According to the philosopher John Locke, the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts. I agree and that is how I explain my decision to ignore Halloween and everything to do with it. Since I have no truck with its religio-superstitious origins and don’t like the nonsensical capers that those traditions have morphed into, I will have none of it. I am not, however, totalitarian about my preference. For example, when my partner brought home a small pumpkin and set it on the sideboard I did not object: instead, I admired its colour and form. “We can eat it later,” she said, acknowledging my largesse while magnanimously providing me with a logical reason for its presence in the household. Still, it stood there for a week, challenging me to soften my insistence on empiricism in respect of the supposed existence of the spirit world.
During the run-up to Halloween, I endured the freakishly costumed staff in bars, restaurants and shops with a degree of tolerance and forbearance that Scrooge would never have countenanced. On the night itself, however, I stayed in, shut down the TV and resumed my reading of AtThe Existentialist Café in the hope that I might better understand the subject. However, too much time had elapsed since I first picked up the book and I had to start again to get a grip of the philosophical definitions. Despite my efforts, I went to bed with only a vague notion that existentialism is a way of life that seems to involve a lot of smoke (preferably Gauloises) and mirrors. By way of distraction, I listened to a podcast that featured a discussion on insomnia, its causes and cures. I didn’t sleep at all that night.
The next morning, stepping over the discarded detritus of cheap ghoul costumes, I made my way across the road to the coffee shop, where I pondered – briefly – my understanding of philosophy. When Locke, for example, spoke of actions, would he have included non-actions, such as my ignoring Halloween? Or is that a separate strand of philosophy which might be described as Head-in-the-Sandism ? I didn’t have time to work this out – I had more existentialist things to be getting on with – so I left it hanging for the time being.
Lunch that day was an intriguing experience and one that Locke may well have approved of. I went to a restaurant called Real Junk Food (“feed bellies not bins”), where the ingredients for the meals are all “intercepted” i.e. donated by the commercial supply chain before they get thrown away as waste. Operating as a not-for-profit organisation, the restaurant is run by people who are determined to do something about food waste. Moreover, while they are at it, they are also tackling social exclusion by opening the doors to everyone who wants to come and eat, whether or not they can afford to. In this restaurant, there is no price list: instead, an envelope is placed on the table with an invitation to pay as much or little as you wish or can afford. In this way, the workers on lunch break can sit down with the unemployed and everyone feels good not only about shunning profligate consumption but also about embracing benign socialism. This is truly a case of people committing their thoughts to action.
Arriving home that evening I was greeted by the savoury aroma of good cooking.
“I made a stew.” said my partner.
“Smells great,” I said. “What is it?”
“Pumpkin and chickpeas with harissa,” she said.
So we ate the ornament. How very existentialist. It tasted great, by the way, and the recipe is available on request to anyone who still has a redundant pumpkin and an appetite for empiricism.