Light and Dark

As you have probably guessed, straddling darkness and light in this season of change has been providing fertile pondering ground for one mole. The pondering takes many forms but it tends to hone in on the way a mind fills the gaps that direct knowledge fails to provide. And so, in the dark on Knocklofty, I have learned that the thumps I hear in the undergrowth are made by bounding wallabies, and the rustling in trees is created, I imagine, by birds that I have startled.

In the tower the pondering on light and dark was fuelled by the absence of electricity for a few weeks. Well, not a total absence. A long flex from the cloisters was coiled round the central column of the spiral stairwell and attached to a single lamp in the ringing room. The lamp cast strange shapes, illuminating odd corners and pitching other more familiar spaces into darkness. It was hard not to be distracted. We lost our places and our timing became erratic as shadows confused themselves with ropes and befuddled the bell-ringers. Yet this must be how it had been for centuries – oil lamps hung from nails in the walls. Or perhaps a lamp would be centred in the middle of the circle, lighting up the snouts of ringers from below and evoking nativity paintings like Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds, or Edward Hopley’s A Primrose from England. In Hopley’s painting the faces of homesick migrants are uplit by a primrose which issues a similar glow to the child in Rembrandt’s manger. For us it was more prosaic, but nonetheless made secrets of what we could not see.

Les Murray, in his latest book of poetry, Waiting for the Past, writes of the ‘snapped dazzle’ when electricity was wired into the place where he grew up. And how ‘the old lampblack corners and kero-drugged spiders’ were now turned vivid. In our tower, we now shield our eyes in the brightness and wonder whether we need to don poker players’ peaks. The new glare startles the shabby carpet as if it were caught in its nightdress, and our token rubber bat hangs dismally in its corner, faded and dusty. Little is left to the imagination.

And the rustling in the trees on Knocklofty? A friend down the road revealed to me last week that there were bats in the reserve, and I knew immediately that no birds would make that sound. But still, I can’t see them, and somehow their hiddenness makes me feel better about the poor specimen in the tower.


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