Streetlight

As the last echoes of August resound amoung these resonant storytelling cyberwalls, and the balmy days of a British September descend on us, I feel the time has come to mention a fellow usually only taken out and dusted off at Christmas time.

But it is September, you explain patiently. We want stories which befit the ninth month. The twelfth is a little too expensive, a tad too dark, a mite too plum-rich to be waving in front of us just now.

Sometimes, though, a line from literature is just too good to miss.

And so I refer you to another of my antiheroes, one whom I am quite sure we will visit again soon: Ebeneezer Scrooge.

I am not an unqualified fan of Dickens. Anyone who has seen his house in Rochester, Kent, will vouch for the fact his discernment was not all it could have been. It is elaborate to the point of kitsch.

But if I listen for long enough to his larger-than-life caricatures, I usually end up laughing.

You know all about the old skinflint, and I won’t tell a Christmas story in September. But his overriding vice was greed. Scrooge hated spending money.

And so even when he saw his doorknocker change into an apparition for an instant long enough to deeply unsettle him, he chose not to turn the lights on.

Scrooge loved the dark, relates Dickens. The dark was cheap.

This has become an important fragment of literature for my husband and I. Because we occupy polar ends of the dark/light scale. I love light, because it causes me to feel uplifted. Even in the dead of winter, if the house is full of light I can face the music. My office faces the setting sun and is filled with light all day.

Phil, conversely, seems to be able to live without it. We joke that he shrinks from the light. His office is windowless. He loves the dead of winter, when the dark departs from us before four in the afternoon. The word Nosfiratu has been mentioned in disagreements over the years.

The days are shortening before my very eyes. It makes me anxious. And this morning on the news, there was further proof that the dark is gathering.

It was an article on a new way for our cash-strapped councils, impoverished by Iceland and a particularly thorough recession, to save cash.

They like the dark: dark is cheap.

So all around the country, local authorities are switching off streetlamps. Essex alone has saved £1.25 million by switching off 18,000 of the 220,000 street lamps in its care for a year.

Of course, the pro-streetlight lobby has set up an outcry. Accidents will increase, dissenters wail. Crime will soar.

I have absolutely no idea whether this is indeed the case. I am an anecdotal soul. At the risk of sounding louche, I can only reflect on the pools of  light which illuminate my memories.

When the time came for Phil and I to search for our own house. We went one night, in a howling gale, to view a house in a tiny village, which was pitch black and had just one streetlight.

Over the years, that streetlight became an old friend. Or was it the surrounding darkness?

Situated outside the bakers, it lit the way to and from one of the best country taverns in Kent. On the way, we’d stroll jauntily through its pool of light, doing our best chattering classes impression. On the way back, we’d shout and sing and if behaviour was particularly raucous, we would avoid detection by tiptoeing round that electric tangerine pool.

And then we went to live in the Celtic wastes of Cornwall, in John Betjeman’s little triangle just inside the county’s Northern borders.

And at night, the whole place was pitch black.

Nobody seemed to worry too much about it there. The Cornish appear to have inbuilt night vision. The long dark winding country road that led to our house was jet black to our townie eyes.

Many a night, in the teeth of a howling gale, we’d see the same craggy old man walking along the side of the road. He would appear out of nowhere , always on the same stretch of road, scaring the living daylights out of whoever was driving. We never got used to him. We have often wondered idly if he wasn’t there at all.

Phil was doing shifts on the local radio station, and desperate for stories in these lantern wastes.

But it seemed, nothing ever happened near us.

One night we woke up at 2am in our three hundred year old cottage, because there was light coming through the window, That wasn’t right, we thought, there aren’t any streetlights here: and Phil got on a coat over his pyjamas and went to see what was going on.

It was a bunch of crazy filmmakers. They were filming a horror flick starring a handful of British character actors and an American starlet. The lights were dazzling, sleep was impossible, and suddenly we could see a village nightscape we had never seen before.

Phil later went to see the results and said it was truly awful.

Weeks later a landrover rolled off a cliff and through the roof of the old methodist chapel which doubled as an artists pottery in the village where I was head teacher. Nobody hurt, spectacular pictures, page one of The Sun. Two Stories in a fortnight. Bingo.

I shan’t dread the nights closing in quite so much this year.

Because,  when all is said and done, this light and dark lark: it’s all just so much stage lighting, isn’t it? Like all the other natural phenomena, these two partners in crime backlight our lives and colour our memories.

Whatever the light and dark are doing, there will always be adventuring to be done.

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8 thoughts on “Streetlight

  1. Lovely wander down memory lane with you.

    You leave car lights on too? 🙂

    I prefer the light, my eyes prefer the dark. We compromise, and settle for semi-light.

    1. Yes, I’m staring fixedly at a screen waiting for my morning cuppa, but my head disagrees with my choice of pastime. I hope fervently that it can stand the pace.

      I am full of excuses about the car, my locus of control is somewhere in the next town….It’s new, it has automated light thingummies, it told me to turn off the lights and I did(only clearly I didn’t). Thank God Jan and the lovely obliging school caretaker were around to help….

    1. I wish I were a little better at sorting flat batteries out: I’m one of those people who just flaps around and hopes fervently someone knows where to put the clips….Dracula, a la Bram Stoker, is another one of our joint obsesssions.

      Hope the writing proceeds ok today Cindy. And also canine ear technique.

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