Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Hints for Beginners.

Halloween is starting to become bigger here in the UK and I thought I would share some ideas and tips for those who aren't used to doing anything for Halloween. I know the idea of Halloween started on this side of the Atlantic, but believe me, the other side in North America has truly expanded upon the concept.

1. Pumpkin. First, get yourself a pumpkin. Now is a good time to find one, about a week before Halloween. If you wait too close to the date, there are likely only badly-misshapen ones, too small ones or ones that have started to rot and have soft spots. You can get it even earlier as pumpkins store well. Keep it dry and cool and it should be no problem to last until October 31. Choose one that is big enough to get your hand into easily once you open it up for carving.
2. Carving. Carve your pumpkin! I love carving pumpkins and you can really be creative here. But, if you are new to it, it's best to stick to a basic pattern. Rather than write here how to carve a pumpkin into a jack o'lantern, I'll just link to a good article on pumpkin carving for beginners. Tips for carving: Don't try carving your pumpkin more than a couple of days before Halloween, as it will quickly spoil once it is cut. And get yourself a serrated blade to carve the pumpkin with, as it will make your carving MUCH simpler. Here's a complicated one that I did a couple of years ago. I put it here just to show off, please forgive me.
3. Costumes. The Brits seem to think that Halloween costumes need to be scary. I disagree. If we want to look at the tradition of Halloween and costumes to scare away spirits, I think it's just as good to confuse them by not being recognised because you are in costume, rather than scaring them. Especially for little kids, I think it's nicer not to necessarily have something covered in blood and guts and just something exciting for them to wear. Plus, it gives you a lot more room for creativity if you aren't limited to spiders, cats, witches and ghosts. But hey, if you have older kids who want to go for the knife through the head look, I say go for it.
This next point might out me as an old fuddy-duddy, but I think home-made costumes are waaaaaay cooler than store-bought outfits. Maybe it comes from when I was a kid, store costumes were either very expensive (ie, Mom and Dad wouldn't buy it) or really lame. By lame I mean they were a cheap plastic mask of a character and then a even cheaper plastic top similar to a garbage bag in material with more printing of the character.
See what I mean? Do you want your kids to be seen in the 2010's equivalent? No. Make your own costume. Sure, buy bits and pieces to put it together but don't just buy a costume. Last year my daughter wore a red dress and had a mask of Peppa Pig and she looked perfect. This year, she wants to be a hula girl, so it's a skirt made of grass or ribbons (which ever I organise) and a lei and a flower in her hair. Done. Honestly, please leave a comment and ask for an idea if you are stuck rather than buy a costume. I'll do my best to come up with something for you.
Tips for costumes: If you are planning on going trick or treating in the costume, try and make it big enough to fit over a jacket. Not much point putting lots of effort into your costume and then have it covered by your winter parka. Or at least wear enough layers under the costume that you can keep your jacket open in front for people to see it.
4. Trick or Treating. I like trick or treating. When I was a kid I loved going to people's houses and getting the candy, but I also loved showing off my costume and seeing people's reactions. Now I enjoy the kids coming to my door and seeing their costumes. I feel seeing their efforts at dressing up is more than fair reward for a couple of cheap sweets. I don't feel it's begging at all; they entertain me and I give them a sweet in return.
Tips for trick or treating: For anyone less than 13 or so, I would recommend going with an adult. Depending on age, the adult in question can either come up to the door with the child or hang around on the sidewalk, trying not to embarrass the child with their existence. We would usually go around with the other kids who lived near us. It makes life easier for the people you visit too, as they can get a bunch of kids at once rather than one or two every minute. Back in Canada I would go to any house that had its lights on. Here, I would recommend just going to the houses that have jack o'lanterns in their window or on their steps. Since Halloween still isn't done by everyone, there's no need to tick off people by pushing Halloween onto them. So if you are willing to hand out candy to the kids, see points 1 and 2 above!!
The littler the child, the earlier you can start going out. I think that 5:30pm should be the earliest you start, with between 6 and 7:30pm being the ideal time to go. 9pm should be the absolute latest you knock on anyone's door, so plan your strategy from there.
We used to use pillow cases for collecting the treats. Strong, yet light for carrying. Slightly classier than a Tesco bag too.
5. At the end of the evening. Once you are done trick or treating, have an adult go through the candy. There are plenty of urban legends about terrible things people have given out for Halloween, but I don't know of any documented cases. Still, it doesn't hurt to have a quick look over to make sure there aren't any items like a lollipop that has lost its wrapper or a box of raisins that has popped open, both collecting more dust and detritus than is prudent to eat. If you are accepting people for Halloween and you are done for the evening, let people know by putting the light out in your pumpkin, taking it out of the window and turning off your front light.

I hope these tips and ideas will help some of you out there enjoy Halloween here in Britain. Happy Halloween and spooky good time to all!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Red Tape at its Finest - The DVLA

I'm feeling a lot of anger towards the DVLA today. DVLA stands for Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. They are the people who issue UK driver licenses. And they are useless.

I'm finally changing my Canadian license to a UK one. This should have been done a few years ago according to my insurance and they are a bit ticked off it wasn't done before. Ticked off enough to strike me off our car insurance policy until it's changed. So no driving for me until this is all done.

Okay, no big deal, just send in all my paperwork and my Canadian license and my passport. Within 15 working days, I should get my new license back. Of course, there will be the problem that the DVLA say that Canadian licenses don't specify if I can drive a manual transmission, so it will likely say that I'm only allowed to drive an automatic. Never mind the fact that Albertan licenses DO in fact have a classification for people who can only drive an automatic on them, that doesn't count according to the DVLA. I don't know what they want - to have sat with me when I did my test in a tiny manual hatchback that wintery afternoon of 1987? Of course neither of our cars is automatic, just like 84% of the cars on the road in the UK.

So I go and spend loads of money on sending all the documents special delivery and also enclose another prepaid special delivery envelope to get my passport back in (as they send that before the license is ready). This week there was a special delivery for me but I wasn't in to get it. I figured it was my passport but it had to wait until G was back from his business trip so he could chauffeur me over to the main post office in Maidenhead to pick it up.

I went to pick it up today and see that it wasn't just my passport, it was ALL of my documents. Apparently, I forgot to tick one box. The box that asks if I need corrective lenses to read a number plate (license plate) from 20.5 metres away. I left that blank for two reasons. One, on the form, it says if you already have a license, don't bother to fill that out. Their own form says to leave it blank! Two, if they had bothered to look at my Canadian license, they would see that I do have that classification requiring corrective lenses. But noooooooooo, that might mean they would also see that I'm not limited to the classification of driving only an automatic!

What really gets on my nerves, is they ask you for your phone number and email in case there are any "problems" with your paperwork. If this was not a case for contacting me, I don't know what would be?!?!

I am so steaming about this. So bloody blinkered and useless to be unable to contact me to ask me. Instead send it all the way back to me so I can once again pay loads of money to send it to you registered mail and be even longer without the ability to drive safely insured. Twats. Twatty twatty twattery to top all twattery.