A couple of weeks ago I was walking home with friends along the seafront in Brighton.
I noticed that, even though it wasn’t Halloween, people were going out (as I was going home) to Halloween parties dressed as zombies, vampires, Beetlejuice, and in - what could only have been a disastrous mix-up at the fancy dress rental company - the Lion King.
Twenty years ago we didn’t really have Halloween did we? Someone may have shown The Omen or “Scooby-Doo visits the spooky castle” or something but it wasn’t the prolonged dressing-up event it has become now was it? And trick or treating - what is that about? Free sweets and too much eyeliner, that’s what. One of the groups who came to our door asking for sweets must have had an average age of 26. My daughter said she thought one of them was her history teacher.
And what anniversary, ritual or belief is it about anyway? Bonfire Night, I know, is a dubious reminder of some people trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Christmas has something to do with the little baby Jesus and shopping. Easter is about death and chocolate but what on earth is Halloween about? Ghoulishness? Witches? An opportunity to note the unnecessarily bad press given to the undead? Nope - it is, I fear, a triumph of marketing over logic. A shopping opportunity or, given the impending arrival of winter, a much-needed excuse to cover your face in white foundation, put on a wig and pretend you’re in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
And let’s face it, it is a marketing success. Lots of people bought witches’ hats, glow-in-the-dark tridents, fake head wounds and false vampire teeth. Halloween, like Valentine’s Day, is an economic boon and in these difficult days we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if it is dead.
Which brings me to the Royal College of Nursing’s recent decision to admit healthcare assistants as full members. I formed my first impression of the RCN as a fledgling nurse over 25 years ago. It struck me as austere, defensive and, when it came to the struggle to protect services from the ravages of Thatcherism, subservient and unhelpful.
Of course we know that if we cling to our first impressions too tightly, they can turn into prejudice; I also recognise that for many the RCN represents the professional face and, indeed, voice of nursing. And, goodness knows, it has tried to modernise itself in recent years and appear more sophisticated and less apologetic politically then it was 20 years ago. Beyond that, to be frank, I don’t tend to think about it very much.
HCAs, on the other hand, I do think about. Some of them taught me how to nurse (one or two of them showed me how not to), and now I sometimes teach some and enjoy their insight and sustained engagement. They have power in the world; it is not a collective power but, because of the impact they have on patients, they clearly have power. But given the fact that for so long the RCN has prided itself on its sense of “nurseness” I wonder why it would invite HCAs in? Perhaps it is a long overdue expression of sisterhood and unity? Or a respectful recognition of the work HCAs do and a willingness to extend support to them - which is, of course, what a union is for.
But one wonders, in these difficult times, if it might not be about the money new members bring? And if that were the case one also wonders - why would HCAs want to join them?
Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.