A Surprisingly Halloween-y Weekend in London

Halloween as a dress-up, trick-or-treat party is a tradition based in the United States. There are many other traditions around this time of year focusing on spirits, the end of one year and the start of another, the change of the seasons, etc. (Day of the Dead comes to mind), but putting on a costume and eating sugar til you pass out is an American thing. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that England is succumbing to the pervasive influence of American culture in this respect. My friend Liz, a North American living in London for the past six years, says she’s seen more Halloween celebrating going on this year than any other. (Sorry for the blurry quality of some of the photos, but that’s nighttime iPhone photography for ya.)

Pumpkins on display at King's Cross

Pumpkins on display at King’s Cross

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na...

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na…

One massive display of holiday spirit manifested in the 3,000 pumpkins appearing for one night only at King’s Cross Canalside Steps. This little pedestrian-friendly corner of the north central King’s Cross neighborhood abuts Regents Canal, and a couple houseboats bob nearby. Nonprofit organization Global Generation and city groups partnered up to host the event. Anyone could come carve a pumpkin on October 30 and 31, they were displayed on the evening of the 31st, and the next day, anyone could stop by to pick up a pumpkin and a recipe card. Leftover pumpkins were distributed to food pantries, and Global Generation will oversee composting of the remains. Gotta love a fun event that’s also a well-thought-out sustainability model.

Just about shows the scope of the pumpkin display

Just about shows the scope of the pumpkin display

Spooky spider

Spooky spider

The pumpkins were gorgeous. Not all of them were carved, but just seeing that massive amount of gourds was impressive, and they’d cleverly put enough lights in and around the pumpkins that they were well-lit for photos when I stopped by at 9pm. A couple security guards lounged on chairs at the top of the steps, but no one was there to wreak havoc. We were too busy spotting our favorites in the crowd–oh there’s Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s the symbol for woman, ooh look at that scary spider, are those penguins in love? This was Halloween made (pumpkin) flesh.

Movie spooks

Movie spooks

Getting gutsy

Getting gutsy

halloween london halloween london

Figures that London was getting fully in the swing of Halloween in a year I was too stressed to make myself a costume! (The past couple weeks have been tough because I’ve needed to find a new home but had no luck until a room unexpectedly opened up at Liz’s, so I’ll be subletting there for a few months, thank goodness.) But housing stability aside, the main point is that October 31 arrived and I had nothing to wear. Still, the advantage of being in a country that’s only just discovering the joys of Halloween is that they aren’t as quick to judge you if you show up in your civvies as they are at home.

Witchy bus

Witchy bus

I joined my friend Duane at his local (I love that that’s what they call the closest pub to your home here, the one you frequent because it’s nearby–not “the local pub,” just “the local”). I had a few beers with Duane and friends, while a group of guys played traditional Irish music in the next room and the football played on the telly. Basically, it was everything I want in an English pub and even though it’s far from my home in Brixton, I’m tempted to make it my local, too.

Day of the Dead inspired (incidentally, at least half the women I saw on public transport on October 31 had Dia de los Muertos makeup on--definitely the most popular costume choice)

Day of the Dead inspired (incidentally, at least half the women I saw on public transport on October 31 had Dia de los Muertos makeup on–definitely the most popular costume choice)

On Saturday night, Liz and I met up with a little group of friends for delicious Indian food on Brick Lane, and then we walked up the road to Rich Mix, an arts space/movie theater/performance spot. Tim Ralphs (who you may remember I mentioned in my post on the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh) was performing with the Crick Crack Club, a group devoted to exploring storytelling traditions around the world. Tim shared the stage with TUUP and Clare Muireann Murphy, and they were all fantastic. Among the three of them, they shared stories from Viking, Irish, African, and early Christian traditions. The stories all featured death as a main player, but while they went to some dark places, they mostly ended back in a place of joy, because this night was about appreciating the role death plays in life, and how people the world over have recognized that.

Dia de los Muertos with the Crick Crack Club

Dia de los Muertos with the Crick Crack Club

This was a Dia de los Muertos event, so the stage was decorated in the skeletons, colorful flowers, and altarpieces of Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Several times, the storytellers reminded us that the dead are only really gone if they’re forgotten, so it is up to us, the living, to remember them. Audience members were invited to write the names of dear departed ones on slips of paper and leave them in a bowl in front of the altar. At the end of the night, the bowl of names was carried out along a path of marigold petals, to the music of a guitar and drum, as the storytellers showed the spirits the way to walk if they wanted to rejoin us on this night of a thin veil between dead and living.

Storytellers played to a sold-out crowd

Storytellers played to a sold-out crowd

For a place that doesn’t really celebrate Halloween, London sure gave me a good impression of the ghoulish holiday this weekend.

halloween london

Last Minute Halloween Costumes 2013

Halloween is here! Well, it’s in just under a week, but since it falls on a Thursday, a lot of parties are happening this weekend. Maybe you’ve been enjoying the lovely fall weather too much to plan a costume, and the sudden cold snap has now focused your attention on the annual question: What should I be for Halloween?

Here are some costumes you can put together last minute, for little to no money:

Troy and Abed

Sing it: Troy and Abed Hall-o-wee-een!

Troy and Abed are probably the best thing about Community (along with the Dean’s costumes and any time Britta does drugs). They’re such good friends that not even a massive pillow war can separate them. Grab your best friend and put together this costume. You can go as Inspector Spacetime and Constable Reggie: white robe, bowler hat, red scarf for one and a blue sweater (sew some buttons or even just tape on some paper you cut out) and white gloves for the other. Or you can go even more low-key and wear your normal jeans and t-shirts, so long as you keep up the repartee. Use the handshake a lot, conduct fake talk show interviews, make pop culture references that only half the people at the party get. Bonus points if you get the whole party to build a pillow and blanket fort. Extra bonus points if you bring costume changes and get up to hijinks. Coolcoolcool.

Katy Perry


Katy Perry, much like Lady Gaga, is a godsend for Halloween costumes, because she’s always wearing some wacky get-up. I recommend busting out your Tarzan costume from last year, teasing out your hair, and strapping on your highest heels. Use whatever liquor bottle’s handy as your microphone and belt out “Roar.” If you don’t have a Tarzan costume from last year, wear a swimsuit/tight skirt combo and drape animal print fabric over yourself (easily found for pretty cheap at a crafts store). Have a disarmingly good sense of humor about yourself and don’t be afraid to use anything nearby as a prop. Bonus points if your friends dress up in furry animal costumes and follow you around as your band.

Insufferable Resort Tourist

You’re in my sun

Maybe you’ve been busy lately, and you’re worn out. Make your Halloween party a mini-break and go as an insufferable resort tourist. Don a swimsuit, sarong, sunglasses, floppy hat, and sandals. Carry a drink with an umbrella in it and ask people if they got the full drinks package too. Spread a beach towel out on the couch and lie down on it. When people stand near you, flutter your fingers and say they’re in your sun. As they start to walk away, stop them and request a refill on your snacks. Obviously, you can’t do this the whole night if you want anyone to like you, so take it as far as you’re comfortable. Bonus points if you bring sand in the towel and when your host watches in horror as it gets in the crevices of the couch, you trill, “That’s the wonderful thing about these resorts. I don’t have to worry about the mess I make because the maids take care of everything!”

Photo 1. Photo 2. Photo 3

Australia I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

(We interrupt your regularly scheduled Where in the World Wednesday for a truly scary Halloween post. Fair warning, this post contains a couple photos you don’t want to see while you’re eating, and some graphic descriptions of my gruesome illness.)

Australia is trying to kill me. Not with the expected methods–shark attacks, spider bites, bloodthirsty dingoes, or calculating crocodiles–but with something far more bizarre and at the same time mundane. I’m stuck in Australia with a bad case of shingles.

SHINGLES. Like you get when you’re 80. I’ve had mysterious ailments all week, and finally on Monday I saw a doctor who said, “Oh yes, that’s a bad case of shingles you have in your eye.” IN MY EYE. And all around it. Y’all, I do not even need to dress up for Halloween this year. I’m going totally natural. Naturally gross, that is.

Scary monster

I hope this photo conveys to you just how nasty the left side of my face is right now. Lesions from my forehead to my eyebrow, in the little crook of the eye where you get eye gunk at night, and all down my nose. A sprinkling on my cheeks. And then a bright red eye peering out between swollen eyelids. The most comfortable position is for me to have the eye closed, but that does not mean I am comfortable. I’m constantly leaking tears, which I have to be careful when dabbing so as not to disturb the lesions on my face. (LESIONS. Like a freakin’ leper over here.) Despite all the leaking, the eye isn’t lubricating much, so it’s dry and sometimes I feel the lower lid sticking to the eyeball. The eyeball itself is alternately itchy and sore, like part of it ripped, so even when my eye is closed I feel that. All this eye leaking means some of the liquid is going down the nasal passage, so I’m blowing my nose all the time too. All the bones in my face ache, and while the lesions aren’t too painful right now, the doctor assures me they will be. Oh, and I have a stabbing pain in a specific spot on my head, like someone sending an electric shock through my brain every 10 minutes or so. Shingles: they are not fun.


What is going on with me? If you had chicken pox when you were a kid, it’s possible you could get shingles later. If your immune system is compromised, the chicken pox virus might come out to play, and it takes the form of shingles. What happens is one nerve branch is affected (maybe more, on me it seems to be just this one), so all along that nerve branch you get lesions and pain, and in bad cases, the nerve damage can be permanent and sometimes you can even get scarring. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, the doctor thinks I got to him in time for the antiviral drugs to be effective, which should keep permanent nerve damage out of the picture, but you don’t know until it’s over. And since it’s a virus, it just hangs out in your body and comes back when conditions are right and it’s feeling malicious. As with other ailments, if you’ve had it once, you’re more susceptible to having it again. GOODY.

Well, how did I get here? By doing too much, too fast on this trip, is how. The last few weeks before I left were highly stressful (leaving a job; discovering bedbugs–yes, that’ll be another post; saying goodbye to everyone I know and love). I did relax in Hawaii, although as you’ve seen from the blog posts, we did pack a lot in as well. When I got to Australia, I thought I was pacing myself okay, but it might’ve been too much for my exhausted body to handle. Illness is rough enough without thinking that you probably brought some of it on yourself, and it’s all compounded by my annoyance that I couldn’t handle it. I thought after 29 years of inhabiting this body, I was a pretty good guess on what it could do. It’s frustrating to be told in gross, lesion-y terms that I was wrong.

Watego’s Beach, Byron Bay

Now, out of the whole country of Australia, this is the place to be stuck. I’m staying with relatives in Byron Bay, and they’ve generously offered me a room for as long as I need to heal. I’m in a home and not a hostel, I have my own room and bathroom, I share meals with the family, and when I’m feeling up to it, I can walk into town for people-watching and cheesecake-eating. I’m hugely grateful to them for putting me up, and for ferrying me to the doctor as well!

Also, there are a couple of these guys keeping me company

I should be clear that although going full throttle probably contributed to getting me in this state, I had a lot of fun doing it. I hope the Where in the World Wednesday posts and occasional Facebook updates convey just how beautiful Australia is, and how much I’ve enjoyed seeing it.

I’d hoped to be in Melbourne by this time, but that’s just not going to happen. It hurts to open my eye for too long, so I’m not sure how much writing I’ll be able to do, but I do plan to catch up somewhat. I’ll take it slow and easy, and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to carry on. These aren’t the adventures I was hoping to have on my trip, but such is the nature of travel: you truly never know what’s next.

The glamorous approach to protecting my hideous eye

New Centerstage Review Up

Who’s in the mood for some seasonal spookiness? Check out the always-odd, often-heartbreaking Strange Tree Group in their latest, The Spirit Play. Tom B. and I saw the show a week ago, and I was delighted with how delighted he was by the production. It’s always fun to feel like you’re really treating someone with your comp ticket.

Here’s an excerpt of my review:

This Halloween special explores the world of Victorian-era séances and the various ways we convince ourselves that something we want desperately to be true is true… Raps on the table, bells ringing in mid-air, and of course, ghostly hands creeping out from behind a curtain; all these were standard practice among séance charlatans of the era, and the medium and her entourage use them here as well.

You can read the rest of it here. Happy haunting!

Your Awesome Halloween Costume 2011

Halloween is nearly upon us! One of the few holidays not centered around family activities or large meals, it’s a time for sugar highs and slipping into a different persona. My mom always made great costumes for the twins and me. As we got older, we had individualized ones, but there are some adorable pictures of us when we were small, as Little Bo Peep and her two lost sheep, and The Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2. (So, so good.) You could say I had high standards of costumes to live up to as I grew up and traded in my trick-or-treating bag for a bottle of beer. I’ve decided on a costume for this year, but I still have lots of leftover ideas that should be put to good use. I know a lot of people find thinking of costumes a stressful activity, so let me ease your burden and suggest you take one of these and make it Your Awesome Halloween Costume 2011 (note that Sexy Fill-in-the-Blanks are not included, and gender bending is always encouraged):

The Costume: David Wooderson, aka Matthew McConaughey’s creeper character in Dazed and Confused

Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused

pre-shirtless bongo playing days

What to Wear: bell bottoms, especially if you can get salmon-colored ones; a concert t-shirt (the one in the movie is apparently a Ted Nugent album cover); a Southern gentleman’s blonde moustache; a can of beer

What to Do: Walk around with a can of beer in hand and a lazy, stoned smile on your face all night. Say things like, “That’s what I like about these high school girls; I get older, they stay the same age” and “You gotta joint? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.” Leer at redheads. Tell everyone to meet at the moon tower for the real party.

Major Caveat: This costume is only open to people who could never be mistaken for creepers in real life. It’s only funny if it’s a huge exaggeration. If you’re a dude, here’s a test: Mention to a female friend that you plan to be this for Halloween. If she hesitates or her eyes shift away, you may be a creeper in real life and should steer clear of this costume. Also, look at your choices, look at your life.


The Costume: Freddie Mercury, in honor of the 20-year anniversary of his death

Freddie Mercury

rock god

What to Wear: tight white bootcut pants; a white men’s undershirt; a healthy black moustache; a false set of disturbingly straight and large teeth; Adidas shoes; and if you’re feeling flush with cash and luck in finding it, a bizarre yellow jacket with lots of buckles

What to Do: Strut around as if on stage all night, including athletic jumps and dives. Sing dramatic songs in full range, including an alarming falsetto. Search for a David Bowie to sing “Under Pressure” with you.


The Costume: Leslie Knope, aka Amy Poehler’s amazing character on Parks and Recreation

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope

next stop, the White House

What to Wear: a gray business suit with red dress shirt; impossibly blonde hair; low pumps; a giant planner filled to the brim with notes for meetings; a copy of A History of Pawnee, Indiana, which you wrote from memory

What to Do: Be super friendly and cheerful, and yet stumble your way into the most awkward situation possible within 2 minutes of meeting somebody. Cover it up by being more awkward and solemnly promising to hold a town meeting to find a solution. Warn people off the snake juice. Recite facts about great women in American politics and hand out “Knope 2012” buttons. Be entirely awesome.


Other ideas:

Couple costume: One of you dresses in jeans and a ratty t-shirt, possibly with tambourine or other noisemaker in hand, and carries an “Occupy Wall Street” sign. The other dresses in waist-high khakis and a sweatshirt with a golf logo, possibly wearing a crucifix or a trucker hat, and carries a “Tea Party” sign. You introduce yourselves as the new political parties of America.

Wear a nondescript outfit and pin a large piece of paper to your shirt with the name “shnazzy83” or “jasonINfectionnn.” Run around screaming “firsties!” and “Shut the f up! You’re so stupid I can’t believe you graduated kindergarten!” and the like. You’re a commenter on the internet. (A few years late to be super trendy, sure, but unfortunately there are far too many commenters like this for it to be a fad–present company excluded, of course.)

Photo 1 from here. Photo 2 from here. Photo 3 from here.

Halloween, Night of the Magic Dance

Dearest fellow travelers, my apologies for not posting sooner. My intention is to post on Tuesday mornings, but I was out of town this weekend and blah blah excuses blah. So! To keep you coming back to this site, I will now reveal a small but persistent addiction: my love for all things Bowie.

This isn’t to say that I know all his albums by heart or the details of his personal life, and I’ve never had his image plastered to my bedroom wall. But it does mean that my cousin R. and I will discuss how long it takes to do something in terms of the length of the original Ziggy Stardust and the Rise and Fall of the Spiders from Mars album, eg, “It took me a Ziggy and a half to wash the car today.” And it also means that I bought a red wig and a length of shimmery green fabric last year and spent Halloween as Ziggy Stardust himself. This year, I didn’t set out to step into a Bowie role again, and who am I going to be, the Thin White Duke?

But then, inspiration! For Halloween this year, I could become a terrifying magical being, the ruler of an entire kingdom, and the thrilling sex dream of teenage girls. In short, I could become The Goblin King from Labyrinth.

the James Dean look for a fantasy Jim Henson world

the James Dean look for a fantasy Jim Henson world

Friends R and R are filling the roles of Sarah and Hoggle, and I am currently on the hunt for a small doll in red striped pajamas so I can toss him to alarming heights and sing about the babe with the power.

I don’t know about my chances for a cure of this Bowie love, but as long as I’m shaping my eyebrows into demon points, stuffing my pants with value packs of tube socks, and singing about stealing children, I’m not sure I want to.

This Halloween, welcome to the world where all is not as it seems

This Halloween, welcome to the world where all is not as it seems