Scotty’s Soap Box: Halloween Special

Now is the time of year our streets will be teaming with youngsters, all wearing costumes and face paint, marauding through the local community, angrily making their demands. No, I’m not talking about the next protest from Extinction Rebellion; I’m referring, of course, to Halloween.

I’m baffled as to why it seems to be such a big deal these days? I think it’s the closest us Brits get to having an affinity with the Americans, apart from our growing obesity problem and embarrassment with our political leaders. It’s a major feature on the calendar now. The kids get excited like it’s Christmas and it nearly rivals Easter when it comes to the calorie count.

When I was a kid back in the 1980s Halloween wasn’t even a thing. I can only remember going trick or treating a few times. The first time was when I was about three years of age, a mere amateur in the game. My parents took a photo of the occasion. I was there sporting a massive black bin bag, with skeleton bones crudely drawn on the front in Tippex. I looked like a walking ISIS flag. I was wearing my father’s wellingtons as they were black and presumably, my Fireman Sam ones didn’t have the required scare factor. I was sat in my Batman go-kart and my poor dad was pulling me around the streets with a rope. I think I was the only Trick or Treater to be chauffeur-driven.

The second time I was about 12, which in trick or treater years is approaching retirement. I was with a friend and went trick or treating around his estate. It was a strange night. The only people to answer the door were his parents, his grandma and one of his highly religious neighbours, who gave us a little note of some bible scripture, warning us against dabbling with the occult. My mate ate it as he thought it might be some sugar paper, it wasn’t but he’s now a fully qualified vicar so it was certainly laced with something.

They even have zombie walks through town centres now. Hundreds of people, walking with a vacant stare, moaning and groaning. I’ve seen it in Nottingham many times, although not exclusively on Halloween.

I often wonder if trick or treating is different in really posh areas. The kids would probably only be able to do two houses as it would take half an hour to walk up the driveways. They’d all be dressed in designer Halloween costumes, a little off the shoulder gothic number by Gucci, with a swan slung over each shoulder and they wouldn’t say trick or treat, it would be “Hoodwink or delicacy?”

Unless it’s Green and Blacks 80% organic fairtrade chocolate, they’d not accept it and the tricks would be a little different too, something more in-keeping with the area. “I say sir, haven’t you heard, house prices here are set to plummet by 5%!”

I have two children, nine and three, strange names but easy to remember. They both love Halloween. At my eldest daughters’ school last year for Halloween they were allowed to go in fancy dress, she said to me, “Daddy I want to go as something really scary.” So I had a think about it and sent her as an Ofsted inspector.

We don’t send them out on their own trick or treating, it’s a different world now. So, we have to accompany them like a pair of weird bouncers. Waiting at the bottom of the driveways and mouthing an embarrassed “sorry” as they storm into our neighbour’s hallways to mug them of all the Haribo they have.

The street I live on really embraces Halloween, because the demographic is mainly young families. It started out quite low-key, a couple of pumpkins, maybe a cobweb here and there. A morning at Costa and a WhatsApp group later and its now Grand Designs meets Friday the 13th. It’s a competition in one-upmanship. We’ve got gravestones in gardens, smoke machines and spooky music on Bluetooth speakers. Last year one resident had the idea of putting a life-size dummy of a killer clown in the front seat of their people carrier. It was a nice touch until one child had a panic attack. I think they are still in therapy now.

I don’t know where this madness is going to end. I wouldn’t be surprised if my wife tries to convince me to bury myself in the garden, with nothing but a paper straw to breathe through. She’d tell the children I was working away and then on Halloween night, as soon as the first bars of Michael Jacksons “Thriller” are blasted across the garden, I would emerge from the soil like one of the Living Dead.

Towards the end of the evening, we tend to get the stragglers coming, to pick off the last of the sweets. These are the kids who are too old for the trick or treating game. The ones who have worn the tread on the tyres, jaded old hacks who should know better. The cut-off point is when The One Show intro music starts, everyone knows that. Once the pumpkin is extinguished it’s over. Yet they still come, all charged up on E-numbers, mobile phones lighting their faces like low budget ETs and hammer the doorbell. I expect the reason they were late is because some of them are old enough to be working at Subway and they needed to finish their shifts first.

The carving of the pumpkin is something I try to involve the children in. It’s a calmer, more traditional taste of Halloween. The kids try and carve, but ultimately, they get bored. They start off with such big ideas, “I’m going to carve Harry Potter’s face into this one Daddy!”, “I’m going to do a full-scale picture of Hogwarts in mine Daddy!” this all fades away at record speed when they realise how difficult it is to cut into and all we end up with is two pumpkins with a glory hole in them.

This years Halloween will be very different. I won’t be able to celebrate it as I am performing my tour show “Leap Year” (tickets available at www.scottbennettcomedy.co.uk/tour.html yes this is a plug) in Amersham, Hertfordshire.

Let’s hope that it’s a treat for me and not a trick where no one turns up. Or worse than that, one person turns up, in fancy dress as the grim reaper.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk Find The Scott Bennett Podcast on SoundCloud and iTunes.

‘Zombie Fungus’ Controls the Minds of Insects

It’s Halloween and there have been some spooky goings-on at the Attenborough Nature Reserve. Eerie ‘pig-like’ screams from water rails in the reedbeds, tawny owls hooting as they proclaim ownership of their woodland territory, but most scarily, zombies lurking in the undergrowth!

Whilst this sounds like the plot of a b-list horror movie, the actions of a fungus have made zombies very real at Attenborough.

Fungi are one of the most important groups of organisms to be found on the Nature Reserve. Over 450 species have been identified at Attenborough and most of the species can be seen in the autumn. Fungi do a wonderful job of breaking down dead and decaying matter, returning the nutrients back into the soil. However, there is a particular group of fungi which have a very sinister strategy for survival.

The so-called ‘Zombie Fungus’, Entomophthora, is one such fungus and the effects of which have been seen in the late summer and autumn.

The so-called ‘Zombie Fungus’, Entomophthora.

The fungus uses a special mind control technique to take advantage of insects in order to help it spread. Just one microscopic germinated spore (akin to seeds in plants) ingested by an insect is enough to infect the host with this pathogenic organism.

Once inside the body of the host, the fungus grows rapidly. Digesting its guts and internal organs. The mycelium of the fungus, a mass of branching thread-like hairs or roots, then spreads to an area of the fly’s brain that controls behaviour. The fungus forces the host to land or climb up to the top of a tall plant or tree.

The reason for this is that like most other types of fungi, the zombie fly fungus needs to get its spore-bearing structures as high as possible in order to complete its lifecycle. The higher up the insect, the more likely the microscopic spores are to get caught in air currents when they are released and will, therefore, spread over greater distances.

The final act of the fungus is to get the insect to assume a position that aids in dispersal of the spores. In the case of flies, the wings are held spread open and the legs stiffen to raise the fly’s abdomen into the air. Just five to seven days after becoming infected, the fly dies.

Fungus Hoverfly.

By this stage, the growing fungus begins to burst out of every crack in the insect’s armour and it becomes visible for a couple of days before the spores are released and the fungal spores ‘seek out’ their next victim.

Surprisingly there are over 70 species of this group of fungi in the UK. Whilst Entomopthora muscae is the most commonly encountered species and infects flies like hoverflies, others use a similar technique to affect mosquitoes, ants and even earwigs.

Why not scan through the path-side vegetation on your next visit to Attenborough and see if you can spot a ‘zombie insect’ for yourself!

TS

 

Motherhood: Halloween

In our house, Halloween is as big as Christmas. Costumes are decided during the end of summer sales, our amazing porch (tiny front window directly onto the road in front of our small terraced house) is decked in crunchy burnt-orange leaves, pumpkins and skulls, neighbours avoid us until mid-November.

Previous costumes themes have included Stranger Things, The X Files, The Walking Dead, and weirdly, Parks and Rec. This year we have decided on Fleabag as our muse. I’m Fleabag (of course) my husband, despite being 6’2 and bald, is the sexy priest, and our little girl is Hilary the guinea pig. We pride ourselves on having a 0% success rate for people guessing who we are.

Our little family are all huge horror fans. My favourite film as a child was the 18-rated Troll, which we rented so many times from the video shop that the guy who owned it eventually gave it to us for free because the tracking was wearing out. My daughter loves Goosebumps and is sniffing around my old Point Horror collection. My husband likes anything with fighting and blood in it.

We are natural Halloween enthusiasts. Part of the attraction for me has always been the subversive nature of celebrating a pagan ritual, a two-finger salute at religious holidays and a chance to run around in the dark demanding people give you stuff for free.

My fondest memory as a kid was of my parents unrolling bin bags and my mum getting crafty with scissors and sellotape. I was a witch every year for 8 years. When I was about 6 my dad took me trick or treating and told me to beware of witches lurking around corners, just as two unwitting students came around the bend in our road and through my screams of pure terror I felt that first rush of white-hot fear, and instantly knew that being scared was awesome. My daughter is the same. She will beg me to make her jump or tell her a scary story, to the point that she’s exhausted herself with screams and laughter. I’ll tell her stories of working as a scare actor in attractions around London, and of the people who fainted or threw up or begged to leave. It was the best few years of my 20s.

Whatever you do this Halloween, don’t be a scare-scrooge and avoid the doorbell. Grab a bag of pound shop sweets and tell the kids they look awesome, they will remember it forever. Or do what we did and set up a smoke machine in the hallway, and terrify the living souls out of the local children by answering the door dressed as a dead Mulder and Scully. You’ll remember that forever too.

DL

Beeston Beats: Halloween special

Hey, hey, here we are again for another fantabulous, Halloween edition of Beeston Beats, lovingly renamed BEAST!- onian (autocorrect please stop changing it to Onion), so what is on the agenda this month? Well, read ahead, grab a hot drink and pull a chair in, as things are about to get spooky! (Edit, not too spooky I
gets scared too!)

The season that I wait all year till is almost here; Halloween! Yes give me the dark unhappy season any day, you can keep mince pies, inflatable Santa’s and good old chirpy festive Christmas will, it’s all about the excuses for fancy dress, questionable gory themed alcoholic beverages and either embracing the age-old tradition of Trick and Treaters with copious amounts of sugary sweets or barricading ourselves at home in the dark until said intruders go and leave us in peace.

In fact can we please extend the ghostly season like we seem to have with Christmas? At August the dreaded Yuletide cakes seem to roll into retail shops, as do the Easter Eggs that appear as if laid by the bunny themselves on Boxing Day (true story). Imagine the outraged cry if silly masks and fake blood descended into local shops in June? In fact, the whole thing makes me wanna, well you know, turn into a soul-devouring demon. Before I descend into a full anti-yuletide rant here is my not so cheery, quite grumpy guide to events leading up to the unhappy season, Bah Humbug!

“Not a dancer? Fair enough, how about a giggle?”

By the time this publication hits the good drinking holes of Beeston the annual Oxjam Festival will have been and gone, however for those quick on the pulse there is the Oxjam Ceilidh at the Beeston Legion on Sat 23rd November, however tickets have sold out but fear not – another Scottish dance event is to be held at the Boat and Horses on Friday 22nd November, tickets are £5 no booking required just turn up, 8 pm start.

Not a dancer? Fair enough, how about a giggle? The Funhouse comedy club, hosted at Barton’s is on Friday 25th Oct and again on 29th November. £11 door tax, start time 8.15 pm.

No dancing and not a fan of comedy? Well Beeston has enough music to entertain even the deadened souls with Motown in the form of band The Northern Line plus Colin Stephens at the Victory Club on sat 26th, to Pop Classic covers with Peashooter at the newly refurbished Cornmill pub on Friday 25th Oct. Folk artist Jack Rutter performs at the Middle Street Resource Centre on Friday 1st Nov tickets are £8. More folk? No problem, Alice Jones plays the Commercial pub Dec 6th tickets also £8. The one and only Mr Kingdom Rapper takes on the Berliner bar Nov 16th.

There are also the twinkly shiny firework displays to look forward to for bonfire night, I shall be clutching a hotdog and the fine northern treat that is, minted mushy peas and uttering Ooooo and Arrrrr at the pretties. Lanes School are holding a Fireworks Extravaganza Friday 8th November 5.45 pm admission £4.

See after all those interesting events lined up, can we give Christmas a miss, you can call it my present.

LD

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