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Christmas Ghosts

As this year grinds to an end, you’re not alone in thinking “thank fuck for that.” It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that 2016 has been one of the crappest in recent history. Now, when the media traditionally do their rundowns of the year, all they can show is the world’s run down. It’s been a car crash year, whether it’s the whitelash rise of Farage and Trump, the deaths of icons from Bowie and Cohen to Wood and Wogan, almost an entire Brazilian football team and, most personally, my friend Adrian (AA) Gill, or just because Inferno, one of the most ludicrous films in history, was released. It seems the unpalatable prospered and the good died.

Now is the time to think of them. The dead have a history of being summoned up as the year draws to its end. The Christmas ghost story is a meme that stretches back much further than Dickens’ Christmas Carol. A quarter of a century before Shakespeare wrote his Winter’s Tale, it was already a tradition for Barnabus in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589) who says, “Now I remember those old women’s words, Who in my wealth would tell me winter’s tales, And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.” It’s no coincidence that James Joyce’s The Dead is set at a Christmas time gathering.

In my own family it is Uncle Edgar who lives with the dead and loves to tell stories of our ghosts. He’s a fanatic for family trees and history, but then there’s not much to do out in the steppes of Norfolk where he lives, where the earth is steel hard in winter, the air is so cold just breathing in hurts and breathing out creates a fog thicker than Katie Hopkins. From his front window you can see for miles over the frozen levels, each tree a craze of lines in the flat December daylight.

Every other Christmas we schlep up to his house, a pretty converted vicarage with timber beams and a roaring fireplace beneath a mantelpiece hung with paperchains and festooned with Christmas cards mostly addressed to “Dear Valued Customer”. And every year there’s some relative he has discovered in the annals whom he reckons could just be a Royal bastard but more usually, with a bloodline chockful of cads and bounders, was a right royal bastard.

a doll idle idol

Illustration ©Alice Stallard for KCW Today

Edgar lives alone but he always invites his mate Steve to Christmas. Steve’s a single dad with a tiny daughter called Emily who is the proud product of parental overcompensation. ‘Spoilt’, is too slight a term, like slightly off milk; Emily is the full Petri dish of bubonic fungal growth. Last year she was dragging around one of the most expensive dolls known to humanity, an “American Girl” almost as big as her. The sort that have such realistic eyes you will them to blink. But Emily had absolutely no sense of value. The doll was clearly pretty new when I saw it but she had already smashed the right side of its face, the head was cracked and deformed. She didn’t care.

I had come up ahead of the rest of the family to help Edgar with the dinner and avoid having to go with the rest of my family “last minute” gift shopping.

Emily answered the door and sneered at my Tesco shopping bags. “Where are the presents?”

“Nice to see you too.” Inside, I pulled my frost bitten muddy shoes off and traipsed the shopping bags to the kitchen. Emily stayed in the front hall, heaving her doll on to a chair. I put the food away while she gave her American Girl a gruesomely detailed lecture on road safety.

Edgar came in. “I thought I heard someone.” He gave me a hug. “You’re the first then?”

“Came to help with the food.”

“Plenty of time for that.” We went through to his living room where the fire was already roaring.

We drank and chatted as the light faded outside and Edgar told the story of a distant cousin of my great grandfather who had been a very successful medium when Spiritualism was all the rage. Recently he’d found an old newspaper clipping about a spirit visitation she had conjured up but I never got to hear his ghost story because it was then the rest of my family turned up, setting off a maelstrom of voices and activity. It was just before dinner when my youngest asked about Steve, who still hadn’t come down.

“Oh,” Edgar sighed, “he’s, he’s not coming.”

I wondered for a moment if something bad had happened; that was why he was looking after Emily.

“Emily, you know Emily,” Edgar said. We all nodded. “Last week she had an accident. Just outside here. He pointed at the dark window and we all looked up for a moment to see our reflections in the black glass. “Playing with a doll. Run over. By a van. Crushed her skull. Steve’s just not up to anything. She was his life.”

“But…” I started looking around for Emily.

I ran to the front hall. The doll was still there on the chair by the door. The head crushed, the plastic skull cracked, the glass eyes staring.

 

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Sex and fear: What can I do you for? 

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“What big eyes you’ve got Grandma.”

All the better to ogle you with my dear.”

“So this red cape, thigh boots and cleavage thing is working for you is it Grandma?”

Grandma drools and howls at the moon.

If you’ve popped into a costume shop looking for a little something for Halloween it’s almost guaranteed it will be a little something indeed.

In the last decade shop-bought Halloween costumes have become markedly less about the vampire and all about the vamp. This trend to sexualise our dressing up and put the whore into horror has been dubbed “Slutoween”; a meme that is currently exercising feminist debate especially for our puritan dissident descendants in America.

Fancy dress has always had a frisson of ‘what you fancy’, a chance to fantasise for a moment and unbutton from our daily uniforms. But in the last decade costume shop stock, especially for women, has been increasingly more revealing.

So, if you are a female habitué of Halloween attire, you can forget the seasonal “beach-ready body” pressure, the sand and sunshine will bleach out the bumps anyway, you’ll need all your will power to get fit for October 31st to strike a pose in your Sponge Boob No Pants, Princess Lay-Her or Fairy Queen Titty-ania outfit. With costume choices increasingly about how bare you dare it’s not long until we see gyms advertising programmes that promise to have you ‘fit to frighten’ for Halloween.

Complaints about the sexing up of Halloween have a particularly American twang and a whiff of the Scarlet Letter. In Britain where, it seems, many of us would rather express through dress than talk it out American style, dressing up is an integral part of life. All our youth movements had dress codes, an Oxbridge degree does not come on a certificate but confers the right to wear a particular gown and where else could transvestism in the shape of the pantomime dame become an institution? There was a time in the 80s when you not only assumed that everyparty was fancy dress, the influence of the New Romantics made sure that every photo we own from that period is excruciating.

In America fancy dress is more for special occasions and their special occasion par excellence is Halloween. But ‘moms’ are getting distressed because their teen and tween daughters are going straight from Pumpkin Pies to Treacle Tarts.

In the 2004 high school melodrama Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan says, “Halloween is the one night of the year when you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Unfortunately, in the real world, Lohan needed every day to be Halloween because, until her publicity machine eventually buried her, just about every day was filled with people calling her on her slut status.
‘Slut-shaming’ is still an all-girl sport in America. Feminist websites are fighting Slutoween’s sexy dressing up pressure, ridiculing the costume choices, advising girls on outfits they can make themselves and enlisting the girl band EmotiStyle who have produced a song called Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked.

In this country where, on any Saturday night out in any provincial city the dress code is pure skin and stilettos, have we simply become inured to the likes of the Sinderella or Captain Hooker costumes? Or is prudish, party pooping, puritan founded America actually expressing its horror of sex itself? Halloween is all about what we fear. Sex is one of the most confusing isn’t it/is it taboo areas for teens and tweens and they’re the ones buying the Sexy Firefighter/Nurse/Cat/Dinner Lady costumes.

In an article in The New York Times called Good Girls Go Bad For a Day, one of America’s biggest Halloween costume retailers, which sells outfits with names like Little Bo Peep Show and Miss Foul Play, reported that, “Probably over 90 to 95 percent of our female costumes have a flirty edge to them,” adding that sexy costumes are so popular the company had to break its “sexy” category into three subdivisions.

So has America, the world’s largest consumer market, led the global costume industry to capitalise on one of its greatest fears, sex itself? And has that then turned the tap off on all the under selling frumpy costume alternatives?

Of course if Britain led the world consumer market then we’d all be dressing up as embarrassment on Halloween.

The marketing genius who came up with “Sex sells” forgot to add “but fear sells faster.” If Slutoween is fear and sex bundled together its appeal is unstoppable. I’m just waiting for the marketing geniuses in ISIS to catch on to this one. Watch out for Sexy Jihad.

Have a frightful Halloween (if you’re not having a filthy one).

 

Photo By: © Paramount Pictures

Source: Sex and fear: What can I do for you?

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