Scary times and comic memories

IT’S not often that I become scared when I walk into a shop but it happened the other day.

I was filled with trepidation when for the first time in some weeks I was wandering around Asda in Stevenage.

Dutifully following my wife through the clothes section with my mind not concentrated entirely on the surroundings, I turned at the end of an aisle and was confronted by a horrendous sight.

There were amputated arms and legs lying around, and hopeless souls shackled in chains who pleaded to be released whenever someone walked close by.

It was a nightmare scenario which amply illustrated just how much we Brits have embraced the American tradition of Halloween.

In this country some years ago, the eve of All Hallows or All Saints was simply marked – if at all - by children (or usually their parents) hollowing out a pumpkin and putting a candle inside it.

But news filtered through from across the Pond that their US cousins were dressing up and taking their illuminated pumpkins door to door and getting sweets in return.

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Entrepreneurial youngsters saw an opportunity and began exploiting it. The first attempts were amateurish with some thinking that draping one of mum’s sheets over them would do the trick but they became more enterprising with time.

Home made costumes were donned and paraded around the streets on October 31. Retailers also saw a chance to make some money and they began putting Halloween garb on their shelves.

There was nothing much on sale a generation ago but now Halloween is the third biggest seasonal money spinner on the British high street, bringing in more cash than Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day, according to Tesco. Only Christmas and Easter are bigger events sales wise.

The figures are staggering. Tesco expect to profit from Halloween products to the tune of �55m, selling two million toffee apples (gone are the days when they were made in the family kitchen), 1.5 million fancy dress outfits and 1.4 million pumpkins.

This week, Waitrose launched its Sumo pumpkin, an 88lb monster which takes two people to lift and costs �25.

The Vatican was way behind the times when last year it condemned Halloween, saying it was based on a sinister and dangerous “undercurrent of occultism”.

I don’t think that means much to the kids getting set to go trick or treating at the end of the month.

An indelible memory from my childhood is of a comic character who was prone to falling over and made me laugh a lot. Back in the 1950s, the cinema was the place to be entertained and one of the biggest stars of the silver screen was Norman Wisdom who died this week.

He was a genius and I fondly remember him playing the little man Norman Pitkin who often tangled with his frustrated boss Mr Grimsdale.

Just the thought of him toppling from a ladder makes me smile. The thing about Norman was that he was forever in some sort of trouble but he had a heart of gold and always ended up with the girl.

It is no wonder that he was a cult figure in Albania where his films were the only ones from the West allowed in the country.