This is the first of a series of guest posts by West Oxford people, celebrating the voices and wisdom of those who live and work in the area. It is written by local travel writer and Street by Street participant Mary Russell. A fitting follow up to our ‘how to’ on making a quick nature-inspired lantern yesterday.
That magical flickering light, that tiny flame? Yes, it’s the time of year for candles and candle light. Gold candles and silver candles, black candles even and the most traditional of all – red candles, each one casting its own special little gleam of light wherever you put them – on the mantlepiece, by the Christmas crib if you have one, or best of all in the window, sending a message saying, “Yes we’re here, come on in”.
Candles aren’t just for the festive season though. In Antigua, Albert, great, great grandson of a slave from Sierra Leone, told me of how his parents were overjoyed to get electricity into their house. They’d had candles till they got the electricty. “We called it moonlight on tick,” he told me, “because you paid for it afterwards”.
In South Africa, I visited a trade union organiser and found him with his papers spread out on the table, doing his union work – by candle light.
In Ireland, with its history of emigration, the talk was often about the absent sons and daughters who had to leave home to find work, living out their lives in faraway America or Australia. Or England even. One president, Mary Robinson, put a candle in the window of the presidential palace to let emigrants know they had not been forgotten.
The candle has more mundane uses as well. My mother, convinced she could do something with my non-descript hair, instituted a singeing evening. No, not an evening of song but an evening when laboriously she would take my hair, twist it into coils and then run a candle flame up and down to singe off the ends. This, apparently, would strengthen my miserable locks and make me pretty and attractive to boys. Reader, it didn’t work.
The most economical candle I ever saw wasn’t really a candle at all. I was in Georgia (Republic of) and in a distant village celebrating Easter when it was time to go home. I’m not sure-footed at the best of times and certainly not after a few glasses of Georgian champagne but down the rocky path and across a shallow stream we went our intrepid way, our only light a saucer holding a few tablespoons of oil in which floated an inch of lighted wick. And you know what? We got home safely so hurrah for candles.
If you fancy writing a short post for the blog, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!