It's Halloween night and I'm supposed to be hosting a party at my place, but the only thing in my cupboard is stale halloumi, margarine and a bit of old spring onion. I've got almost nothing in the bank and rent is due soon. It's going to be a disaster.
This, right now, is one of those moments where I can't hide the disappointment I have in my own existence. Millennial life is so fucking bleak and unfair - I wasn't prepared for this growing up. Childhood was a Recess-watching, Babybel-eating, Digimon-caring dawdle on easy street: the dream.
Living in the vicinity of East Dulwich; the epicentre of mums, milk bottles and playgrounds, I'm constantly reminded of it. These little bastards have the life. Every holiday is built around giving them free shit: Christmas, Easter and, my former favourite, Halloween. I used to adore spending nights knocking on doors, shouting at people, then having Chomps and Dib Dabs thrown at me. If you did that as an adult, you'd probably have the police called on you.
But maybe the world is waiting for a messiah to break the trend; a Peter Pan to refuse the mundanity of older life and say, "This is enough – trick or fucking treat." Nobody was going to know until somebody tried, so I thought it was time that I, Oobah, a 25-year-old man who needs ingredients and party paraphernalia, donned a costume and took to the streets. I would be armed only with a shopping list for my dinner party, which I would try to complete by trick or treating.
First, I would need a costume. To conquer fear, you must become fear. So what do I fear in my life today? Caffeine-induced palpitations inspiring a heart attack? Cancer of the testes? Male pattern baldness?
No, THIS fucker:
This is the absolute bastard that keeps me awake at night, that manages to make every shower, early hours toilet visit and shave feel like a terrifying Jans Svankmajer animation. He is the thing I fear most in this cruel world, and so:
I become the shower spider! I am ready. With just a few hours to save my party and complete this shopping list, it's time for me to go trick or treating. After a 12-year hiatus, the old dog is back.
I open the door, stroll out onto the streets and – within seconds – I'm right in the thick of it.
Draculas to my left, witches to my right; I didn't even realise there were this many children in London. I hear them murmuring to parents as I stroll past purposefully: yes, I am a man, and YES, I am getting a slice of your action. And dare I say it, you little punks, there is nothing you can do about it.
All these kids are going to flock to the patsy houses with the pumpkins, but I've been in this game much longer than them. I know from experience that you should ask people for free stuff if they already have loads of stuff, i.e. I need to knock on the doors of the richest people in south London. And not just the big houses – the ones without decorations. You don't want to hit the same spots as everybody else.
I pick my first target – one of Dulwich Village's finest, largest homes – and push the bell.
The door slowly opens. An older man positions his face in the crack of the door: "Can I help you?" he says in a deep, gentile Empire accent.
"Sure you can, pal. Do you have a minute or have you got any sweets? I'm local."
"Are you looking for money? I don't have any."
"No, Halloween request, sir."
He furrows his brow and shouts back into the house. "Is it the 31st, Judy?" From the top of the stairs, a lady shouts down. "It is, Paul. What does he want? Money? Isn't he a bit old to be messing around like this?"
"Well, I can explain," I interject.
"What are you dressed up as?"
"I'm the terrifying spider that's been living in my toilet for a few weeks."
Judy scoffs at this point, asking, "Are there no children with him? That's a bit sad." Paul nods in agreement.
"Look, I'm just trying to get a few things. Do you guys by any chance have a Phillips Head Screwdriver that I can-" Judy sneezes aggressively, before Paul cuts in.
"Can you believe the cheek? I'm sorry, but goodnight."
Before I can protest, the door is shut. Surely an anomaly? I catapult into another big old fucking house, licking my lips.
"Hi there," I say.
"Oh good evening, I like your outfit," the nice lady replies.
"Do you prefer chocolates or sweets?"
"Neither, really. I'm trying to complete my shopping list for a party tonight."
The nice lady's face switches immediately.
"So if you have any toilet paper, paper plates or potato salad, that would be fantastic." As I'm talking, a burly Scottish accent starts bellowing from the kitchen. The man's head explodes from around the corner and he begins yelling at me. "This is a night for the children! For the bloody children! And you're trying this on tonight! Seriously, piss off!" The lady starts giggling awkwardly as he continues to shout, and though I cup my hands, making praying gestures, mouthing "please", she closes the door on me.
I decide to get my head out of the firing line for a moment with a tinnie on the pavement. That experience seriously couldn't have been more debilitating. What have I done wrong?
I sit, nervously shaking and swigging away at my can, as the groups of ghouls bound past clutching bags of sweets. And I don't know whether it's the 12 percent Polish lager talking, but I have a brain wave I never expected. In a moment of utter desperation and weakness, I turn to the unlikeliest of places.
"Hey, punk," I say, stopping her in her tracks. "Now, I know we've had our differences in the past, but I need to know: how do you do it?"
She stares back at me blankly.
"This is not an interrogation. I know you're looking to feed your sweet habits, and I respect that. But I have habits, too. I'm really low on self-esteem and I can't stand what I've become. This is an appeal to your humanity: what is the key here? How do I persuade the people to give me what I want?"
She looks up at her mother – who is giggling – and slowly says it:
"I'm a witch. What are you?"
And by jove, I get it. I haven't been believing what I am! I need to really embody that fear I have for the spider, to conquer it, to get to the true spirit of Halloween. Of course! I thank little April and skip off down the street.
I seek more help from the children. They show me how to embody my character – to really frighten the people behind the door. And before I know it I've learned more in 30 minutes than I have in the past decade. Perhaps there's time to complete my shopping list and save my party yet? It's just a matter of believing. Let's give this another shot.
You are the spider, Oobah. You are the fucking spider. These people are the flies. They are simply you, going to the toilet or jumping in the shower, and you are going to make them quake in their very boots. You can do this – you've got this. I take a deep breath.
"Trick or treat!" I yell.
"Woah. How old are you, man?" My heart sinks.
"I'm 25. I'm really sorry for this."
He pauses. "Cool, bro, I have no problem with that: being American, I love Halloween and think it should be for everybody. So you don't have any medical conditions like diabetes or anything do you?"
I shake my head.
"I actually have a list." I unveil it, and the man takes it out of my hand, frowning curiously. He shouts back into the house, "Guys, come take a look at this!" It gets passed around and, before I know it, I have a present.
"Here you go, dude," his friend says. "Cider. Cross that off your list, if you count Strongbow as scrumpy."
"Thank you! You guys have done your country PR wonders!" I scream. "God bless America!"
Yippee! Finally, I have an in. Time is ticking and now it's time for me to give it my all.
After a warm "Trick or treat!" I unravel the crumpled list again, and the lady takes a long and confused look at it. She disappears into the house and, within seconds, emerges with a present of her own.
Toilet paper! I'll never spend a penny on the stuff again! This is the life people; this is the life.
With another few visits comes potatoes, cinnamon, tonnes more sweets. People truly are perplexed but helpful – although most of them are much happier to hand over their groceries than have their picture taken.
I'm taking stock and, with my head in the clouds, I notice a group of kids screaming past me like a horde of water buffalo. It's then that I hear a smash on the ground.
Ghostbusters. Fuck. I'd totally forgotten about them, but now I remember these big kids haunting my every Halloween, pelting me with eggs and stealing my sweets. They're the little bastards who grow up and go into sales jobs and disappoint their families. With their approaching-breaking voices, hoodies and hormone imbalance, I'm spooked.
But they don't take notice of me. Bless the skies! My costume is scary enough after all.
With around half an hour to go until my party, I take one last look at the list and what's left. I only really have time for one more house, and it needs to be a big haul. I pace the streets of Dulwich eyeing up houses; too many decorations, too many competitors, too quiet.
Then I see it: a severed head in the bush. This is it. Remember your training, Oobah. Remember what the witches and the undead told you: be the spider.
"Trick or treat!"
I give them the best I have all night – spider eyes and everything – and the lady giggles with her two children. The little boy, dressed as Spiderman villain Venom, shouts: "Are you Doctor Octopus?"
"No, no, I'm not. I'm the spider from my toilet."
"Well, that is scary," the mum says. "What can we do for you?"
I nervously get the list out and they all crowd around it. Within seconds the mum disappears into the house. Is she angry? Is she going to get somebody who is finally going to beat the crap out of me for being such a desperate, impulsive and depressing wanker?
Soon, she emerges.
"Party hat. Number one – put a line through that!"
They all cheer.
She looks again, screaming "paper plates!", and disappears back into the house. Kit-kats, more sweets and more potatoes – this happens again and again. I can't believe how helpful they are. I've been at their door shouting "Hurrah!" for a full-on ten minutes. Then it looks as if we're done. The lady scratches her head. "Now, we don't have Corona, sorry."
"Oh go on, mum." The boy pushes her into the house, wriggling in excitement. Several seconds later she returns, arms full with four cans of Stella! £5 street value. Can you fucking believe this stuff? She goes to hand me the beers and the boy stops, taking them out of her hands, and handing them to his sister.
"No, mum. No. We have to have me and her giving the cans to him. We just have to."
"Why?" the mum replies. "What are people going to think if my young kids are holding beers!"
"Yeah, why?" I add.
He stops, flashes a look into camera and smiles: "Because that'll be banter."
And with that, I'm done. This is wokeness defined; a generation that – with parents like this fella, guardians like this fella – is going to be fine. Walking away, I realise that the flame of community burns bright in London; that the England Orwell claimed was dead in Coming Up for Air exists well and truly on our doorsteps. You just need to look beyond a Tube carriage for it.
So learn this from me: in this world, you never need go hungry again – just lobby thy neighbour. I could do without the last three items on my list – potato salad, Phillips Head Screwdriver and Lucozade. I had a party to go to, and a world worth living for. I don't want to waste another moment in this, beautiful 2016; I'm ready to make the most of it. Look out, world, here I come!
Three episodes of The Wright Stuff, a litre-and-a-half of cider, two lines of cinnamon and a baked potato: a night of triumph; a dinner party to remember. Happy Halloween.
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