Tag Archives: middle class

Turnip Lanterns and Singing Skeletons – Hallowe’en Then and Now

When I was a small child in Sunderland in the 1970s, there was only one accessory to have on Hallowe’en – a turnip lantern.

Back then in the north east, you seemed pretty sophisticated if you put mayonnaise on your salad instead of salad cream. Avocados were referred to as ‘avocado pears’ and considered to be objects of extraordinary exoticism.

So what did we know from pumpkins? Turnip lanterns were the thing.

Each year, my mum would carve out a turnip for me with an air of grim duty. This process required an amount of muscle power generally only required by removal men or lumberjacks.

When she was done, she’d attach a string handle to it and pop a candle inside. Then, accompanied by my dad, I’d carry the lantern off to the back garden to hunt for ghosts – the smell of burnt turnip drifting nauseatingly round our heads.

These days in north London, things are just a little bit different. The shops are crammed with every imaginable kind of Hallowe’en-themed tat. My ten-year-old got told off by the security guard in Tesco yesterday for activating the entire display of 50 singing skeletons simultaneously.

Hallowe’en is now a fantastic excuse for middle class oneupmanship. Each year, the pumpkins on the doorsteps round where I live are carved with ever more ornate images. Tonight, there were haunted houses and flying bats, witches on broomsticks and leering skulls.

Hedges were festooned with cobwebs, severed hands poke through letter boxes, spiders dangled menacingly from the doorways. On a nearby street, a pair of legs dangled out of a dustbin.

I’m not sure what carvings to expect next year: the shower scene from Psycho? A scale reproduction of Highgate Cemetery? Or perhaps there will be a pumpkin which hasn’t been carved at all. Its scariness will derive from the subversion of our expectations.

I feel I should claim that back in my Sunderland childhood, Hallowe’en was much better. We didn’t spend money; we didn’t gorge on sweets; we didn’t show off. I should point out that Hallowe’en is now utterly crass and overwhelmingly commercial: the true spirit of it has been lost.

In actual fact, turnip lanterns were really shit. Bring on the fancy pumpkins, the cheap Tesco costumes and the obscene quantities of sweets – that’s what I say.

I would love to hear about your Hallowe’en experiences – past or present. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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How to Bake a Middle Class Birthday Cake – a Guide

This is the cake I made last month for my daughter’s 7th birthday. The fact that it exists ticks many of the right boxes in the middle class world I live in:

  1. It took me hours of effort and concentration. This shows what an engaged and wholesome mother I am and how much I love my daughter.
  2. I can post a picture of it on Facebook, allowing my friends and family to say suitable things about how impressed they are. (It doesn’t matter whether they really are impressed or not – this is the joy of Facebook.)*
  3. It allows me to do something fun and creative in a way that isn’t really acceptable as an adult with most other media.So I can’t, for example, paint a picture and stick it on my wall like I could when I was a kid – because I’m rubbish at painting. I can’t knit a scarf with wonky edges and dropped stitches because people would just think it was embarrassing.

    The very act of producing something artistic as an adult carries with it an unspoken implication that you yourself think you’re pretty good at it. But not so with your children’s birthday cakes. They are produced out of love, and therefore people will admire them if they look good and forgive them if they look awful.

  4. AND… and… best of all… this entirely self-serving exercise has the incidental benefit that your child is properly and utterly thrilled with the result. So you can pretend throughout that you’re doing it entirely for her.

A couple more tips:

The taste of the cake itself is, surprisingly, not that important. Though being not only a middle class London mum, but a Jewish middle class London mum, I do mind quite a lot if the end result doesn’t taste good.

You should preferably do the whole thing at night time after your child is in bed, and stay up till the early hours perfecting it – ideally while also having to go to work the next morning. This increases your score in all of the above categories.

The doll on my mermaid cake is, incidentally, a special one designed for the purpose. Her body is just a spike, so when the cake is cut and all is revealed, there is a risk of the more delicate party guests being permanently traumatised.

Doll pick

Good luck, and do make sure to sound suitably self deprecating when people admire the result.

* Any notion that this entire blog has been written in order to show off my cake is entirely false and without foundation. Shame on you for even thinking it.

I would love to hear about your birthday cake-making experiences – triumphant or disastrous. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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