My Attempt at Explaining Trick-or-Treating

Even though trick-or-treating has become more common in the U.K., it is far from the well-established tradition that it is in the United States.  I remember when I was stationed in the Air Force in the early 90s and having a conversation about it with my Ministry of Defense colleague.  She could not see the point of children going door-to-door threatening strangers for sweets.  From that perspective, it does sound quite weird, doesn’t it?

However, I loved trick-or-treating when I was little, and I love it even more as a mom when I take the Sprog out with her friends and seeing her feel the same joy I felt.  Of course, the payoff is in the candy, since I understand sugar on a deeper level than most mortals.  It is just as much about the atmosphere of autumn, the dressing up and playing make-believe, the giggling with your pals, and the thrill of the hunt.  It’s running into a classmate and having her tell you, “Hey, go to number 62 around the corner!  They have full-sized Twix bars!”  Sweet!  In more ways than one!  It’s finding your older brother TPing the gym teacher’s house and his hissing at you, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”.  You will figure out how many Milky Ways he has to cough up later to buy your silence.  (Not an autobiographical story.)  It’s the test of endurance.  How far are you willing to walk to fill up a pillowcase of tooth rotting glory?  And woe betide the house who distributed apples!

Much is made about safety concerns regarding trick-or-treating.  First of all, the whole thing about evil sociopaths tampering with candy has been an urban myth perpetuated by inflated stories in the news.  Of course, since it was hard to disprove these tales in the 80’s, my dad, in response, had to inspect the candy before we were allowed to touch it and used his authority to have first dibs.  This was also the man who told us that Santa liked beer.  He is quite a smart guy.

To be fair, it is good practice to look over the candy anyway just to throw out the ones that are choking hazards for the little ones and the sweets with open wrappers.

Secondly, you go trick-or-treating where you feel comfortable with the people and safety levels, and chances are, it is your neighborhood.  If you do not live in such a place, there are usually community trick-or-treating events.  For example, in my village during trick-or-treating hours, the businesses pass out candy.  With the fun-size Snickers, your kid may get a coupon for a restaurant you have been meaning to try.  I remember on one particularly chilly Halloween, one restaurant gave away mulled apple cider (non-alcoholic).  And the police are there directing traffic and guiding people across the streets.  So the kids get candy, and the village promotes local businesses.  It’s crowded, but well done.

But can trick-or-treating go overboard?  Well, you tell me.  There are neighborhoods jam packed with families.  Buying huge bags of candy is a necessity.  I took pictures at my local Target to give those outside of our borders an idea of what we can buy to stock up.

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I think it is a fair comment that it can be a bit much.

Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one. By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one.    By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the matter of what you do with the candy after trick-or-treating. The good chocolate can be frozen, but there is always those cheap candies like American Smarties that are basically sugar and food coloring that nobody wants to eat. Into the trash they go. Then there are the pencils, plastic rings, tattoos, and other tat that will end up in a desk drawer or hidden in the back of the kid’s closet. Those will be found next year during a bedroom deep clean. So we know there is only one place the rest of the candy can go.

The office break room.

If the parents are going to go down, they are going to bring everyone else down with them.

And thus begins the weight gaining season that will last until we make half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.

In Praise of the Show, The Magic Roundabout, by The Boffin

If you grew up in England in the 60s and 70s, you had the opportunity to have been exposed to the most mind blowing children’s TV series ever, The Magic Roundabout. In the five minutes it was on in the evening, you found yourself completely detached from reality as if you had been smoking something you shouldn’t have. From the outside, it looked innocuous, with simple characters moving around a scenery of paper trees and flowers. The closest you came to being drunk before the age of 10, it should have come with a PG-13 certificate. When the BBC tried to move it from the 5:55pm slot just before the evening news, there was a huge backlash from the parents. This wasn’t just a kids show; this was CRT crack. The source of addiction wasn’t that it was a perfectly crafted masterpiece; it was because it didn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Even the most complicated roundabout to negotiate in the country is named after this beloved show.
Even the most complicated roundabout to negotiate in the country is named after this beloved show.
“Magic Roundabout Schild db”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Akin to the story of champagne, the show was originally French (a stop-frame animation piece called Le Manège Enchanté), but it turned into something amazing when they gave it to the British. The source of the secondary fermentation was that the British public’s grasp of the French language in the 1960s usually extended to shouting a lot. So while the French animation studio provided the films, dubbing was necessary in order to have it viewed by more than a few people in Footlights. However, the films did not come with the scripts, as they apparently would have cost extra. So instead of translating the video, they just threw out the audio track and started from scratch. Eric Thompson (Emma Thompson’s dad) was charged with writing a whole new series of scripts which, whether deliberate or the result of some heavy drinking down the pub, bore little, if any, resemblance to the originals.

The French cartoon was already a little off kilter thanks to the creativity of Ivor and Josiane Wood and Serge Danot. Thompson’s script’s technically fit the visuals, in the same way that chicken fried steak is technically breakfast, if eaten before 10am. Names changed; plot lines changed; and some decidedly questionable language was included. Regardless, whether he was partaking in the sixties one puff at a time, the results were outstanding.

In addition to traditionally inanimate objects like cannons, lamp posts, oil lamps and a whole plethora of bric-a-brac taking on personalities, there were some key characters who would be in each episode.

The main one is Dougal, a terrier dog who fortunately lost his outrageous British accent from the original version but retained his love of sugar lumps. Generally grumpy, he is typically the center of the chaos which is going on around him. Always wanting to get ahead, win, or be seen as important, the stories typically end up with his plans going haywire and him stomping off or sedating himself with sugar. Walking the fine line between cardiac arrest and diabetes, he was a role model for us all.

Other characters include Zebedee (Boing!) who is obviously a jack-in-the-box, without the box. If you could get over his prehensile mustache, ability to accelerate at several hundred G and achieve orbit, and intense interest in the only human girl in this microverse, you could start to question what his purpose was in the show. In fact, I am fairly sure that this was the model for Sportacus in Lazy Town. However, I am glad that the latter did not go around saying “Time for bed!”

There was a pink cow called Ermintrude, who sounded like an extreme form of Hyacinth Bucket and expected the whole world to revolve around her. Given her grip on reality, either she had escaped from an insane asylum, or, as soon as her relatives turned up, she was going to be introduced to some very nice men who would take care of her. Given most British children had at least one relative who fitted the bill, our laughter gave us an opportunity to purge some tension.

We also met a snail called Bryan who was almost always cheery, optimistic and generally clueless. The fact that he was pink, had a shell that looked like it was glued on, and wore a scarf and straw-hat brings up the question whether the idea came from a schoolboy’s prank. Basically, he looked like a dressed up penis. Bryan was always my favorite character, todger excluded.

Joining the crowd was a rabbit called Dylan (actually named after Bob Dylan) who was either high or asleep, sometimes both. As with most stoned lagomorphs, he tended to hang around in trees and say ‘Man’ a lot. As accents go, his was almost as far as you could get from Elvis and still be able to connect it to the source. Given his narcolepsy, his role seemed to be more one of scenery than story development (if there was a story).

As if they weren’t enough, tack on a train, who is never seen carrying anyone or anything in her carriages. A complainer at heart, she seemed to have no practical purpose, operated on her own timetable, and became unable to move as a result of the smallest impediment. As characters go, she was perfect British Rail.

There were also two main humans. The first was a young girl called Florence (the aforementioned focal point of Zebedee’s hormones). Her main tasks seem to be taking a passing interest in what was going on, commenting about her hair or apparel, asking Zebedee questions, and doing her best to maintaining some level of sanity. Given that her surroundings generally consisted of cows driving buses, dogs making films, obnoxious trains, walking violins, and talking snails, she too was probably destined for the looney bin.

Finally, there was Mr. Rusty who operated the roundabout. Not sure how they ended up in this world, but, given his confused and detached nature, I wouldn’t be surprised, if we were just watching Mr. Rusty’s hallucinations after having made himself an omelet with some mushrooms he found out while walking.

Unfortunately, due to the committees and focus groups which help chose today’s line-up, we will probably never see anything like The Magic Roundabout again on mainstream TV. It took a well animated show and that needed that extra something special. It was born out of a period where costs were lower; there was less choice (only 3 TV stations, kiddies); and there was a time slot which needed filling. It was the chicken and waffles of the BBC. Something that shouldn’t have worked, but someone gave it a go.

“Boing! Time for Bed!”

Weird British Children’s Shows Hardly Mentioned in the States

Please let me say these programs are not typical of British children’s television, so don’t walk away thinking that there is this mad conspiracy to warp kids’ brains.  What I am presenting to you is the odd lot, not the classics.  However, I have to be frank (as opposed to Karen); this is the nation that created Teletubbies.  So, I will certainly go into Jackanory, Bagpuss, The Clangers, and other excellent shows in another post.  In the meantime, we can have a good laugh.

The Chuckle Brothers – Imagine being continuously bombarded by Dad jokes and slapstick by a couple of dotty uncles your mom is forced to invite to every family cookout.  Welcome to the Chuckle Brothers.

Rainbow – Zippy, a brown sex toy with a zipper for a mouth; George, a not-seen-in-nature pink hippopotamus; and Bungle, a bear who dearly needs medication flanked by whatever poor human needs the work in television remained on ITV for 20 years.  It has retained a cult status, and you have to have some knowledge of the show to get some cultural reference jokes.  This is one program that does not translate well over here because Zippy is completely unlikable.

The Sooty Show – Another show that gained cult status, you either love or hate Sooty, Sweep (the dog), and Soo (the panda).  Personally, if you can get through the video without ripping your ears off from Sweep’s squeak, you are a better person than I am.

Jigsaw – The problem with this show is a character named Noseybonk, an appropriate name considering the phallic nature of the schnoz.  Nightmare inducing and confusing, I really do not understand the point of this creature.

Fingermouse – The BBC must have had a lean budget that year.  This show was a plea to up the license fee.

Mr. Benn – The premise of this cartoon was a middle-class gentleman in a bowler hat would just randomly enter a costume shop to put on an outfit of the day, pop through a magic door, and go on an adventure centered around said costume.  Looking back, The Boffin figures the BBC scrapped the episode featuring the line, “Here kiddies, come into the changing room, and watch me turn into a Radio One DJ.”

Bod – A silent, bald kid just walks around doing random things that make no sense.  Watch as Bod throws an apple up into the air and waits for it to come down.  Even his Aunt Flo arrives.  Seriously.

And parents criticize Dora and Diego’s lack of supervision.

The Boffin Family in a Traffic Jam

On the way back to the blueberry patch yesterday, we got stuck in construction traffic, as to be expected.  This was on I-94 in Indiana.  Those of you who know the road also know that it gave us time to admire the many billboards advertising attorneys and their services, mainly how they can help us collect money from the many ways we injure ourselves.

“Got your head stuck in a garbage disposal?  We can get you cash!”

Anyway, at one point, two drivers in front of us decided to lunge for the same empty spot and nearly collided.  Of course, since I remembered the Pauli exclusion principle which states that two identical fermions cannot occupy the same space at the same time, I had to speak up.

Me:  You know, there is this thing called physics.

The Sprog:  Yeah, other people use it.

The Boffin:  They were trying to make a neutron star.

Neutron Star Illustrated By Casey Reed - Penn State University (Casey Reed - Penn State University) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Neutron Star Illustrated By Casey Reed – Penn State University (Casey Reed – Penn State University) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, a full lesson on black holes and neutron stars for the Sprog ensued when she didn’t understand her father’s joke.

Like I said before, I live in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  This is the conversation every family has in the car, surely?

Those Who Can’t Draw, Take Heart.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
Pablo Picasso

I am sure Pablo would have made an exception upon meeting me when I was a kid.  It was bad.  It was awful. Looking back, I shudder.

Things were fine when I could just drag out the crayons and do my own thing.  Then people started with that whole “color in the lines” bullshit, and that’s when life started getting complicated.

All the art talent ended up within Older Brother #1, so I had to lag three years behind the reincarnation of Rembrandt while all I could offer were my lopsided clay pots and tissue paper flowers that barely stuck together with Elmer’s glue. I did go through an interesting art period through most of elementary school called the “Dog with People’s Faces” phase and was teased mercilessly because of it. Who knows if my parents still have any of the originals, but I can replicate my work pretty accurately.

Dog with People Face

So, all mammals’ limbs were basically platypi tails. True story: it was around this time that my elementary school art teacher, Mr. Kelly, quit his job and opened an aerobic dance/exercise studio. To this day, I am firmly convinced it was my artwork that sent him over the edge. You have to admit…a picture like that would make someone crack enough to wear leg warmers. At least, the connection makes sense in my mind.

So message received loud and clear. I sucked at art. I held my nose and pushed my way through the American educational system’s mandatory art classes. I learned to appreciate art as an observer, but not as a participant. Meanwhile, I remained envious of the people who could participate and participate well. I wanted to be like my big brother and still do sometimes.

But something interesting was happening of which I wasn’t aware. If I couldn’t resort to images, I could resort to words. So I would hide in our basement and scribble out my musings in my notebooks. (Hey, Mom and Dad! Now you know what I was doing down there all that time. I was writing.) And I started sharing those words with my group of friends by the time I got to high school. To my shock, they liked them. Whoa.

And what was even better, art was an elective, so I didn’t have invest any more energy into pencil drawings of bottles, so more time could be spent on words. Happy dance!

What I am basically saying is lack of talent in one area only gives you more time to pursue your talents and interests in other areas. It’s not a shortcoming within you, if you can’t do something well after giving it a fair effort. I know have to keep reminding myself of this all the time because I still slip into the envy trap sometimes. However, I get the feeling I am not the only one.

And the best use of Elmer’s glue is to let it dry on your hand, so you can peel it off. Hands down.

Protests of One

In the midst of the stories of the Fun Stuff She Did at Camp, the Sprog expounded upon a story she told us in one of her letters.  With full permission from her, I am going to share it with you today.

At dinnertime one day, the offering was shepherd’s pie.  Now, if any of you read my recipe post for cottage pie, you would know that is the proper name for the dish because shepherds don’t herd cows.  Shepherd’s pie is supposed to have minced lamb.  Well, we don’t take the Sprog any place that serves American shepherd’s pie because we have yet to find any place that serves good pub grub in the Chicago area.  And preparing a child for camp does not include, “Sweetheart, by the way, they might serve cottage pie, but they are going to call it ‘shepherd’s pie.  Just so you are warned.'”  For some reason, it does not factor in when you are running around trying to find bug wipes.

To continue on with the story, she grabbed her tray of food, sat down to eat, put a forkful in her mouth, slammed down her utensil, and exclaimed, “No! No! No!” Her friends wondered what was wrong, and she explained.  I asked her what they said.  Her response?

“They didn’t care.  They were like, ‘Whatever.’ But I know what beef tastes like.”

This is how I pictured her friends...happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war.  "Summer kids eat lunch - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This is how I pictured her friends…happily eating their food while my kid was ready to wage war. “Summer kids eat lunch – Flickr – USDAgov” by U.S. Department of Agriculture – Summer kids eat lunch. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

She ended up just eating her meal, although she initially wanted to refuse out of protest.  Then she realized she would only punish herself because she would just end up hungry.  We told her she made a good choice, and the American term is just plain wrong.  The best thing we can do is verbally correct people and not make a big deal out of it.

I understand how she felt.  In her mind, the dining hall lied about what they were serving.  She was expecting lamb.  She got beef.  And to have your friends not it get adds insult to injury.  We have all felt this way…the only person who sees the problem.  And when we point it out, we only feel worse when the rest of the group dismisses us.  She got more of a taste of the adult world through just a simple meal.

And this won’t be the last time she will feel this way, especially as an Anglo-American Jew.

But there is one small consolation.   At least our British relatives have proof that the Sprog is not completely Americanized.

The Girl with Two Countries

Parenting a child with two passports changes the game a bit.  It’s a constant lesson to The Sprog that yes, you are American, but you are not.  You are also British.  You will be living in a constant state of diplomacy as far as Our Special Relationship goes.  Get used to it.

The first parenting lesson one tackles when living in the United States is the matter of the American Revolution…you know, that little skirmish.  Fortunately, having a mom who has her bachelor’s in American History is a bonus.  I was able to explain how the colonial population was equally divided over the matter and the subtler nuances of the story where the sun did not completely shine out of the Founding Fathers’ behinds.  It made for a more informed child and a father who felt less inadequate.

Painting of the surrender at Yorktown, not because I wanted to rub it in.  I just needed a picture.  Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Painting of the surrender at Yorktown, not because I wanted to rub it in. I just needed a picture. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

But it goes beyond revisionist history.  As of this writing, the U.K. is part of the European Union, so legally, she can work or study in any of the E.U. countries.  In contrast, many of the people who live in my area are Chicago natives and expect their children to go to college fairly close by and probably settle near home.  While The Boffin and I are preparing The Sprog for life, we have to be cognizant that she may choose to live thousands of miles from us in another nation, just like her father chose to do with his family.

So any urges we have to put her in a box to protect her from the Big Bad World has to be crushed with a sledgehammer because we would not be doing her any favors.  We have to gradually give her more age-appropriate responsibilities and hope we are doing the right things.  And we can’t forget the importance of foreign languages.  Hebrew is on the docket now, but Spanish is coming this fall.

But how can we prepare her for the fact that even though she may be legally able to be in Europe, the moment she opens her mouth, some people will automatically brand her as “less than”?  The Ugly American.  The Embodiment of What is Wrong with the World.  Fortunately, far more people are kind and open-minded than closed, but I don’t want her to walk away with bitter heart because of the few dickheads who can’t look past their own bigotries.

I know I am rambling, but I am thinking about this more and more because she is 10.  We are rapidly having less time with her at home, and I just want her to be as ready as possible for the good and the bad.  The Boffin tells me to wait until the issues arise because I am being a little quixotic, and there is wisdom in his words.

But I can’t help being a mom.