Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Broken Things, Fairy lights and Lavinia in the Arctic

Bit of a tiring few days flying around on the magical mystery poetry/literature tour bus in East Anglia. Delivering poetry in two village halls with friends, attending launch of a new collection of short stories in Norwich. Broken Things the collection by Padrika Tarrant deserves to be read, it is writing that is staggeringly authentic, beautiful and at the same time unnerving. This is not a flog blog moment, dear reader, just me pointing you towards a wonderfully different read. It was Cambridge last night for the launch of a series of poetry readings in Michaelhouse kicked off by Tobias Hill and Helen Mort.

I was working on the door at this last event, trying to decide whether asking someone if they were a discount ie OAP could be slightly risky but then decided that if they should look dejected at actually being thought to be over 60 I could comment that I thought they might be a mature student which would also entitle them to a discount but I think they saw through this. I did manage to glance up and say to a couple entering that I really liked their necklaces as they were really glitzy. They turned out to be the Mayor and her companion who had been invited to attend the launch event. I stood by my initial comment that the mayoral jewellery had a wonderful Las Vegas glitz about it but with a slight understated British twist. They took it in good part, or appeared to just to get by the mad woman on the door.

I have always been a bit of a magpie regarding shiny baubles and if left to my own bad taste devices I could festoon myself with shiny objects and being a tall woman could look like a gaudy Christmas tree, probably a Scots Pine. The Boo and I have always felt that Christmas is an occasion for festive over ornamentation, wind up dancing turkeys and singing snowmen on illuminated plinths. Once my new set of lights were put up in my front window three years ago I decided that I liked them so much I would keep them up there. This may account for any bad luck that has befallen me since as my mother would rumble ominously about any seasonal festoon left up after twelfth night. In my defence I would add that it is a mere net of lights that can pulse, chase, flash or simply twinkle and not a full extravaganza of Santa Claus and reindeer that might look a little out of place in June.

I am a sucker for a fairy light, I have them draped in large vases, round banisters and entwined in willow sticks. It may be that single-handedly I can cause a surge in the national power grid when I switch them all on. I may be ecologically unsound in finding solace in small lights. Candles may be more ethnic but are, given my accident prone nature, more dangerous. I have eco-friendly light-bulbs all round the house and then I have the fairy lights; I live in a house of light paradox. They may be twee, they may be passé, they may be an interior decorator’s nightmare but they make me happy, especially when the nights start to grow darker. I am sure ever since man discovered how to make fire, not just heat but light has been embedded deep in our evolutionary psyche as a means of warding off the dark, the forces that sit out there in the blackness and night and wait to pounce. From the night light in the child’s room to people with SAD syndrome staring into light boxes there are so many instances of light being both protector and endower.

There is a downside to this quest for the light however as I have noticed that true dark is a rare commodity, these days you have to travel miles to stand in the dark. When is the last time you stood in a place outside with no light pollution at all, just star and moon light? Answers on a postcard , naming the best experience of the dark to this blog ( no sexual encounters on blankets or off blankets in woods, beaches or caves will be allowed). Moon and starlight have suffered from an over romanticised press of course but we may be rapidly forgetting what others in the past knew of the dark. If they knew what it was like to stand or walk in the night, relying only on the eye to grow accustomed to the dark and shadows, they would also experience the value and the particular quality only the light of a full moon and the stars can give. Lavinia Greenlaw in her poem Blue Field tries to evoke her particular experience of light in the dark whilst in the Arctic snowfields.

Will our urban eyes gradually evolve so that we can no longer adjust to the dark, will we grow to be creatures only of the switch, bulb and fluorescent tube? Who knows, meanwhile I switch off my ceiling lights and navigate round my house some nights by fairy light, a small pretence at moving in starlight.

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