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Danny Danny's been teaching English at EC Malta English school for 10 years.

Last weekend was Halloween. I only remembered this when I opened my front door to find a three-foot-tall Count Dracula standing on the doorstep.

“Um… hello” I said, ever-so-slightly nonplussed. Over the years, I have found a large number of odd or interesting items on my doorstep, including myself on one occasion after a particularly eventful night out, but this was the first time I’d ever found a vampire, albeit an incredibly short one.

“Hwick or hweet”, demanded the Count. I instinctively took a step back as a fine shower of dribble leapt from his mouth in my general direction. The Count wiped a black velvet sleeve across his lips, and stared at me expectantly.

“Er… what?” I asked. I must admit, at this point, that I was coming across as rather slow on the uptake.

Count Dracula reached into his mouth, fumbled around a bit, and pulled out a pair of plastic dentures.
“Trick or treat”, he said again, a lot clearer, and a bit dryer, now that his fangs weren’t hindering his lip movement.

“Seriously? We trick or treat now?”

Dracula had obviously not rehearsed this far into the conversation, because he simply gave me a blank stare for a couple of seconds, then scowled at me and said “Well?”

I looked him up and down – or perhaps down and downer – and gave it some serious thought. His costume wasn’t too bad… a black velvet suit, white shirt, bow tie. But then again, it hardly involved a lot of work, as far as Halloween costumes were concerned. The only real difference between a vampire and a pageboy at a wedding is the cape with the high collar. And in this case, he shouldn’t have bothered. The collar was far too high and much too wide for the size of his head – it looked a bit like a pea with hair-gel rolling around the bottom of a Satanic egg-cup.

“Trick”, I told him.


“Trick. I don’t have any treats”.

And I didn’t. This was the first time, in Malta, that I’d ever been ‘trick or treated’. I didn’t even know it was done, although I suppose I should have realised that it was only a matter of time. Halloween had been slowly but surely becoming increasingly popular every time it swung around. When I was a kid, you had to buy a pumpkin and carve it yourself, and you made your own costume out of an old sheet and your mum’s cosmetic bag – which went a long way towards explaining why every Jack O’ Lantern back then was cross-eyed, buck-toothed and bloodstained, and why there seemed to be rather a lot of pink, green and yellow stripy flannel ghosts running around the streets in lipstick and mascara. Today, of course, shop windows turn orange, black and green weeks before the 31st of October, with a leer of plastic Jack O’Lanterns and a grimace of ghostly masks on every shelf. Mere days after Halloween, these grotesqueries are swiftly replaced by jolly Father Christmases and snowmen, but such are the ways of commercialism, I suppose.

The origins of Halloween are linked back to the Celtic festival of ‘Samuin’, which comes from Old Irish and translates roughly as ‘summer’s end’. The festival celebrates the end of the ‘lighter’ half of the year, and summons in the ‘darker’ half. And it is during this one night – the transition between the light and the dark - that the borders between this world and the ‘other’ are at their weakest, and all manner of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night can cross over, and generally get up to all sorts of mischief and mayhem. At least, this is what the ancient Celts believed. And so they would disguise themselves in twisted mask and crooked costume, in the hope that, should they bump into one of these ghouls on their way home, they might be mistaken for one of them, and left alone.

Of course, today, we dress up in twisted mask and crooked costume in the hope of being given free sweets and treats by the neighbours…

“What d’you mean, ‘trick’? Nobody ever says ‘trick’”, said Count Dracula, in that tone of voice that children use when they feel that they are being cheated, and that the world isn’t playing fair.

“I say trick”, I said.

“Are you sure you don’t have any treats? I’ll even take an apple, if you’ve got one”.

Trick-or-treating dates back to the middle-ages. It is similar to the medieval ‘souling’, which originated in Ireland and Britain, where the village poor would go around the neighbourhood door by door on the first of November, and be given food in return for prayers for the dead. By 1934, North America had made the practice their own and coined the phrase ‘trick or treat’, which kind of translates as ‘give me sweets or I’ll visit some kind of mischief upon your property’. By the 1980s, the phrase ‘trick or treat’ had reached the UK, and now, apparently, it had reached my doorstep, in the guise of a miniature bloodsucker with black shoe polish in his hair and a faint whiff of mothballs emanating from his velvet dinner jacket.

“I’ve run out of apples”, I said.

Well, I had.

“How about an orange?”



“’Fraid not. I’ve got a mushroom in the fridge, though. And half a turnip.”

Dracula frowned, and then, clutching at his cape, raised both arms into a pose meant to strike terror into the hearts of all who beheld him. A faint ripping sound indicated that the cape did not approve of such treatment. I pretended not to notice.

“Very well”, growled Dracula, in what he thought was a Transylvanian accent. “I will take the turnip”.
“Good choice”, I said. “Very Halloween-y. Did you know that the original Jack O’ Lanterns were carved out of turnips in order to ward off evil spirits? They were left on the doorstep, along with a treat, to keep the spirits happy. Pumpkins were used much later, mainly because they were readily available, and a lot easier to carve…”

Dracula lowered his arms slowly, and glared at me.

“Er… I’ll go and get you the turnip”, I said.

But when I got to the fridge, I relented, and ended up giving the little bloodsucker the chocolate bar that I normally have myself, washed down with a cup of coffee in front of the TV just before going up to bed.
“You know”, I said to my wife later that evening, in between sips of coffee and crunchy nibbles of raw turnip, “maybe next year we should buy a couple of pumpkins and carve them. And stock up on treats and stuff. Just in case.”

“Darling”, said my wife, “we were visited by one vampire.”

“Well, yes. This year. But who knows? Next year there could be whole house of them, not to mention a coven of witches, a fright of ghosts and a plague of zombies…”

“Goodnight”, said my wife, and went to bed.

I finished my turnip, and went up to join her. Outside, as the clock struck midnight, a witch on a broomstick flew across the full moon…


Key Language - Collective Nouns:

  1. a leer of Jack O’ Lanterns
  2. a grimace of masks
  3. a house of vampires
  4. a fright of ghosts
  5. a plague of zombies

By Danny