I like candlelight. It is conducive. Scented candles also – over the years I have had a few; Diptyque Opoponax, Héliotrope, Mimosa, Figuier and, uncharacteristically, Feu Du Bois (I enjoy the ‘bonfire effect’ more as an atmosphere in winter than on skin), as well as several others, but they are not a passion. I can’t afford them, for a start, and would rather have a perfume. But there is also another reason why I am wary of using candles.
My third and final years of university were like heaven and hell – apt, seeing that I was specializing in Dante’s Divine Comedy, though I never actually read it, which was one of the reasons that my heavenly playboy year in Rome, the most carefree year of my entire life at 21, where I was happy for ten continual months (except for one afternoon, when I was bored and was staring at the wall), was followed by an inferno of insomnia, desperation and stress as I tried to catch up on all the work I had been supposed to be doing for my Finals, which were the singular most stressful experience I think I have ever had (I still frequently have nightmares about taking exams and have never had an iota of desire to return to education since: writing the book with a deadline from hell definitely brought a lot of that trauma back).
There was also a dreadful incident that first winter back in England. I was already in the doghouse with the Pembroke College authorities for having disturbed the peace with a big house party that was entirely against the rules – living with a bunch of stiffs day with their heads in their lawbooks day in and day out had really eventually got to me and I just wanted to blast out Madonna’s Erotica album and the rest of my record collection until the house shook and escape from the musty, academic cobwebs that continually threatened to asphyxiate my soul; I was continually putting the speakers on the windowledge and playing the soundtrack from Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula into the churchyard of St. Botolph’s below at night, creeping out all the local residents and the other students in the house; also, in very puerile fashion, playing a sound effects record in the day time (remember, George, if you are reading this?) – once making a person fall of their bicycle riding by as they thought they had been hit by a road blast (the party’s name was Gross Explosion). I had, in the mean time, been angrily called to the dean about all of this and asked sternly why I had not attended a single Italian grammar class all year (: : silence). I was definitely in trouble. The last thing I needed to do, then, was set my room on fire.
On the night in question, I was out with some friends getting fast food from Gardenias (easily the best burgers in town), talking and eating outside on the street with a bunch of people when Rachel, one of my friends and housemates from Rome, came up to me excitedly and asked what was happening at my house: was my room alright? didn’t I know about the fire? WHAT?!!
Running frantically through the streets back to the house in a panic I saw people with their heads down – pityingly – as I approached my college accommodation in fear ; mortified ;the partying pariah. Carrie, coming home.
You could smell the extinguished charred black smoke from outside. As I mounted the stairs gingerly to the second floor, looking around me I s aw that the walls of my room, and all my things, were entirely coated in pitch black. But – thank the lord – none of it was actually burned. I was lucky. The candle that I had been using on my mirrored mantelpiece that afternoon and evening hadn’t properly been extinguished somehow when I had tried to blow it out before heading out for the evening (probably a much needed respite from the relentless studying of miserable philosophy), and had simply then spent its evening purging itself in spirals of black smoke slowly and continually against the adjacent wall, until someone had finally looked up from their text books and alerted the fire department a couple of hours before I came back to face my shame. Somehow, I slept that night, drunk, with the windows wide open despite the cold, and when the housekeeper burst in furiously the following morning with threats of financial retribution and punishment from the university for my generally reckless behaviour (terrifying for an incomeless student) I lied on the spot that my father was a professional house decorator and that he could do it for far less. Cue my dad and a friend of his driving up to Cambridge a few days later in overalls acting like painters and doing it for a fraction of the cost of what they were demanding. I was extremely grateful (also immobile: I had somehow got a hernia during all of this and incurred even more wrath from the professors when I failed to turn up to my official dressing down “Sorry: I have an inguinal hernia”). My room painted back to its original colour, I got through the year, just about : candleless.
The road I lived on in my final year. My room is the one next to the photography shop – the flower window basket is where I put my speakers.
On the subject. : are you a candle person? Any recommendations? Have you ever experienced anything similar to the ridiculousness I have described here?
I do still like perfumes candles, but now I know the danger…..