It took a year to get the candleholders I wanted. After about three months of message leaving and nudging, I got to irritation and once I got through that, to fascination. If you are running a shop and a customer has seen something he or she wants in it, don’t you either order it in or explain that you can’t? But to tell me you can get it, but not yet: what’s that about ? So I signed on. Eventually, my decorator friend Wal who can do arabesques on the internet, told me what to do and I got what I wanted direct from the supplier. That coincided with one of each size, larger and smaller (not what I had ordered) coming through to the shop so I took them as spares and – as my mother would have said – “swep’ out.” The shop closed shortly afterwards and I can’t say I am surprised. However, as you’ve gathered, the candleholders are what I wanted. As Wal said under his breath “They’d better be, after that fandango.”
My last birthday present to myself was lemon verbena candles from an Italian herbalist, so expensive it made my eyes water but beautifully milled candles that hardly dripped, the palest delicate green and as for the smell – smells are personal. I love verbena.
I often light candles, just so there is residual light. In the winter, candles are cosy. Once spring begins to develop, they ease you from a later longer twilight into the dark. The house was lit with candles last night and this morning there was the same effect but different from the sunlight in great extravagant puddles on the floor.
We haven’t had sun in any strength for so long (forget the endless chewing gum conversations about how bad the winter was or wasn’t) that it seems profligate to spill it so. Natural light is extreme, the dark is very dark, the light the opposite. Only the other day, a friend who had just come back from South Africa explained how stunning she found the African night – “doesn’t come, doesn’t come, doesn’t come -blink – then, black – and stars like you haven’t seen for years.”
Or you sit at a window and the sky lightens tinge by tinge until suddenly – it is dawn, arriving with optical cymbals, putting on a colour show.
Artificial light is so much a part of our lives now that we expect to choose colours in spite of it. And when you get short with a sales assistant as I did the other day – no true light: if you go to the door with the item in your hand, some screaming alarm goes off and everybody looks at you reproachfully – you realise they have never thought of it as an option. You buy the pink in the shop and if it doesn’t work you either bring it back or get on with it or pass it on. The idea of being particularly perceptive about colour when you buy is becoming increasingly strange. A recently refurbished grand store expects you to buy cosmetic colours under artificial light against gloom – lots of black – which is fairly distorting unless you are only expecting wear whatever it is in nightlife.
Of course, there are moments when you are darned grateful for the switch and the clarity of electric light. When you think you have been followed home through the gloom, get inside your front door, lock it and put on the lights – oh thank you heaven. Or you mislay something and eventually put all the lights on and crawl round till you find it – ditto. But I am bewildered by the light left on night after night in the house over the back, no children, no noise but hard yellow light night after night. Maybe somebody really doesn’t like waking up in the dark.
When I was a child, I used to ask for the hall light to be left on, the door half open and I would drift peacefully off to sleep. I rarely closed the curtains entirely (still true). My favourite thing was the paraffin stove, which was lit night after night, with Wrights Coal Tar in a little pan on top of it, allegedly to help my muddied lungs. The stove had a pattern cut into the shutter on top of it and I loved watching it as I fell asleep. Just a soft light … Maybe I was a mole in an earlier life.