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My kids Pumpkin masterpieces

Halloween is here again. Ah, the best time of the year!

Out come the witches, the dead rise from their graves, and Jamie Lee Curtis is plucked from the DVD shelf and dusted down to go yet another round with Michael Myers.

Last night my kids carved their pumpkins (or Jack-O-Lantern’s as my American friends like to call them). Nice, traditional faces – a little different to the pictures I’ve been emailed of late.

So, where does the Halloween pumpkin originate from?

Well, it dates back to the ancient Celtic religion, when 31st October was the Pagan holiday of Samhain and the official end of summer.

The Celts believed that during this time, the realms between the living and the dead were are their weakest, and that the dead were able to rise; appearing as apparitions or in the form of animals including the black cat.

The Celts lit bonfires and disguised themselves in costumes hoping to confuse spirits and hence stop them from re-entering.

Over the years, this legend has evolved.

An Irish myth about a man called ‘Stingy Jack’ who invited the Devil for a drink then refused to pay. He then tricked the Devil into climbing a tree for some fruit. While the Devil was up the tree, Jack carved a ‘cross’ into its bark and thus prevented the Devil from getting down. Jack only let the Devil down after he’d promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. A year or two later, Jack died but God would not allow someone so devious into Heaven. As the Devil was still angry at Jack’s deceit, he too would not take Jack’s soul. So Jack was forced to walk between heaven and hell with only a burning coal inside a carved turnip for light.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Irish immigrants fled to America, taking the ‘Stingy Jack’ fable with them.

The Americans loved it, and as pumpkins were cheaper than turnips, they soon became the carved tradition we know and love today.

Well, almost…..

So, do you like the Halloween tradition? Do you carve pumpkins? If so, what do your pumpkins look like this year? Add some pictures to my FB page. I’d love to see them! What are the best photos you’ve seen so far?

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I always like to add a little piece of truth to my fiction.

This weekend I was writing a scene where I needed to research the Cornish fishing village my novel was set in. This led me to discovering many myths, including that of a smuggler who was shot in the neck and whose ghost is now reported to walk the narrow and cobbled streets of Polperro.

For a chapter in my book, this information was brilliant, but it got me to thinking. Urban legends; just how much fact is in the fiction?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to venture out near Epping Forest – High Beach to be exact. Some of you may know the place. There was a road called Hangman Hill; supposedly named because a man hung himself from the large oak tree at the top of it. The myth was if you stopped your car at the bottom of the hill, kept your hand brake off and waited, eventually your car would roll up the hill. How? Because the ghost of the hanged man pulled you up by his noose.

Did it work? Heck, yes. There were a lot of freaked out seventeen year olds that night, I can tell you! Unfortunately, and years later, you realise the hill is not going up, but actually going down and is nothing more than an optical illusion.

Urban legends have intrigued us for years. Many believe they stem from fairytales told by the Brothers Grimm. Others will swear to their story being true. But whichever way you look at it, you have to agree that people love an urban legend.

Over the years, urban legends have made their way onto television with shows like ‘Supernatural’ writing many episodes around a different myth. In 2003, the Discovery Channel devoted an entire programme called ‘MythBusters’ to test out the truth of urban legends. It’s still aired today, some nine years later. And, what about the 1998 Hollywood horror movie based entirely on Urban Legends, aptly named ‘Urban Legend’? That film earned itself a sequel.

My mum once repeated a story, told to her by a neighbour, that a ‘friend’ had her ear drum eaten by an ear wig. I still don’t know if that one is true or false.

But, my all time favourite has to be the young woman driving home along a deserted road at night, when she sees the road is blocked by fallen tree branches. She stops the car, gets out and moves them. As she is getting back into the driving seat, a car appears behind her, frantically flashing its headlights. Naturally, the young woman is unnerved and drives off. The car follows her, his high beam now on full. The young woman makes it home, pulls into her driveway and hurries inside her house. She runs to the window to see the car, high beam still on, parked behind her. The woman telephones the police and when they arrive, she watches while the officers question the driver. Then the police open the back door to her car. She is shocked when they pull a man from the back seat, carrying an axe. Supposedly, he had climbed into her car while she was busy moving the tree from the road. The approaching car had seen and tried to warn her.

I must admit, even though I don’t really believe there is any truth to this story, there was a time when one night I was driving on a deserted road in Scotland. In the middle of nowhere, I came to the red light of a portable traffic light. I stopped, well aware I was surrounded by nothing but forest. I began thinking of the axe man myth while I waited for what seemed an age. I scared myself so much I almost reached the point where I was going to jump the lights. Thankfully, they changed to green and I high tailed it out of there.

The urban legend is happening in a different kind of way at the moment. Two days ago, I received an email from a friend advising me of what I should do if someone forces me to withdraw money from a cash machine. And, I ashamedly admit I was intrigued enough to waste ten minutes and delve further into it. Okay, so the situation is this. You are at a cash machine. Someone orders you at knife point to withdraw some money. If you enter your pin number backwards, you notify the police as to what is happening. Sort of like an SOS. You will still be given your money, but in the comfort (if there is any while someone has a knife to your throat), that the police are on their way.

The truth is actually this, and it is so obvious I feel a wally for not realising in the first place. What if your pin number is 1221? 5885? 0330? Or one of the billion other combinations where the number is mirrored? How would the machine know you were typing it in backwards? DOH! I feel very stupid. So no, that one is false.

Just like when alcohol intoxicated people suck on 2p coins in the hope it will fool the police breathalyser. I asked a police officer friend if it was true. In return he smiled the ‘Oh Donna, you do make me laugh’ smile. Needless to say, that one is also false.

So, urban legends. Are they fact or are they fiction? Is there any truth to them? Let’s break it down.

The fiction:

  1. The story seems to change over time.
  2. It is extremely rare that an urban legend can be traced back to a reliable source.
  3. It always happened to a friend of a friend.
  4. The lack of specific information such as a date or location.

The fact:

  1. There’s no smoke without fire.

Well, that is 4-1. The odds seem to be that the urban legend is in fact fiction. However, we all like to believe there is some truth in them. And if nothing else, they’re good for scaring your younger siblings.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what your favourite urban legend is, and convince us it is indeed FACT.

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