I’d like to thank the Americans for Halloween…


We have a tradition in our house. We carve a pumpkin every year for Hallowe’en, we use it regularly throughout the following week and it lights up our garden on bonfire night. After the fireworks are over, the pumpkin is left in the garden, on a plant pot or at the side of the lawn, to melt back in to the earth.

It’s an amazing sight, the decomposition of a pumpkin. It filled our children with wonder and disgust when they were younger – it still amazes me now, how the dark, soot-stained interior is intensified as it is slowly blackened by decay. The furry mould around the lips changes the expression as it get older, sometimes softening, but more often making it just a bit creepier. Everyone in the household gets called up to the kitchen window to witness the first implosion – the collapse as the face disintegrates and the lid falls in. By Halloween the following year all that is left is the stalk, grimly hanging on albeit in a slightly desiccated form. Sometimes there’s the remains of the tea light, if we’ve forgotten to remove it. But the rest of the pumpkin has dissolved back into the ground, food for slugs and hopefully a bit of organic waste to help the flowers grow better next year.

So I’d like to thank the Americans for sending us their pumpkins for Halloween. In olden days I would have to carve out a turnip, hard as the hobs of hell and even harder to carve when your dad will only let you use a table knife to painstakingly shave away the insides. Strangely, health and safety concerns went out the window from that point… It would take hours to carve; I would always end up eating the raw turnip and feeling just a little bit sick. And then, gluing an old-fashioned stick candle with its own wax to the base of the lantern (before the invention of the tea light), tying a piece of flammable old rope to the top and carrying it round the dark streets without any adult accompaniment. This was best done on a foggy night with shouts of ‘Jack shine the maggie’ (not exactly sure why we chanted that), while trying to scare the pants off each other, while the rope itched the cuts I’d manage to inflict on myself with the blunt knife and while the stench of burnt turnip itched at the back of your throat…

…and then it never really did decompose in a satisfactory fashion.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

S.A.C.R.E.D by Ai Weiwei Studio at the RA

Interesting trip to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday – on the day that the Queen met the Chinese president…

Walking through Chinatown after lunch, we spotted a lot on people carrying banners and flags in protest against the state visit, but a trip to the RA gives you a quieter yet more potent protest against China’s human rights record.

Most of the works comment on state censorship or refer to China’s cultural vandalism, though one piece highlights China’s failure to protect its population. ‘Straight’ features hand-straightened steel reinforcement rods from the Sichuan earthquake – substandard building materials gathered from schools where over 5000 lives were lost. The rods create an enormous floor sculpture in the main gallery, whilst the walls house a poignant reminder of the victims by listing them individually.

Let’s hope that the new power station proposed by George Osborn and subsidised by Chinese money will be built with more regard for human life.

Straight by Ai Weiwei Studio at the RA