The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 27 October

Dear Thomas

I regret to say that I really do dread Halloween, which will be happening next Tuesday. Every year it gets worse and worse. One day I’m sure I’ll end up hiding in the cupboard under the stairs all the way through. You just never know who’s going to knock on your door and I do wonder about giving children sweets just because they ask. Am I being mean?

Noreen Callaghan, Brentwood

Dear Noreen

I have looked in my diary. Big thrill! I’m out that evening. So will escape. I’m sure a lot of readers will sympathise. Unknown callers knocking at the door after dark is not everybody’s idea of an unthreatening situation. The whole set-up is faintly unpleasant: give me something or I’ll scare you in a nasty, death-ridden way. If you’re tending towards a lack of enthusiasm for children, Halloween might just confirm you in your antipathy.

The custom of children going from house to house collecting food or money is centuries old and known all over the world. ‘Trick or treating’ is a more recent feature but it’s not really true to say, as a reason to dislike it, that modern Halloween is an American import. In India, at the festival of Holi, children are allowed to throw paint powder at adults. I wonder if there’s any link.

Children are given licence for just one day to behave badly or have what they want. After all, grown-ups, whether they mean to or not, quite often scare children, so why shouldn’t they scare us for a change? It is quite bizarre also, to see under- 10s dressed up (or down) as skeletons, and bearing the scythe of Death, etc. Educational? It could just be.

So I’m coming round, a little slowly, to the idea that perhaps we should be rather more enthusiastic about Halloween. Why not? There’s also the neighbourliness and the children learn not to be so afraid of strangers.

Maybe this year, as a cure for escalating fear and anxiety about the whole thing, you might consider joining in. Be sure to check before opening the door that the children are accompanied by an adult. They should not knock more than once and certainly not in an insistent way. Outside lights on and car parked on the forecourt rather than in the garage (if you have such things) are supposed to indicate willingness to participate. You can also, if you can’t face getting up to open the door several times in the course of the evening, leave a bowl of sweets outside your residence for the children to help themselves, although this deprives them of the chance to show off their horrible costumes.

On the other hand, if despite what I say you’re still not at all keen, there’s no need to feel guilty. Halloween should be regarded as a social invitation which you either refuse or accept. It’s not a moral duty to join in.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Scraping plates

Too many people are scraping plates at the table. I mean when the plates are collected in and piled up at the end of each course, and the host proudly scrapes the left-overs onto one plate before removing the unedifying debris. I suspect that many of us have just become acclimatised to witnessing this practice as we have to many awful things. but it won’t do. We’re not at school, or in a rugby club, where this kind of grim eschewing of delicacy is no doubt considered a wonderful thing. Plates should be lifted individually from the diner’s right side and taken to a place where they can be scraped, if necessary, out of sight. I am sure many front-of-house scrapers don’t know they’re doing it, rather as some unconsciously pick their teeth, or worse, in front of others. or maybe they come from a large family and, with children in charge of clearing the table, plate-scraping has been ingrained from youth. We mustn’t blame but hope that with patience, persistence and the right kind of loving support, the habit can be broken.

written by Thomas Blaikie