There is good news, because since last week I work at the research institute where Freddy also works. My contract is for three months, with the possibility of extension. So from 9 to 5 I am now a research assistant Monitoring & Evaluation, where I can indulge my love for Excel and paper household surveys. Everything else, like reading good books, cuddling Ivan and running, takes place early in the morning or after sunset.
Last Friday night I was sitting at the window to update our administration when my subconscious registered the sound of our garden gate. One look outside gave me the shock of the evening. At least 15 girls, with colours in their hair and costumes on, thronged our humble front yard. “Let’s try this one!” I heard through the single glazing. A father also loomed somewhere in the background. Before the thought “Oh no! Halloween! Sweets! We don’t have!” could take place in my head, the doorbell was already ringing through the house. In a panic, I ran to the kitchen, where Freddy was still unperturbedly preparing dinner. Fortunately, that afternoon while shopping he had felt like eating almond paste cookies. With the package of cookies in my hand, I rushed to the door and stood at last face to face with the children.
Right. And then nothing.
“Uhm … shouldn’t you sing or something?” I asked the motley crowd. The girls just looked at me quizzically, so I decided to address the adult who was just visible on the pavement. His answer was not very enlightening: “No, it’s not Christmas!” I felt compelled to give some information about our cultural ignorance, as Dutch people in England. This inspired the father to some French and German sentences, and an explanation of the Halloween principle: “They say ’trick or treat’ and then you give them sweets.” Hopeful I looked back at the children, but their lips remained firmly together. To put an end to the situation it seemed better not to be too strict about the rules, so I handed them the cookies and the party went to try her luck at the neighbours’.
It is hard to distinguish the holidays from one another in Gillingham. On Saturday there were fireworks in the park, probably on the occasion of Guy Fawkes Night, a commemoration of the failed attack on the House of Lords on 5 November 1605. But it may also have been for Halloween. And today the Christmas decorations were already on the shelves. Sinterklaas is simply ignored, but we already found out during our last december in England that this particular holiday is not really a success here.