest. From my overgrown allotment. A genuine sacrifice for those less fortunate.

UNfortunately, harvest festival came a little late in the season, which meant the offerings weren’t exactly, er, supermarket-pristine. There were misshapen carrots, proudly grown and picked by Billy. The last of the (probably a little stringy) runner beans, a courgette, too many green chillies (put in a sealed bag marked ‘CHILLIES!’ to avoid any painful curiosity) and the piece de resistance, one of the three ripe pumpkins being saved for Halloween. Billy made me carry it, partly because he didn’t want to drop it going across the playground, mostly because it was heavy.

When I arrived at the assembly, I found myself peering at the stage, searching not for my gorgeous, excited seven-year-old son, but for the pumpkin. I thought, ignorantly, that it might be the only one. No, face it Hilary, other parents can grow things too.

My fellow mums tried to help: “Is it that orange one at the back?” suggested one. No, too wrinkly. “That other orange one? “That greeny-orange one with the pointy stalk?” No, I’m sure mine was much bigger. Oh, no, that’s it. Nothing special, nothing massive and impressive. Probably not enough for a decent vat of soup at the Hope Centre. I’ll have to do better next year. Or stick to the sardines.

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The not so Virginal Gardener

Many, many weeds

ALMOST ten years ago, as the Northampton Chronicle & Echo’s ‘Virgin Gardener’, I started writing about my new-found passion for horticulture, admitting my gross ignorance and frequent failures.

I was a mother-of-two and had just started to take an interest in the very small, but sunny garden at the back of our first terraced house, in Kingsley.

Forward to today, and I’m a mother-of-four with a slightly larger, shady garden at a terraced house in Semilong and an allotment.

The name-tag may have gone, but the mistakes remain frequent: how long does it really take to become a gardener?

When I started, the first issue that I didn’t recognise anything. I didn’t know the difference between annuals and perennials, what were weeds and what were seedlings, and I’d never eaten anything I’d grown myself.

So in that respect, I can tick the ‘done’ box.

Just being around plants, at nurseries, open gardens, in books and my own plots, broadened my knowledge more than I could ever have imagined back when I couldn’t tell a pea from a passion-flower.

These days I rather like going to the homes of beginner gardeners, being able to help them identify their existing plants and weeds. I might not know the variety, but the basics are there. And I can always check in books later.

I used to be embarrassed to ask what a certain plant was. Now I’m beyond caring about looking stupid. (It’s been proved). I can sow seeds that actually produce plants and take cuttings from ones I already have. It’s all progress.

It may take up a lot more time than I ever anticipated, but gardening is still thrilling for me. Really.

From the excitement of the first bulbs popping up in spring, to the crops in summer and even the cold, damp, digging-chores of winter, it’s an addiction.

The children have all grown up with gardening. The older two have wavered: some years they’ve dug and planted and weeded and waited and scoffed. Often they’ve just not been interested. The younger two have helped and hindered, but I hope they all grow up with that little dormant seed of garden experience waiting to germinate. They already understand where their food comes from, the life cycle of a plant, and that you should never touch foxgloves. Or aconitum. Or stinging nettles.

As the summer swings to a close (and we did have a good one this year) my gardens are looking a little tatty and neglected, but they’re still giving. A second flush of roses have started to bloom, the sweet-peas are still producing, and an unusual, non-climbing clematis, given to me some years ago by plantsman Jim Leatherland, is covered in tiny blue, highly-scented flowers.

Up at the allotment, the weeds are coming through in earnest now there’s been rain, but we’re still cropping lots of vegetables and raspberries. For a change, lots of other plots look as scruffy as mine as the plants yellow and fade. I’ve thrown about a lot of green manure seeds, phacelia tanacetifolia, on bare ground before the weeds take hold. They are quite feathery already and should look pretty, although their job is to be dug into the soil after winter.

This week I’m thinking about which bulbs to start planting, all ready for that first flush of excitement next spring when the whole exhausting, demoralising, time-consuming, intoxicating, joyful, wonderful cycle of gardening starts all over again. . .

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