Sugar Free Cereal Bars For Halloween??? Are you crazy???

Hollowing out a pumpkin – a messy and fastidious business and probably the closest I’ll ever get to brain surgery – anyway Mr Jack O’Lantern is now on the windowsill burning into the dark Halloween night. I can’t say he looks scary, more of a stupid smile …

Sweets are ready too – a big bowl sitting by the front door, awaiting the hordes of ghoulish kids that will soon come to darken our door.

I’d swear that sweets are getting smaller – in comparison to the chocolate or candy bars of my childhood, today’s offerings are tiny – or have I just got bigger? – of course I had to test the merchandise, so few chocolate bars went my way) chomp, one bite, two bites and they’re gone. Increasing obesity levels, rampant tooth decay and a massive hike in cocoa prices – the trend is away from large bars – but no kidding, the size of today’s bars … it’s a joke.

This year, I bought decent « branded » candies – I guess it is in a reaction to all those years I went trick or treating with my daughter and her friends – traipsing round the neighbourhood with a coven of kids in tow, in search of candies – and some people occasionally gave decent sweets, but the result was often crap – cheap candies with near-sounding brand names, from the discount supermarket or the leftover sweets from last year – it doesn’t seem right to have to look at the « use-by » dates on the candy wrapper before your kids can eat it. And what is worse than last year’s Halloween candies? Why, the box of cheap chocolates you got as a gift at Christmas but never got round to eating – stale chocks with « white » surface markings, loaded into your kid’s

Halloween bucket by some seedy-looking old guy – has he washed his hands? DO NOT EAT THAT! You scream at the kids.

There were those Halloween’s of old when I would buy the sweets and then « plant » them with neighbours in the afternoon.

« Oh, the lady at number 21 gave us looooaaaaads of coooool sweets, » my daughter and her fellow witches and wizards would enthuse through mouths full of chewy toffees and bubble gum. (Yeah kids, but that’s only ‘cos dad planted them with the neighbours this afternoon.)

My Halloween nightmare was the lady giving out sugar free cereal bars – what the hell, this is Halloween! A fistful of marshmallows ain’t going to get my daughter tipping the scales.

Okay, I can see some ghosts floating down the drive, better go and fill them full of candies.

Happy Halloween readers.

The Leaf, the Witch and the Hedgehog (A “neighborly” autumn tale)

The old lady across the road stares at me with autumn acrimony, holding me in her leafy gaze as I turn into my driveway. Like an old witch she shakes her broom at me and utters a seasonal curse. She used to scare me, now I know she is just totally mad – the madness of having time on your hands and very little to worry about. Some people call it retirement.

It’s all about leaves, my leaves, or those that fall from the maple tree in my front garden – the branches overhang the street and … in summer the old lady parks her car, on my side of the street, under my tree, under the vast leafy canopy that offers shady respite from the warm sun.

In autumn she leaves notes in my letterbox asking me to perform a « neighbourly gesture » and sweep up the leaves.

« All your leaves end up on my side of the street and they blow into my garden, and I’m too old to sweep them up. »

She is happy enough about her summer parking space, but when leaves fall in the fall.

Occasionally she sweeps the leaves from her side of the street back over to my side of the street, but they all blow back to her side, so she started sweeping the leaves into my front garden and then – in an escalation of « leaf wars », she would bag up the leaves from my tree that had fallen into her garden and come to dump them in my garden.

So, I raked and swept and shredded and filled my composter until it choked, then I picked up, bagged up and loaded up the car with bags of leaves to take to the local garden dumpster, and I returned home to find more leaves and I returned home to find the old witch sweeping up leaves, cursing as the wind whirled up and blew away the piles of leaves she had so carefully heaped up, ready for despatch into my garden. She cursed the wind again, angrily shaking her broom at the sky. I thought about saying hello, but she just flew off.

I did my neighbourly duty and swept and raked and shredded again and decided to call it a day when the day called it night and the sun slowly yawned, swallowing the light and the kind of dusty autumn dusk hazed in.

Bags and more bags and nowhere to store them and an evil idea comes to mind – to creep out in the middle of the night and hump my bags across the street and empty them over the witch’s fence. That is cruel, and with Halloween upon us, this is no time to upset anyone endowed with dark magical powers

So, as every year, leaves and more leaves, composted, shredded, bagged up and disposed of, save those last leaves – piled up at the end of my garden. A place of winter « residence » for our visiting hedgehogs. They nestle down deep in the leafy mountain and have done so every winter for the last ten years

Pea Soup and Sacrifice (and shopping)

PEA SOUP

« F*** me, it’s a real pea souper this morning. Can’t even hardly see to the end of the garden. Far too dangerous to drive to work, might as well say at home. »

In translation

There is a thick fog this morning and visibility is very poor, down to only a few metres, thus making driving conditions far too danegrous. It would be far safer to say at home rather than risk the journey to work.

IF I CAN’T SEE, I CAN’T GO

My wife reminds me that I work within easy walking distance and can therefore go to the daily grind on foot.

« And what if it’s not there when I get there ? »

A bemused look from my better half, so I explain my theory of only being able to work in paleces that I can see

« I mean if the fog is so thick and visibility so bad that I can’t actually see where I work how can I go to work … if I can’t see where I work … »

The theory isn’t working, and my attempt at fog humour fails miserably.

At work, my daily « check in » with the boss. He likes to see me everyday and it is important to be seen. What you do when you’re not visible doesn’t seem to matter, the important is to be seen, charging around with a fistful of papers and a couple of dossiers under your arm, vigorously shaking hands with colleagues adding that you haven’t got time to stand and chat, you have too much to do. It always helps when you tell them that you have taken time out of a busy schedule just to come and bid them good day. (sounds like the basis for a good internal comms strategy)

I try my fog humour on the boss

« Well I nearly actually didn’t come to work because I couldn’t see the building and I reckoned that if the building wasn’t there then there was nowhere to work. »

The boss rolls his eyes and stares at me like he’s missed to joke, unsure if there was one in the first place.

« Oh, English humour » he laughs nervously.

I WANNA LAUGH

One Brit amonsgst several hundred French, such is my lot. Not an unhappy one, though you do miss ex-pat colleagues to chat with and spark off. I can’t rememer the last time I had a ood laugh at work. Can’t remember the last time I had a good laugh at all. Of course it’s November, a month of rain, fog, grey skies, death, more rain, the start of the annual flu epidemic and the mad run up to Christmas.

IT STARTS WITH DEATH

November starts with death and death has its own day off – yes it would be too much fun to celebrate Halloween, instead – November 1st – All Saint’s Day – is a public holiday, no one goes to work, we all spend the day tending the graves of our beloved deceased, flowering up their tombs, cleaning a year’s worth of bird shit off the headstone and weeding the borders round the grave – I suppsoe the dead do deserve somewhere nice to rest in peace.

Nowadays though you don’t get so many folks spending the day with the dead – not because there are less dead people than before (though that génération that would systematically gavesit on All saints day is itself dying out) there are simply more shops open. Like the US and the UK, public holidays have now become shopping holidays and this November 1st holiday is the time when all the ation’s major retail chains launch their Christmas Toy fairs. YShop now to avoid disapointment, bcause the toy fairs all finish around mid November at which point toys are thrown ff the shelves to make way for festive food.

ULTIMATE CUT PRICE SACRIFICE

If you have shopped and dropped on November 1st, or even if you have totally missed out on shopping because you spent the day with dead people, not to worry, the next public holiday is just around the corner – November 11th – Armistice Day – when we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This most solemn of days has aso become a shopping holiday over the past few years, leading me to wonder how those who laid down their, lives would feel that they had paid the ultimate price, so we could get cut price in the spécial « Armistice Day toy sale. » – Great time to buy your kids a toy gun.

ONE YEAR ON

They have joined « the fallen » – those innocents who were slaughtered in last year’s Paris terrorist attacks. Victims of the war on terror or the war thet the terroritsts are waging against us, our values and our way of life. Their names will never be inscribed on any war memorials, but in many towns and villages all over France, those killed on November 13th 2015 were remembered along with the hundreds of thousands of French men who fell in World War One. Poignant wreath laying cérémonies for the dead of the Great War and then seperate wreaths for those who did not go to war, but simply went for a night out with friends in a bar or to see a concert. Those victims who lived wanting every minute of plasure to last , a world away from the slaughter of the trenches where you think every minute might be your last.

Death was already firmly placed in the national November psyche, as sad and sombre as the weather, but it was death from another time and place. There are those who might say that we are still reaping the sad harvest of the « colonial » seeds we sowed générations ago.

THE CALAMITY OF UNCERTAINTY

So, I want to finish with this thought – The calamity and uncertanty of the Trump presidential victory. I would like Mr Trump to take heed as this weekend in France we have paid homage to those who died in the great war of the great empires and those who have died from the results of modern empire building. We marking the centenary of the Great War, but with the foreign policy that Trump is proposing, we are a mère step away from reinforcing those old empires under different guises – Putin has been emboldened by the Trump victory, for sure Trump will be lenient on Turkey – the door is wide open for new Czars and Sultans and the door is wide open for new wars and new massacres . Just a personal opinion.

 

 

A Few Ghostly Thoughts.

No ghosts? Not even a fleeting phantom? Not even the slightest errant soul?

The tour guide shakes her head and “assures” me that the castle is not haunted.

You can’t have a castle without a ghost, that’s like Starsky without Hutch or Kojak without his lollipop (yes I betray my age.)

But I want a ghost or at least a spine-tingling ghost story about the castle. I am very disappointed. I almost feel like asking for my money back

This is France. The French don’t do ghosts, not like the Brits and the Americans. I live in the historic heart of France, there are chateaux everywhere, but not a single ghost

My town’s medieval centre is so thick with history, half -timbered houses and historic monuments that it is perfect for ghosts, but in the 25 years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard of a local ghost – if this were in Britain, there would be spirits, phantoms, headless noblemen, grey ladies, white ladies … all happily haunting away.

I get the feeling that it must be hard being a French ghost. Imagine after death, that you need a job as a ghost – well there are plenty of places that need haunting in France, but it seems that the French just don’t have ghosts – employment prospects for phantoms are therefore severely limited in France.

I often wondered why the French don’t have ghosts – sure they’ve got witches and demons and suchlike, but they’re not super on the supernatural. Could it be a religious issue? – this is a predominantly Catholic country and catholic doctrine doesn’t have much room for ghosts. The Spaniards and the Italians don’t have ghosts, yet the Irish have plenty of them (perhaps for the tourists).

A Frenchman visiting a chateau will not consider if it is haunted or not, yet on a tour of a British castle or Stately Home, the guide will always chuck in a ghost story.

So, next time you visit a French chateau and get a tingle down your spine – no, it’s not a ghost, it’s just a draught, and as for that murky apparition – your glasses need a good clean.

Seasonal Pumpkin Brain Surgery

Here is a Halloween post full of the philosophical musings of an aging dad. Enjoy and Happy Halloween.

Halloween? What’s that?

It’s the time when dad hollows out a pumpkin to make a lantern, and the pumpkin is always too bloody hard, and dad never has a decent knife and ends up using a selection of power tools and kitchen utensils and gets covered in fibrous orange gunge as he hacks away to dig out the inside of this most indigestible of vegetables.

I’m not a brain surgeon, but Halloween is that time of year when I come as close as I will ever get to carrying out major brain surgery.

In our house, the Halloween pumpkin was a true father/daughter moment.

When the offspring was too young to handle sharp implements, I was the magical pumpkin maker and all my creations, however bad would be welcomed with squeals of childish delight. No matter how crap the creation, we had a pumpkin. Of course, dad being dad, I would never bother to measure the area of the windowsill and I would buy the biggest pumpkin possible that was always too big and would inevitably fall off the windowsill and go crashing to a squelchy orange death in the garden below.

In later years (when the offspring could do all that creative stuff with a sharp kniffe without asking an adult), it was my daughter who made the pumpkin, and of course dad would go mad because she wasn’t making it the way dad would.

We’ve never been great pumpkin makers, all our efforts have been far too smiley to ward off evil spirits, and then, in this, my daughter’s 18th year – up pops an enthusiastic dad asking if nearly fully-fledged adult wants a pumpkin, to be greeted by a nonchalant and very non-commital « maybe. »

« Make one if it makes you happy, » says my daughter, who, despite her leck of pumpkin enthusiasm, is busy making herself a Witch costume to go Trick or Treating with friends.

I guess like all dad stuff, I have come to yet the end of another era, and now, unless I make pumpkins for myself, my next venture in seasonal brain surgery will be with my grandchildren (Yes I am sad.)

Trick or Treat

And so to the art of the Trick or Treat. Yes, this is France, where, until 20 years ago, no one had ever heard of Halloween. So, I remember back when my daughter was still a kid, I would run round the neighbours planting sweets and treats in the early afternoon, so my daughter and friends would have something to fill their baskets when they went knocking on doors.

You know, in a country where Halloween is not really a tradition, a successful Halloween takes a lot of organising; Now, though, my daughter is too old for this « kids’ stuff » and that dad/daughter rite is more or less dead and I am kind of sad, yet tomorrow night my daughter will be terrorising people for sweets – I still can’t work this out… you don’t want to make a pumpkin with dad, but you want to go Trick or Treating with your mates.

I now have a confession to make – I hate pumpkins. Over the years I have tried making soups and pies, and the humble pumpkin is just a « difficult to cook » and tasteless veg that gives you bad indigestion (but no flatulence).

And to the point of this post. What is Halloween?

A good marketing opportunity for toy retailers to glean a few extra pennies before Christmas really begins.

Being Dead – A job for life

A chance for the Dead to have a night off – because we are celebrating that porous moment where those in Purgatory come back to haunt us and we also celebrate the dead. So why shouldn’t dead people have a party and a day off? You are dead for a very long time, so a day off being dead is a very good idea. We all take a day off work from time to time, so why shouldn’t the dead get a day off work as well? Actually if being dead was a real job ???? I suppose the wages would be quite low and you certainly would not have the very complex question of retirement and pensions. Being dead is a job for life.

Time to leave you for Halloween as I go downstairs to make my own pumpkin.

 

Looking For the Cheap Sweets

‘Tis a time to venture into those dark, forgotten places in search of long lost treasures.

‘Tis time to journey to the furthest corners of your kitchen cupboards in a quest for last year’s Halloween sweets.

unknown

The back of the kitchen cupboard – the land that time forgot. Welcome to the weevily of well-meant organic flour, wild rice, the polenta purgatory, the organic graveyard – all those well-intentioned « go healthy » products, purchased on the back of a short-lived New Year’s resolution.

Welcome to the world of the rusty tin – the soup stockpile, tin upon tin of Campbell’s and Heinz. Why did you buy so many? Were you expecting a nuclear war or was it just –« can’t be bothered to cook tonight, I’ll just heat up a soup in the microwave, » and you ended up sending out for a pizza.

Past the weevil colony, round the tin mountain, I’ve resorted to shining a torch into the darkest corners still looking for those sweets. Yes, this would be a good time to have a clear out, but that takes too much effort, I’ll just balance precariously on this chair and « shift » tins and packets around until …

Where are those sweets? Of course I haven’t eaten them. I know I’ve got a sweet tooth, but even in the worst moments of chocolate cold turkey, I would not eat the cheap, nasty sweets I bought for last year’s Halloween.

I need to check that hey haven’t passed their « use by » date, before I go giving them to the hordes of evil souls who will come banging on my door at the dead of night demanding treats of me.

« Pay up or else » rasps the little girl, lisping through a gap in her front teeth.

« Or else what? » I reply

« Erm … » the little girl looks up at the adult, accompanying the party of assorted Halloween hybrids standing on my doorstep. A couple of Draculas, a Frankenstein’s monster, two kids in « Scream » masks brandishing long plastic knives, and a couple of boys sporting crew cuts and tracksuits, they couldn’t be bothered to dress up. No need, they look pretty evil just they way they are.

The adult looks at me with a bemused sheepish smirk.

« Trick or treat » he bleats

The two crew cut kids give me the evil eye. I can hear their voices resonating in my head. « Give us some sweets or we’ll scratch the paintwork on your car and drop dog shit through your letter box. »

I get the message and give each kid a carefully pre-prepared sachet of « quality sweets » – containing chocs, chews, gobstoppers, bubblegum – all reputable brands – no cheap crap and not a toffee in sight.

Yeah, I used to be a nice guy on Halloween, giving out quality candies – not the cheap ones that glue your jaws together and contain so many chemical colourings that they will turn kids into walking biohazards. But that was way back when the good folk of France actually bothered to celebrate Halloween ; That was way back when my own daughter would be out trick a treating with her mates. I used to see the absolute crap that she’d bring home and resolved to only give out decent sweets, in the hope that my daughter might one day get the same from a like-minded dad.

My daughter grew up, and over the years the Halloween fad fizzled out like a damp candle in a Jack O’ Lantern, nevertheless there were still Halloween diehards, so I’d keep a pack of « cheap sweets » to give passing demons a fistful of something resembling goodies. And the last year, not a single ghost or ghoul came to haunt my portal, so the unopened sweets got slung to the back of the kitchen cupboard with the thought that « those things are so full of chemical additive and colourings, they must be good forever. »

Guess I’ll just have to head on out t the supermarket and stock up on a few treats, and this time, I might just buy some decent ones. If the Grim Reaper doesn’t come looking for sweets tonight, then I might just eat them myself.

 

 

Seasonal Pumpkin Brain Surgery

Here is a Halloween post full of the philosophical musings of an aging dad and plenty of spelling mistakes. Enjoy and Happy Halloween.

Halloween? What’s that ?

It’s the time when dad hollows out a pumpkin to make a lantern, and the pumpkin is always too bloody hard, and dad never has a decent knife and ends up using a selection of power tools and kitchen utensils and gets covered in fibrous orange gunge as he hacks away to dig out the inside of this most indigestible of vegetables.

I’m not a brain surgeon, but Halloween is that time of year when I come as close as I will ever get to carrying out major brain surgery.

In our house, the Halloween pumpkin was a true father/daughter moment.

When the offspring was too young to handle sharp impliments, I was the magical pumpkin maker and all my creations, however bad would be welcomed with squeals of childish delight. No matter how crap the creation, we had a pumpkin. Of course, dad being dad, I would never bother to measure the area of the windowsill and I would buy the biggest pumpkin possible that was always too big and would inevitably fall off the windowsill and go crashing to a squelchy orange death in the garden below.

In later years (when the offspring could do all that creative stuff with a sharp kniffe without asking an adult), it was my daughter who made the pumpkin, and of course dad would go mad because she wasn’t making it the way dad would.

We’ve never been great pumpkin makers, all our efforts have been far too smiley to ward off evil spirits, and then, in this, my daughter’s 18th year – up pops an enthusiatsic dad asking if nearly fully-fledged adult wants a pumpkin, to be greeted by a nonchalant and very non-commital « maybe. »

« Make one if it makes you happy, » says my daughter, who, despite her leck of pumpkin enthusiasm, is busy making herself a Witch costume to go Trick or Treating with friends.

I guess like all dad stuff, I have come to yet the end of another era, and now, unless I make pumpkins for myself, my next venture in seasonal brain surgery will be with my grandchildren (Yes I am sad.)

Trick or Treat

And so to the art of the Trick or Treat. Yes, this is France, where, until 20 years ago, no one had ever heard of Halloween. So, I remember back when my daughter was still a kid, I would run round the neighbours palnting sweets and treats in the early afternoon, so my daughter and friends would have something to fill their baskets when they went knocking on doors.

You know, in a country where Halloween is not really a tradition, a successful Halloween takes a lot of organising ; Now, though, my daughter is too old for this « kids’stuff » and that dad/daughter rite is more or less dead and I am kind of sad, yet tomorrow night my daughter will be terrorising people for sweets – I still can’t work this out… you don’t want to make a pumpkin with dad, but you want to go Trick or Treating with your mates.

I now have a confession to make – I hate pumpkins. Over the years I have tried making soups and pies, and the humble pumpkin is just a « difficult to cook » and tasteless veg that gives you bad indigestion (but no flatulence).

And to the point of this post. What is Halloween ?

A good marketing opportunity for toy retailers to glean a few extra pennies before Christmas really begins.

Being Dead – A job for life

A chance for the Dead to have a night off – because we are celebrating that porous moment where those in Purgatory come back to haunt us and we also celebrate the dead. So why shouldn’t dead people have a party and a day off? You are dead for a very long time, so a day off being dead is a very good idea. We all take a day off work from time to time, so why shouldn’t the dead get a day off work as well?  Actually if being dead was a real job ???? I suppose the wages would be quite low and you certainly would not have the very complex question of retirement and pensions. Being dead is a job for life.

Time to leave you for Halloween as I go downstairs to make my own pumpkin.