image_pdfimage_print

Moving home – the next chapter

So it’s “Done and Dusted’, thats what us Irish say when a Job is complete.

It’s been a crazy, emotional, energetic, exhausting and a tearful past year, yes I am a single parent, also a parent who came out of a long relationship with someone I invested time, money, dreams, tears and my heart with.

Seven years ago we built a beautiful home that I personally created on paper and had it built to a very high standard by investing every cent we owned.  We dreamed of growing old with our family there.

But that was not meant to be, as we seperated two years ago, leaving me and my little Dude in our home that now felt so emepty with my dreams and hopes torn apart and a loneliness you couldn’t imagine.

After coming to terms, gaining strenght and being positive about the challenge on becoming a single parent, I picked myself up, used my talent of Photography and photographed my home, put it on the buyers market and thankfully got a buyer within the first month.

Relief, sadness, closure and panic all came to mind. How can I empty all of its contents in just four weeks as a single parent??

Thankfully, I had a very supportive and kind friend, who helped all the way and with the help of another friend, we did it, we cleared the house of all its contents, all the memories, all the the familiar spaces. It was extreme, it was emotional, but we did it!!

I said my goodbye at 3am that morning that the new owners were to move in, as I drove away in the darkness of the night, looking back at what for only a couple of more hours had been my family home.

Closing that chapter of my life, ready to write a new one, all I can suggest is ‘Never give up, Stay positive, Be strong’ for the little ones because we create their story, their securities and their home.

 Claire

How to write a book

For a writer, announcing that you’ve scored a book deal is the professional equivalent of the engagement or baby announcement on Facebook: it’s life-defining, it’s exciting, it gets you hundreds of likes and comments from people you haven’t spoken to in years. I just announced my book news on social media the other day, and felt the temporary glow of achievement. But then I swiftly returned to the rather gnarly reality: that writing a book is a lonely, doubtful, at times excruciating experience that causes you to question your abilities, your life choices and yourself. There’s a reason people always say it’s like giving birth to a literary baby: it’s an enormous undertaking and you’re literally creating something out of nothing.
And yet… Writing a book is one of the most popular life ambitions in the world. There are millions of half-finished debut novels, just-started memoirs and nearly-there works of non-fiction tucked away in desk drawers, and millions more ideas for books on secret bucket lists. Everyone thinks they could maybe whip up a bestseller, and there’s always been something glamorous about the perception of a writer’s life. Like tapping on a typewriter or a laptop is the most romantic thing a creative person can do with their brain. Writers in movies and books are always depicted as brilliant and a little bit tortured, because writing, really writing, is like extracting a piece of your soul every time you open a Word document. Or so legend would have us believe.
Given how many people desperately or casually wish to write a book, I thought I’d give you a few brutal hints about what it’s really like to actually sit down and do it. Because that’s the real difference between the people who do write a book and those who don’t: the actual physical act of forcing words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters and chapters into a book.
The first thing you should know about book-writing is that when you strip away the loveliness of getting a book deal and the thrill of having an idea worth chasing, it really is just you and a word processor in a room. There are few things on this planet more solitary than writing a book. It can get pretty lonely. As a freelance journalist, I’m used to the solitude of the thinking-writing cycle, but if you’re unaccustomed to it, it could be a shock. Sure, you’ve got editors and friends and loved people who can offer an opinion – and they’re all fantastic – but ultimately, your book doesn’t exist until you make it exist through sheer force of will and hard work.
And it is hard work. It’s not all stringing together beautiful sentences, moving plots and writing characters into life. It’s dogged, diligent research, planning, scheming, thinking and then bashing out words at the rate of your imagination until you have the right amount. It’s an arduous, baffling, exhausting task that could bring you to the precipice of your sanity again and again. Somehow, every time you feel like you’ve run out of inspiration, you’ve got to find the courage and the stamina to keep moving words onto pages in time for your deadline. That’s what I’m trying to do right now – I’ve been stuck on 35,000 words (out of my required 80,000) for three weeks. The inspiration has just stalled and quite frankly, all I can do is blindly trust that it will return because it has to. That’s what a deadline and a cheque will do: it’ll make the act of writing urgent, inevitable and terrifying.
Through all this external pressure, you’ve got yourself to contend with, too. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who lays down a sentence and whispers aloud, “Oh, well done! What a sentence!” Maybe you’re the kind of writer who sees the beauty in their own writing immediately, and often. And that’s terrific for you.
If you’re anything like me, though, or indeed any other writer I’ve ever spoken to, you will more likely hate every word you’ve written as soon as you’ve written it. I’m at the stage now where I just focus on churning out words and hope that the noise of my fingers on the keyboard will drown out the sound of my self-doubt. My confidence in my own work comes and goes like a pernicious cat: it visits me for reassurance only on its time and its terms.
Some days, I like my idea for a book. I can imagine people reading it, even liking it. Most days, I berate myself for ever having the audacity to think I could be a published writer. It’s exhausting. And I’m not a timid, self-loathing sort of writer typically – apart from a brief time where I thought I might follow my mother and grandparents into acting, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do. Writing is what I’ve chosen to do with my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To do it, you have to push through layers and layers of fear, doubt and guilt. You have to have the sort of ambition that carries you through all that and the tenacity to get the job done, no matter what. It’s intense and difficult – but that’s just what it’s like to write a book.

Best school bags: Your guide to the best backpacks

September means one thing to anyone with children: back to school and all the shopping and planning that requires. And while uniform and school shoes are fairly straight forward, the question of backpacks is a much wider one. So we’ve scoured the high street to find the best school bags, whatever your need or budget:

The colourful school bag

hype backpack

Got a child who knows what they want? Pink? Green? Gold? Silver? Shiny? Sparkly? Hype have got you covered! A dazzling array of designs, there’s literally no limit to the choices your child can have. From Mint Holographic to Blue Acid Denim and Gold Glitter, these roomy backpacks have become a popular, yet, thanks to the multitude of different styles, individual choice for style-savvy kids up and down the country. From £24.99.

SEE: Where the celebs get their children’s school uniforms from

The anti-theft backpack

tech backpack

If public transport travel is part of your child’s school commute, having a secure backpack will be high on your list of priorities. The Bobby Compact backpack is a literal Fort Knox – there’s no external zippers and has thick, cut proof material. Kids might be more enamoured by its sleek design and integrated USB port which you can connect to an internal power bank, so when their phone or tablet runs low, they can attach it to their bag for some more charge and carry on undisturbed. It’s fully waterproof, ergonomically designed, and comes in different colourways and full of hidden pockets too. From £74.99.

The bag for little adventurers

joules backpack

Wipe-clean is the only way to go when your little darlings are mini adventurers and this Mini Joules Backpack is spot on. With plenty of room for lunch boxes and school supplies, the padded arms mean it won’t cut into your child so they can run around till their heart’s content. The cute design should please them too. From £26.95.

The one for sporty types

UA

Sporty students will appreciate the multitude of pockets of the Under Armour Storm Contendor Backpack. The tough, abrasion-resistant bottom panel won’t fall foul to being dumped on a football pitch while the water-repellent front pockets are designed to keep valuables safe. Perhaps one of the best features though is the adjustable, padded, HeatGear shoulder straps, just the thing for post-cross-country. From £65.

The stylish rucksack

fiorelli

Older students will love the minimalism of style of this Fiorelli Zip Top Backpack, which puts a cooler spin on the traditional rucksack shape. It’s stylish as well as practical, as it opens fully (so easy to reach for those pens) but includes a small zipped pocket for valuables plus a slip slot for tablets. From £69.

The best bag for growing backs

yuuschool bag

A lot of students opt to lug all their books around at all times for fear of forgetting the one important item but that means a lot of weight on young, developing shoulders and for some this is a real concern. The YUUschool backpack takes weight distribution to new levels: vertical compartmentalisation of pockets keeps weight higher up and closer to the spine. S-shaped padded straps are sewn close together to centralise the weight to the body. Deep pockets and security straps avoid weight falling to the middle of the bag causing pain and pressure. From £39.99.

MORE: The most stylish celebrity nurseries and children’s bedrooms

The one for the glitterati

glitter backpack

You can’t beat a bag to put a smile on their faces and this cheap and cheerful number from Paperchase is just the ticket for those grey, autumnal days. The rainbow design carries through to the zip too, and with a large compartment and smaller one at the front, it’s an ideal choice for those that travel light. From £35.

 

 

Hello!

BREXIT and the single mum

An independent thinktank predicts the Government of  Brexit Britain will slash spending on benefits that affect the poor working class. Single parents and disabled Brits will lose thousands more each year in the event of a Brexit, research has suggested. Brexit is widely expected to trigger at least a short-term economic shock, which could hit Government finances.

And this is likely to result in slashed welfare spending, according to the independent think tank the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Much of this could affect poorer working families. Passing 25% of the cuts onto welfare will leave a single working parent with two children £1,386 worse off a year by 2020, the NIESR said.

Meanwhile, the same cut to the budget would leave a disabled single person with no children surviving on £1,096 less a year. 25% of public spending cuts passed onto welfare, NIESR predicts.

And that’s not the worst-case scenario. If the Government passed ALL of the cuts onto welfare, a single parent with two kids could be £5,542 worse off a year. While Leave campaigners have argued migrants drive down wages and take benefits meant for Brits, NIESR said it had considered the effect of a tighter immigration policy.

Where Did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come From?

Each year, when the weather gets colder and December approaches, many Americans who celebrate Christmas will get together to decorate a Christmas tree. But why in the world do we decorate these (often artificial) fir trees in the first place?

It turns out, the meaning behind Christmas trees as holiday decor goes back further than you might realize.

Both the ancient Egyptians and Romans saw the bright hue of plants that remained green all year, such as palm rushes and evergreen boughs, as a way to give warmth and hope to people during the winter, according to History.com.

Ancient people would mark the winter solstice (the shortest day and longest night of the year, which typically falls on December 21 or December 22) by using evergreens. These plants served as a sunny reminder that other greens would grow again once spring and summer returned.

People in some countries believed evergreens stood for everlasting life and even had the ability to ward off evil spirits and illnesses—another reason for the tradition of hanging evergreen boughs above doorways and inside homes.

1444

Some say the first-ever Christmas tree was in London, near what is now Leadenhall Market. However, it seems it was a one-time trend, as Christmas trees wouldn’t be back in Britain until the 19th century.

1500s

Many believe Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, began the tradition of adding lighted candles to a tree, which is why we decorate trees with strands of lightbulbs today. The story goes that while Luther was walking home one winter evening, he saw twinkling stars among evergreens and wanted to re-create the magical moment for his family.

1771

While Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther.

1820s

The first record of a decorated evergreen tree in America was that of German settlers in Pennsylvania.

1846

Queen Victoria, German Prince Albert, and their children were shown standing around a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News. Because Victoria was very popular with her subjects at that time, the Christmas tree trend took off in both Britain and the East Coast of the United States.

Christmas with Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, their children and Queen Victoria’s mother, in 1848 as depicted in the Illustrated London News.  Getty Images

1882

When Edward H. Johnson, the vice president of Edison’s Electric Light company, decorated a tree with 80 red, white, and blue lightbulbs and displayed it in his New York City window, a newspaper in Detroit helped him earn the title “Father of the Electric Christmas Tree.”

1895

Some Americans were still skeptical about using electric lights on their Christmas trees, although apparently not President Grover Cleveland. He is said to have introduced the first electrically lit White House Christmas tree.

1903

General Electric began selling Christmas light kits so that people could decorate their Christmas trees more easily than ever.

1917

But it was Albert Sadacca who is believed to have really made Christmas tree lights mainstream. The New York teenager had heard about a candlelit tree that burst into flames and started stringing lights for his family’s novelty business. Painting the bulbs proved to be the ticket—and one day his business became NOMA Electric Company (National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association), the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world for many years.

1931

The first Christmas tree went up in Rockefeller Center—only it was a lot smaller than the ones debuted these days. And instead of an official lighting before a crowd of spectators, this one was orchestrated by construction workers.

1933

Two years later, a lighted tree was placed in Rockefeller Center, sparking the city’s annual tradition.

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza on December 20, 1934.Getty Images

Today

After a rich history, Christmas trees (both real and artificial) have become the centerpiece of the season—and a classic Christmas tradition that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

November 5 is the day when Britons everywhere set fire to things and let things off. But why?

 

What is bonfire night?

November 5 – which this year falls on a Saturday –  commemorates the failure of the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot by a gang of Roman Catholic activists led by Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby.

When Protestant King James I acceded to the throne, English Catholics had hoped that the persecution they had felt for over 45 years under Queen Elizabeth I would finally end, and they would be granted the freedom to practice their religion.

When this didn’t transpire, a group of conspirators resolved to assassinate the King and his ministers by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.

 

Guy (Guido) Fawkes, from York, and his fellow conspirators, having rented out a house close to the Houses of Parliament, managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords – enough to completely destroy the building.

(Physicists from the Institute of Physics later calculated that the 2,500kg of gunpowder beneath Parliament would have obliterated an area 500 metres from the centre of the explosion).

The scheme began to unravel when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, the 4th Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the House of Lords.

Guy Fawkes tried and failed to blow up Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot

The letter (which could well have been sent by Lord Monteagle’s brother-in-law Francis Tresham), was made public and this led to a search of Westminster Palace in the early hours of November 5.

Explosive expert Fawkes, who had been left in the cellars to set off the fuse, was caught when a group of guards discovered him at the last moment.

Fawkes was arrested, sent to the Tower of London and tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow plotters.

Lord Monteagle was rewarded with £500 plus £200 worth of lands for his service in protecting the crown.

Who were the Gunpowder Plot conspirators?

Guy Fawkes, Thomas Bates, Robert and Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Christopher and John Wright, Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, Hugh Owen, John Grant and the man who organised the whole plot – Robert Catesby.

The conspirators were all either killed resisting capture or – like Fawkes – tried, convicted, and executed.

The traditional death for traitors in 17th-century England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public. But this proved not to be the 35-year-old Fawkes’s fate.

As he awaited his punishment on the gallows, Fawkes leapt off the platform to avoid having his testicles cut off, his stomach opened and his guts spilled out before his eyes.

Mercifully for him, he died from a broken neck but his body was subsequently quartered, and his remains were sent to “the four corners of the kingdom” as a warning to others.

The aftermath

Following the failed plot, Parliament declared November 5th a national day of thanksgiving, and the first celebration of it took place in 1606.

Following the plot, King James I sought to control non-conforming English Catholics in England. In May 1606, Parliament passed ‘The Popish Recusants Act’ which required any citizen to take an oath of allegiance denying the Pope’s authority over the king.

Observance of the 5th November Act, passed within months of the plot, made church attendance compulsory on that day and by the late 17th Century, the day had gained a reputation for riotousness and disorder and anti-Catholicism. William of Orange’s birthday (November 4th) was also conveniently close.

Guy Fawkes Day today

The Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before the state opening, which has been held in November since 1928. The idea is to ensure no modern-day Guy Fawkes is hiding in the cellars with a bomb, although it is more ceremonial than serious. And they do it with lanterns.

The cellar that Fawkes tried to blow up no longer exists. In 1834 it was destroyed in a fire which devastated the medieval Houses of Parliament.

Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, and in a number of countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, with fireworks, bonfires and parades. Straw dummies representing Fawkes are tossed on the bonfire, as well as those of contemporary political figures.

Dummies have been burned on bonfires since as long ago as the 13th century, initially to drive away evil spirits. Following the Gunpowder Plot, the focus of the sacrifices switched to Guy Fawkes’ treason.

Traditionally, these effigies called ‘guys’, are carried through the streets in the days leading up to Guy Fawkes Day and children ask passers-by for “a penny for the guy.” Today the word ‘guy’ is a synonym for ‘a man’ but originally it was a term for an “repulsive, ugly person” in reference to Fawkes. The fireworks represent the explosives that were never used by the plotters.

In Ottery St Mary, south Devon, in a tradition dating from the 17th century, barrels soaked in tar are set alight and carried aloft through parts of the town by residents. Only Ottregians – those born in the town, or who have lived there for most of their lives – may carry a barrel. Lewes, in southeastern England, is also the site of annual celebration. Guy Fawkes Day there has a distinctly local flavour, involving six bonfire societies whose memberships are grounded in family history stretching back for generations. The only place in the UK that does not celebrate Guy Fawkes Night is his former school St. Peter’s in York. They refuse to burn a guy out of respect for one of their own.

At a glance – 7 things you never knew about Guy Fawkes

1. Guy Fawkes did not die from being hung, drawn and quartered:
As he awaited his grisly punishment on the gallows, Fawkes leapt to his death – to avoid the horrors of having his testicles cut off, his stomach opened and his guts spilled out before his eyes. He died from a broken neck.
2. Guy Fawkes was not the Gunpowder Plot’s ringleader:
There were 13 conspirators in the plot, which was masterminded by Robert Catesby, a charismatic Catholic figure who had a reputation for speaking out against the English crown. But it was Fawkes who gained notoriety after the plot was foiled, for he was caught after sneaking into the cellar beneath the House of Lords to ignite the explosives.
3. Guy Fawkes won the unlikely admiration of King James I:
Fawkes withstood two full days of torture and expressed his regret at having failed his mission. His steadfast manner earned him the praise of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing “a Roman resolution”.
4. Guy Fawkes has an island named after him:
He is one of Britain’s most infamous villains, whose effigy has been burned and whose demise has been publicly celebrated for more than four centuries. Yet to the north-west of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, a collection of two uninhabited, crescent-shaped islands is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.
5. The Houses of Parliament are still searched once a year to make sure there are no conspirators hiding with explosives:
Before the annual State Opening of Parliament, the Yeomen of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament to make sure there are no would-be conspirators hiding in the cellars. This has become more of a tradition than a serious anti-terrorist precaution.
6. The cellar that Fawkes tried to blow up no longer exists:
It was destroyed in a fire in 1834 that devastated the medieval Houses of Parliament.
7. The gunpowder would have done little damage to Parliament:
The 36 barrels of gunpowder that Fawkes planted in a cellar below the Houses of Parliament would have been sufficient to raze it to the ground, while causing severe damage to neighbouring buildings. However, some experts now claim that the gunpowder had “decayed”, and would not have properly exploded even if ignited.

What you didn’t know about Halloween….

 

 

Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. The All Saints Day celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief systems there. Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.

In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.

The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. For these friendly spirits, they set places at the dinner table, left treats on doorsteps and along the side of the road and lit candles to help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today’s Halloween ghosts are often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent, and our customs and superstitions are scarier too. We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid that they might bring us bad luck. This idea has its roots in the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into cats. We try not to walk under ladders for the same reason. This superstition may have come from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that triangles were sacred; it also may have something to do with the fact that walking under a leaning ladder tends to be fairly unsafe. And around Halloween, especially, we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt.

But what about the Halloween traditions and beliefs that today’s trick-or-treaters have forgotten all about? Many of these obsolete rituals focused on the future instead of the past and the living instead of the dead. In particular, many had to do with helping young women identify their future husbands and reassuring them that they would someday—with luck, by next Halloween—be married. In 18th-century Ireland, a matchmaking cook might bury a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween night, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it. In Scotland, fortune-tellers recommended that an eligible young woman name a hazelnut for each of her suitors and then toss the nuts into the fireplace. The nut that burned to ashes rather than popping or exploding, the story went, represented the girl’s future husband. (In some versions of this legend, confusingly, the opposite was true: The nut that burned away symbolized a love that would not last.) Another tale had it that if a young woman ate a sugary concoction made out of walnuts, hazelnuts and nutmeg before bed on Halloween night she would dream about her future husband. Young women tossed apple-peels over their shoulders, hoping that the peels would fall on the floor in the shape of their future husbands’ initials; tried to learn about their futures by peering at egg yolks floating in a bowl of water; and stood in front of mirrors in darkened rooms, holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their husbands’ faces. Other rituals were more competitive. At some Halloween parties, the first guest to find a burr on a chestnut-hunt would be the first to marry; at others, the first successful apple-bobber would be the first down the aisle.

Of course, whether we’re asking for romantic advice or trying to avoid seven years of bad luck, each one of these Halloween superstitions relies on the good will of the very same “spirits” whose presence the early Celts felt so keenly.

History

Financial help and benefits for single parents

 

By Karen Holmes, Welfare Benefits Specialist at the charity Turn2us

According to official statistics, over a quarter of households with dependent children are single parent families and there are two million single parents in Britain today.*

Sadly, children from single parent families are twice as likely to live in poverty as children from families with two parents.** With the rising costs of food, energy and childcare placing increased strain on household budgets, it’s more important than ever that those families who are struggling can claim the financial help they are entitled to.

The following guide explains the financial support that could be available to single parents and how they can access it.

Benefit entitlements

The first thing parents can do to see if they can maximise their income is to check which welfare benefits and tax credits they might be entitled to.

Whether you are working or not, if you are on a low income you might be eligible to claim Child Tax Credit which helps with the costs of bringing up a child. The amount you could receive is made up of different elements based on your personal circumstances including how many children you have, and whether or not they have any disabilities.

If you are working and on a low income, you may also be entitled to Working Tax Credit, a benefit that includes a Childcare Element to help with the costs of registered or approved childcare. Single parents must work at least 16 hours to qualify.

Single parents, who are responsible for a child under five and are not in work, or working less than 16 hours a week, may be entitled to Income Support.

Other benefits you may be eligible for depend on your household income and situation. Even if you have checked your entitlements to benefits in the past, it is important to check again, especially if you have recently experienced a change in your circumstances. The free and easy-to-use Turn2us Benefits Calculator will help you work out what you are entitled to, the amounts you could receive and how to make a claim.

If you are a single parent with a child about to turn 16, you may also like to try this tool from single parent charity Gingerbread to work out if your welfare benefits and tax credits will be affected when they reach their next birthday.

Charitable grants

There is generally low awareness of charitable grants, and research by Turn2us found that nine out of ten people on low incomes had no idea that this help may exist. Yet there are over 3,000 charitable funds available which help people in different circumstances including single parents.

The funds award one-off grants for educational and welfare purposes, as well as other forms of support to those who meet their eligibility criteria. 

Turn2us has a free and easy-to-use Grants Search tool which provides access to all of these grants so you can find ones that best meet your situation. This also includes details of each fund’s eligibility criteria and how to apply. 

Other financial help

Claiming certain welfare benefits may make you eligible to receive other help with the costs of raising a child.

For example, if you claim one of the following: Income Support; Income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; and in some cases Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, and are pregnant or have a child under four, you may be entitled to receive Healthy Start Food vouchers, which can be exchanged for free milk, fruit or vegetables, or free vitamin supplements. Claiming some of these benefits may also make you eligible for free school meals for your children.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be able to receive help with school uniforms and free school travel for your children. You can find further information about all of these benefits on the Turn2us website.

Further information and tools

Single parents who would like help with budgeting can try Money Advice Service’s budget planner tool and if debts are becoming a worry for you, the Money Advice Trust offers online debt service My Money Steps and National Debtline, a free confidential helpline (0808 802 4000).

Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents provides money advice and support through its website and helpline.

Jane’s story

One person to have benefited from accessing support is Jane, a single mother of three who was out of work and struggling to cope with everyday costs.

By using the Turn2us Benefits Calculator, Jane identified that in addition to the Housing and Child Benefits she was already receiving; she was also entitled to Income Support at just over £70 per week.  Her eligibility for this benefit meant that she could also apply for free school meals for her two eldest children.

Jane, who is now working part-time, said: “Income Support made all the difference and helped me through a very difficult time. My job at a children’s support centre means I now get the opportunity to help other parents in a similar situation.”

* Office for National Statistics, 2012

** Households Below Average Income (HBAI) 1994/95-2011/12. Department for Work and Pensions, 2013

The Queen is hiring – New curtain maker wanted

 

 

The Queen is hiring a royal cushion and curtain maker. The chosen applicant will work in 1,000 rooms across Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and St James’s Palace, helping to create and maintain the bespoke soft furnishings in all three royal residences. The Royal Household has advertised the full-time position online, telling prospective employees that it is their chance to leave their mark on “some of the most famous houses in the world”.

According to the job description, the ideal candidate will be an expert in machine and hand stitching, with extensive experience in the field, “outstanding” practical skills and an ability to meet “challenging” deadlines. “It’s knowing your curtains add the finishing touches to state rooms,” it reads. “It’s protecting heritage by leaving your own legacy. And it’s furnishing some of the most famous house in the world. That’s what makes working for the Royal Household exceptional.”

The advert continues: “Your challenge will be to provide curtains and soft furnishings that will maintain the presentation and functionality of these unique environments. You’ll manage and deliver multiple soft furnishings projects, designing new items, estimating materials, costs and timings, and cutting fabrics. From tailoring furniture covers, to creating new curtain to scale the heights of state room, you’ll consistently aim for the highest standards.

“Working with numerous historic items, you’ll survey and evaluate the condition of furnishings, prioritising work to both repair and preserve items, whilst also meeting the operational needs of working Royal residences. You’ll carefully record all your handlings of historic furnishings, as well as keeping workrooms in good condition, fully equipped and stocked. The range of projects will stretch you. And knowing that you’re conserving and creating magnificent items that will be enjoyed by future generations will give you the greatest sense of reward.”

The starting salary for the position is £22,000 per annum, plus 15 per cent employer contribution pension scheme and benefits. Closing date for applicants is 6 April. Vacancies are frequently posted on the Royal Household website. Other positions currently advertised include a £24,000-a-year secretarial assistant based at Buckingham Palace, and a £18,000-a-year assistant gardener to help maintain the grounds of Bagshot Park, home to Prince Edward and his family.

 

 

Hello