iBobbing for Apples

Tonight, All Hallows’ Evening will be celebrated in a number of countries around the globe. A time of fancy dress, imaginatively sculptured pumpkins and hyper kids not sleeping after eating six bags of Haribo gummy bears, four lollies and eighteen sherbet dips.

Blimey, I’m showing my age there. I’m not even sure you can still purchase sherbet dips. If not the kids are missing out on confectionery that fuelled hours of my childhood participation in football and cricket games.

I’m not sure if sherbet dips can be classed as a performance enhancing drug. However, if they are, I was lucky there were no blood tests taken after playing footy on Allerdene field back in the day!


It’s widely believed that Halloween traditions have a heavy Celtic influence. I’m assuming historians are referring to the innovators being tribes of Celtic people; the occupiers of large swathes of Europe in medieval times…… Not that the rituals were the brainchild of Jock Stein, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch et al on the plane home after Celtic Football Club had won the European Cup in 1967.

My kids are in their twenties now, but I can still recall their childhood excitement on 31st October. When they were babes/toddlers we lived in Luton, Halloween somehow didn’t have the same appeal. I’m unsure why, but on reflection it’s probably the fact there wasn’t any novelty value to the evening – After all, we were used to frightening looking people with teeth missing knocking and asking for stuff…….. Only kidding, Luton is a marvellous place with nice people and a thriving airport.

Following our move to Leeds when my two offspring (Jonny & Rachel) were age 6 and 3 respectively, on All Hallows’ Evening I would sculpt the kids lanterns from hollowed out pumpkins or large turnips. The turnip hollowing was a tradition I wanted to maintain from my childhood. I certainly wasn’t using this particular vegetable art for it’s ease of carving.

Eventually, on a year when I had to borrow a pneumatic drill to aid with the sculpting, I said “Bollocks to this!” and made the kids lanterns from pumpkin henceforth.

One year I hollowed out a pumpkin so large I required my son Jonny to wheel it around on a skateboard, as he couldn’t lift it. This mammoth pumpkin’s candle was so vast that it illuminated most of East Leeds that cold unforgiving winters night, leading to the reporting of several fake UFO sightings.

After Halloween, I removed the candle by crane and the kids used it as a play shed. After my offspring fled the nest we sold the vast pumpkin to Haven holidays, who now utilise it as a holidaymakers chalet somewhere near Hornsea, East Yorkshire.

When I was a kid in the 70’s Halloween wasn’t as Americanised as it is now. My dad did create my brother Ian, sister Helen and me a lantern from a hollowed out turnip, however I don’t recall dressing up or even ‘trick or treating’.

An ‘old school’ turnip lantern

Turnip Lantern

Halloween was pretty rubbish from a getting sweets perspective then. On the plus side, for our parents at least, we weren’t up till all hours hyper from a sugar rush, like our contemporary youth.

The poorer kids in our area whose parents couldn’t afford turnips improvised by hollowing out onions. When they came to your door dishevelled and in tears, it was hard to tell whether that was down to poverty or merely the fact they were carrying an onion.

My memories of childhood Halloween’s are pretty sketchy but I do recall one occasion when a neighbour held a Halloween house party. Children and adults congregated in the front room with our turnip lanterns, which providing valuable additional warmth on a cold north east England night. Especially that evening when one of the cushions caught fire from a recklessly placed candle.

The lights were dimmed, not so we could get the full effect of the sculpted faces on our lanterns, rather so we couldn’t view the hideous scabs on a neighbours face who was afflicted by leprosy, or something akin.

I can recall during the party ‘bobbing for apples’ from a large bowl of water. The game finished early, though, after the bloke with leprosy’s nose came off during his turn.

We were easily pleased in those days. In this technological era kids now would rather bob for a different type of apple; one with a capital ‘A’.  Spoils of competition like an ipad, ipod and iphone are what they now yearn for not a piece of fruit that was on a tree a few days back……. Warning – if you do desire an Apple device don’t attempt to retrieve them from a bowl of water!

I’ve decided this year I’m going to have to make more effort to look tidier when answering the door to ‘trick or treaters’. I must have looked bad last year as one group gave me sweets when I opened the door!

Happy Halloween!


bobbing for apples


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