Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Winter Lights

"They should have come down by now, that means bad luck for the whole building," Peter joked, though we both knew it wasn't altogether a joke.

At the close of the dark afternoon, looking out across the car-park, a line of small lights in paintbox colours were swaying bravely, gusted by the rain.

"No no, they're not Christmas Lights, they're Winter Lights," I said hastily, to put the bad luck away.

I remembered the lights along the sea-front, too; the shapes of star and moon and star linked by festoons between the lamp-posts, all made out of white bulbs. This foul weather would clear the promenade, the pier long closed, but those sturdy municipal lights would last it out. We had been out stamping on the wet sands between the seaweeds, making them tremble like a belly and break into cracks. Or sometimes, to our fear and amusement, the sand would turn out to be a sugar-frosting on soft, grey mud that eagerly sucked down our feet.

"Anyway, in Sweden they have twenty days of Christmas," I began to add. I thought of Julgransplundring, the twentieth day when the children went from home to home collecting gifts from every Christmas tree. Theirs is a long winter.

Coming into work, the cars made a line of winter lights, too. Then the grey landscape had its body-jewellery, a beauty-swag on soft skin. All night it lay buffeted under rain-storms, hardly ever glimpsing the assurance of Orion's shoulder between the uneasy sweep of the trees.

But further north was the best place for winter lights, the Aurora Borealis, the flashing sky-sheets of green and purple! I have never seen this. You can't predict it. But in Finland you can book a stay in a hotel, and to save you keeping watch in thirty below, they'll text you when the aurora appears so you can get up in the night and put all your coats on to stagger outside.


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