Thursday, 12 January 2012


Light fascinates and delights me.

As a child in church one of my favourite things was watching the light falling on the polished wood of the pews through the coloured glass of the  windows ("gules" they call this, or Keats does).  I love stained glass.  I prefer abstract patterns to pictures, because I find the story of the picture occupies my consciousness and asserts an irritating distraction I cannot suppress from the light interacting with the glass in its colours and textures, which is what I want to look at.   I love light passing through water.  Swimming in lakes, I love the amber light with all the whirling silt and weed.  Swimming in (indoor) swimming pools, I love passing under the skylight windows, so that I feel for a moment I am swimming through sunshine.

This morning I woke in the still-dark, fell asleep again and woke at sunrise, our big roof windows lit with a glory of salmon and azure, lavender, pearl, turquoise and peach.  So beautiful.  I lay and watched it, thinking of John the Baptist’s question, “What did you come here to see?”  

“This,” I thought: “I came here to see this.”

Inspired by Diana Lorence, I am experimenting more than usual with candle-light (this household couldn't function without a steady supply of night-lights anyway, we are all pyro-maniacs).  There have been times in the past when I have lived without electricity, but in a shared household where no-one wants to do that, this would not be practical.  The electronic media are very important to me.  My cell-phone is my alarm clock as well as my phone.  My laptop is a work tool and my (almost sole) communication with the world, and I am inspired and challenged and entertained by films watched on it – about the Indian Hill Railways, about the lives of monks and nuns, Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple films, YouTube videos and bout health and nutrition, ecology and environment; that’s the kind of thing I watch, and it keeps me cheerful and approximately sane.

But mostly our heating is the woodstove or open fire, and in the nights when the Badger is away (half the week) I have only candle-light in the garret now.  I am intrigued to discover the extent of immediacy that brings to the passing of the night, the rhythms of daylight and darkness.

My eyesight has had 54 years punishing addiction to books, and is helped by strong light, so if I want to read in bed I do have a book light.  Even so, I find the absence of electric houselights makes a difference.  Walking through shadow, with its mystery and peace, is very calming.  And candlelight has a comforting serenity.   It’s very welcome, because I loathe with a passion these eco-light bulbs we all have now, climbing from useless semi-darkness to a prison-harsh glare as they warm up.  Ugh.

So I’ve been reading about candles – beeswax versus paraffin wax, special bushcraft high-temperature-melt wax, etc.  And I’ve been thinking about candle-safety and house fires – communities like the Amish and the Carthusians seem to resign themselves to burning their places down on a regular basis.  Hmm.    And I’ve been thinking about smoke – about how surprisingly different the colour of Kings College Chapel was after they cleaned decades of candle-smoke off the walls.   Lanterns, I think, are the way to go.  I have a beautiful one as it happens – but the problem with burning tealights is they rarely re-light successfully so, not being an enthusiast for waste and already having all the wax scrapings we need for firelighters, I  choose between a whole evening or doing without.  I am turning over in my mind how to make a spike holder with a jam jar lid and a nail so  can use short church candles in the lantern without creating lots of wax runnels.  The lantern should minimise that anyway by eliminating draft.

Enough.  Breakfast time.  Off to make porridge . . .


365 Day 12 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

More florist supplies.  12mm anchor tape this time.  Gosh, this one-item-a-day does concentrate the mind on life slipping by!  Twelve days of 2012 gone already! 


Buzzfloyd said...

I used candle light exclusively in my bedroom in the evenings for a while when I was about fifteen or sixteen. I was surprised to find how easy it was to read by it, as long as you kept the candle close to you, which I found was the key. And as soon as I felt sleepy, I would blow the candle out, because I thought going to sleep with it still burning was too dangerous. I always had at the back of my mind our family friend who died in a housefire.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about the effects of stained glass resonated with me, especially the preference for abstract pieces, although I've found that some are simply overwhelming - it's like being forced to binge on something delicious in smaller quantities.

I was inspired to do some arty stuff last year, following a visit to Norwich Cathedral, which has some wonderful glass by Keith New and John Hayward - a link here if it's of any interest.

Ember said...

Absolutely, Buzz!

Thanks you so much for your comment and link, dreaminginstitches.
The stained glass windows put me immediately in mind of one of my all-time favourite images, the huge icon of Christ the Worker in the chapel of Wychcroft House, the Southwark Diocese retreat house at Bletchingly in Surrey.
I wondered if the icon might be by John Hayward as the style is so strikingly similar.
There's a pic of it here (sorry, I think the link won't come live, you may have to copy & paste):

Ember said...

Here it is in situ

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean - very similar indeed. Thank you for the links.

Hawthorne said...

Thinking of school science lessons here - wouldn't a candle in a jar run out of oxygen and go out? Or have I missed something?

Ember said...

Yep. No lid. x

Hawthorne said...

Have just re-read your post and realised I misunderstood! Thought you were going to put the spiked lid back on the jam jar, upside down - oops! ;-)

Ember said...

Aha! Yes, I see what you mean :0)

Buzzfloyd said...

I vividly recall the occasion when Rosie and I went up to the attic as children, and took a candle in a jar as a light, which I held - but the candle heated the jar to the point that a semicircular piece of glass suddenly sheared away and shot across the room. We retrieved the piece of glass, blew out the candle, climbed carefully back down the ladder and went to look for a flashlight.

Ember said...

:0) That's my girls!!