Thursday, 24 December 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Things That The Light Brings

Just past the shortest day again and we are in the middle of those grey days that hardly seem to get light.  Yet these early mornings, just as the world is waking up, can feel really cosy.  The house has just a few pools of soft interior light, either from lamps or from the fire, and outside the quiet darkness wraps around it like a blanket.  At this time of year I am fully dependent on using daylight bulbs in order to paint.  Hence I was pretty grumpy when the main one went pop last week and I was forced to stop work (I’m always a bit grumpy if I have to stop work!).  As my work is so much about colour, I was unable to continue.  Without a sufficient level of daylight illumination it is impossible to see the true colour of the paint.  Happily it has now been replaced with an even stronger bulb and thus normal service has been resumed!

This December also brought another opportunity to see the Geminid meteor shower.  The conditions at peak time were supposed to be perfect - i.e., no moon, which would mean that the shooting stars would show up more clearly.  Unfortunately a thick and persistent cloud base put pay to that. However, during that period, on the Sunday before last, I listened to quite a bit of BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from their Northern Lights series.  It was fascinating.  I was especially interested to hear the programme about St. Lucia’s Day, one of the biggest festivals in Sweden.  December 13th was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, according to the Julian calendar and a festival of light in Sweden.  It turned into a saints day because a young Christian girl, called Lucia, was killed for her faith in 304AD.  Apparently the most common story told about her is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city.  She would wear candles on her head so that she had both hands free to carry things.  St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by dressing a girl in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.  The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter.

This week has brought the restoration of our telephone line which was mistakenly cut off two weeks ago by BT.  In the process of transferring us to fibre optic broadband, they mistakenly switched off the voice comms - whoops!  We are benefitting from the government’s initiative to bring better broadband to rural communities - something which appears to be more of a challenge than any of the protagonists had anticipated!  However, what I do find amazing is that the data now travels to us in the form of pulses of light, propagated along the cable by reflection.  The engineer explained to me that the fibre optics are strands of glass, each as thin as a human hair.  They are protected by a thermo-plastic coating and a plastic jacket to keep them secure.  Each is also surrounded by mirrored cladding. These fibres are then bundled together into a single cable which is specially treated in order to make it as flexible as possible.  When light enters the cable it hits the mirrored wall and bounces along in a zigzagging pattern until it reaches its destination. Thus the straight line of light can be transmitted around many curves as it transmits information to and from our home. Amazing.

Another December event in the village is the annual lighting of the Christmas tree.  This involves gathering on the green, singing some Carols, flicking the switch and then retiring to a nearby house for copious amounts of mulled wine and mince pies!  There is also another aspect of the event that is a regular feature.  Someone will read out a list of names, compiled by people living in the village, of those that have died and whom they wish to be remembered.  And so it is that I now remember a woman that I never knew, someone whose name is always on the list.  I hear her name mentioned often and since moving here in 2013 numerous local people have told me positive stories about her friendship to them and of many small acts of kindness.  Even I, who never met her, would recognise her face, as it smiles out from a photograph in the village hall.  Just one snapshot among many, taken at a public event some years ago.  She looks like a very unassuming middle-aged woman.  Her cheerful husband sits beside her with obvious pride.  But she made a difference here.  She may not have changed the world in a global sense, but what is evident to me is that her presence and the kindness which she showed to others have left a legacy - both within individual people and with the culture of the community.  In fact, I can say that I have benefited directly as a result of her existence here.

One of the things that she did was to instigate a fortnightly coffee morning in the village hall. This she ran for 15 years.  It is always very well attended as many of us that live here are either self-employed or retired.  There are also some parents with small children and other people that work on the land nearby.  And so it was that we found ourselves at one of these village events, the last before Christmas 2013, just days after our arrival.  It was heaving.  We squeezed our way in and, over coffee and mince pies, chatted away to complete strangers who introduced us from one to another and finally to two people who have been particularly warm and welcoming to us and who have become very good friends.  You could say that we may never have met them or settled so happily here if it had not been for that woman’s initiative and willingness to take action on behalf of her neighbours.

Last Sunday afternoon, on leaving the Carol Service in our little medieval church, I noticed a small plaque near to the porch on which had been placed a string of tiny white lights.  It is her memorial stone.  I thought that the lights were a fitting symbol for someone whose kindness is still having on effect on her friends and neighbours and even those that she never met. Thank you for Christine.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson