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…..


Filed under Flowers

15 responses to “candles

  1. Tara C

    Great stories! I like candles but find they quickly overwhelm me with fumes/smoke so one hour is about as long as I ever burn one, unless I have a window open. For many years I couldn’t burn anything due to having a pet with breathing difficulties, but she has passed on, and now I burn some small Diptyque and Cire Trudon candles on the fireplace mantel or inside the fireplace itself, mostly in winter. Feu de Bois, Opoponax and Benjoin are favourites. My spring favourite, Seringa, has sadly been discontinued.

  2. David

    I loved this story! I also loved the picture of the road. I and my husband and some of my Brazilian friends just go gaga about anything UK related. We are currently on a Wales kick (cuz Welsh men are hot as hell…we watched the Welsh series “Bang” recently…Jacob Ifan….damn…). So if you have any Wales stories, please do tell.

    Candles…I love them. But I always think of what Samatha on “Sex and the City” said about candles: “Candles are the new cats for single ladies.” (something like that).
    They are just so expensive. Especially the Cire Trudon ones I like. I punish myself by thinking, “if you had just laid off the blow, you could have bought 100s of Cire Trudon or Diptyque candles AND you would have had a nice glass holder to repurpose into a receptacle for your perfume samples or to hold Q-tips….you dumb f*cker, you.”).
    So I think of candles as a special treat. I usually burn a lot of incense. Have you ever tried incense from Fred Solls? The company is based out of New Mexico. Their honey amber is very sensual.
    The candle company I’m currently interested is Boy Smells, especially their Kush collection. I am very curious about marijuana notes in fragrance. I recently sampled the perfume Kinski and loved the marijuana note.

    • You and your bloody marijuana! ( I DETEST DETEST DETEST the smell of it beyond anything………UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

      Incense – yes, I use it ALL THE TIME. Continuously. Mine is all running out right now so come Wednesday (pay day) I am going to definitely have to do some restocking. I usually just buy you know the Japanese ‘daily incense’ and add patchouli essential oil to it for an extra thrill, or if I am more flush with cash the more gorgeously balsamic coiled incense from Shoyeido etc. I actually prefer the more natural and subtle diffusion of incense smoke to candles, which can feel like a supra-natural presence lingering over the top of the air. We live in this old house that doesn’t smell fresh and perfect enough to merit a rosy candle – I think they work better in European stone or brick buildings with a colder air rather than musty wooden buildings, which go more naturally with a nice stick of agar wood senko.

      Glad to hear from you again, lusting over Welsh men. Will check out Bang if I can.

      Cire Trudon……….very nice, but I can live without them.

  3. Incredible misadventures! I would have been mortified if I’d gotten into so much trouble. Amazing that your father came through for you, if I read that right.
    I don’t often burn candles, and when I do I’m very cautious about it. Like you, I prefer perfumes.

    • Definitely. They are just more…precious. I would probably buy tons of candles and pomanders and all other kinds of fragranced superfluities if I had real money to burn – I think I would like to just have different ones placed in different rooms, usually unlit, just to ‘flavour’ rooms differently.

      As you say, though, this experience really did make me less prone to using candles: I could have sworn I blew it out properly before leaving but it is actually quite easy not to do so. As it was, it was a bad situation, but it could have actually led to a fire….

      • Hence the offering of fancy candle snuffers…
        The United Kingdom candle by Homesick that I love has mostly stayed unlit so far—I’ve been keeping it on my desk and occasionally picking it up to sniff. Sometimes when there’s a breeze, I catch a waft of the scent, too.

      • PERFECT.

        Writing this post and reading this comments has actually made me want to go out and buy one….

  4. Robin

    It must have been the best thing to be at your parties. I know I would have had a blast.

    The best candle I ever had was something from Molton Brown. I can’t remember the name and they don’t seem to make that particular scent anymore. Something with myrrh and oak and copal, or along those lines. We had it at Ric’s, who heats his cabin in the forest by the ocean with cedar and Douglas Fir, alder and maplewood he saws and splits by himself. The smell from the wood stove with the smell of that candle — sweet, smoky, woody, vanillic, almost fruity — was the best possible combo for the whole vibe of his home. And man, there was a massive concentration of fragrance oils in that single-wick bomb of a candle.

    I love candles. Even wimpy little dollar store tealights in an old jar half-filled with sand from the beach, on a bench outside at night in the summer. Fairy magic every time they’re lit. Candles are one of my favourite things. They calm me and improve the atmosphere of every place they’re in. When I travel, I always bring scented candles to light in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts and on the table at rustic provincial campsites around B.C. They never fail to put me in a cheery contemplative mood.

    • A perfect summation. I also love tea lights on the balcony in summer – I am quite the fairy lights person as well: Christmas all year round. And I love the sound of your natural wood smoke and that candle…..great.

      No need for the past tense with our parties, though. They get better and better. And as soon as Miss Corona has fucked off and left us all alone, we will undoubtedly be having even better ones!

  5. I used to love candles but now the only time I use them is when the electricity goes off during a storm. I had a bad experience one time with candles on the dining room table and have never used them again for that purpose. It wasn’t as bad an experience as yours, but it made me stop using them.

  6. OnWingsofSaffron

    My goodness, what a story! And: You certainly have an incredibly kind dad!
    Candles—well I bought a small Diptyque “Eau Capitale” candle on ebay which is a dainty pink little thing to look at but, my word, a stonking rose monster once you’ve got it going. Actually it smells quite strong without even lighting it which all in all I find a rather sustainable solution!

    • That is actually my PRECISE ideal for a candle; for it to just be there looking and smelling nice and not doing anything else. God I sound like a Victorian father.

      (and yes – it was fantastic of my dad and his friend to come down like that : I would have been bankrupt otherwise though).

  7. I absolutely adore scented candles! I use Cire Trudon, Diptyque, L’Occitane, and Carriere Freres, which are my favorite. I probably have around 15 candles at the moment, which are waiting patiently for me to start lighting them once the weather is sufficiantly cool enough; I don’t use scented candles during the warmer months, except one from Cire Trudon.
    I can completely understand being traumatized by them, considering your experience, but if you burn them safely you should be fine. I always put them on a glass tray in the parlour, far away from anything flammable. Safety first!

  8. JulienFromDijon

    I love perfumes, but I keep myself away from candles, even scented ones.

    I somewhat fear to cause a fire, even if it’s very unlikely.
    The rules about “don’t leave your room, or fall asleep, with a lit candle in it” are just killing the fun for me.
    And thank you about your story, I will be even more careful now.

    Candles remind me of teenage me toying with the flame.
    I used to get bored very quickly. And like with evening out, when boredom kicks in, is when people starts doing stupid things (overdoing alcohol, then dangerous conducts).
    So I toyed with matches, played with the wax. And all the few candles, that I had, turned into ugly shapeless thing. (Much to my shame.)

    There is a funny -yet not so funny- thing with my last scented candles.
    I had bought a 3 candles box from “L’artisan parfumeur”, on sales. I kept it to make a present out of it, eventually.
    But the occasion for their use was much sadder : When the gun slaughter in an US LGBT club happened, we gathered among LGBT people in my French town, to do a little ceremony.
    I was out of candles. I brought the fancy one. (Bringing dainty joy in this dreary situation, typically me)
    The day after, the town cleaning team was not aware to let the things in place. Photos and candles disappeared.
    I say it with a hint of absurd humor : There went my fancy candles, first to a funeral, then to the trash bin the day after. And somehow I do not regret my gesture.

    My last temptation was with a Diptyque calender (full of mini candle and samples). They were proposed on “ventes privées” for half the price. That means, still expensive. But the thing was not good enough to be re-used as a jewelry box.
    On ebay and such, I sometimes wonder in front of second-hand Diptyque candle holder. Maybe for a pencil-holder. But the Diptyque candle thing is such a Parisian hipster clichée. I need to be sure that I love the one I’ll pick.

    The one I sniffed the most before was “le printemps” (I believe so) (the jasmine one) from L’artisan parfumeur.
    Patricia de Nicolaï has a good reputation for the quality/price of her candles, like the “java something one” (?vetiver lavender?). And sometimes she did sales, in the past.

    And if I need to fµck up my skin with roomspray, it will be with the “Un gardenia la nuit” from Malle, from which I have a few liquid refills. It’s a potent velvety green creamy tuberose. Sometimes, one can snatch some discount refill on ebay. (or I can mail some to you?)

    Also, my snarky inner self wonders how the commercial target for candles, with high-end natural in them, are the first to complain against indoor pollution.Candles cont as indoor air pollution. Who needs more weird allergenic molecules in the air?

    But paradoxically, I like the idea of indian chopsticks, the ones that sneak their way to the European Union, despite their contraband nitromusk.

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