Tag Archives: Tesco

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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Onion Goggles, Lemon Holders and the Joy of Specialisation

One of my oldest friends – we’ve known each other since we were nine – is hearing impaired. When we were children, she had a machine in her bedroom called an ‘S’ indicator.


Its purpose was to help her to articulate the letter ‘S’. Basically, you hissed into it and a dial moved to show how ess-ish your S was.

I really like the fact that this machine existed – something designed to do one small task and to do it properly.

I have an automatic mistrust of objects intended to do lots of different things.

Shampoo and conditioner in one? No! I don’t want to wash and go! I want one thing that is really good at cleaning my hair and another thing that is good at making it silky soft. (Not that that I’ve ever discovered the latter – as anyone with very curly hair will appreciate.)

Sofa beds? No! They make really rubbish beds and really rubbish sofas.

And what about those restaurants that offer you a choice of pizza, burritos, chow mein, chicken korma and toad-in-the-hole? How much faith do you have that any of those items is going to be cooked to perfection?

In 2005, Anthony my husband and I visited the Lake District with our 4-month-old baby. We went into a local bookshop and said ‘Do you have any books that might help us work out where we can go walking with an all-terrain pushchair?’

‘This might do the job,’ replied the bookseller, and handed us a book called:

All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland


I found this immensely satisfying – even more so in the knowledge that if we were to visit the north of the Lake District in future, we’d be able to buy All Terrain Pushchair Walks, North Lakeland.

And speaking of ‘Lakeland’, the pleasure I take in objects designed for one purpose helps to explain the fact that my favourite shop bears this name. For the uninitiated, Lakeland is a kitchen and household shop that specialises in the most extraordinary range of kitchen gadgets. My own kitchen is crammed with its strawberry hullers, apple corers, banana bags, tuna can drainers and more. Much, much more.

Here, you can see me modelling my onion goggles – cleverly designed to stop you ‘crying’ when you chop onions.

Image copyright © Isaac Reuben 2015

Image copyright © Isaac Reuben 2015

They have the added benefit of making me look sexy, too. At least, when I forgot to take them off before answering the door to the Tesco delivery man, I think that was the effect they had.

Anthony has inherited from his German grandma a fork which is intended, exclusively, to hold hot new potatoes so that you can peel them.


Many is the time it has saved me from that well-known menace of burned fingers caused by hot-new-potato peeling.

And yet, some of my most valued kitchen possessions are – unaccountably – mocked by visitors to our house. One example is this set of containers designed to store left-over halves of – respectively – tomatoes, lemons, onions and peppers.


No longer do I find mouldering bits of fruit or vegetable wrapped in clingfilm and forgotten at the bottom of the fridge drawer. It surely goes without saying that no household should be without them.

Which is why, when I opened my container for storing half a lemon a while ago, and found that Anthony had put half a lime in it, it was a very difficult time for me.


Our marriage has survived after some counselling, but it was touch and go for a while.

So, what objects do you appreciate for their highly-focused purpose… either at home, or in your professional life?

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The author apologises for the repeated references to lemons in her posts, and would like to assure you that she will attempt to give equal precedence to other fruits in future.