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Friday, 25 June 2010

Lay Down, Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)

In the summer of 1970 I was sharing a flat with an ex school mate and his friend. Of course at the time I didn't appreciate the flat or the area.  It was in a large house with a drive and it overlooked the main railway line. As I recall the road was leafy and in those hot summer daze of yore, it seemed bliss indeed.

It was during my sojourn there that I should have been preparing myself for the life as an actuary, but the sun and the constant stream of girls , none visiting me but a distraction none the less, meant that morbidity rates remained a mystery.

I don't know how we got into it, but during those hot summer evenings we spent hours making candles. We were really serious: there was a shop on the King's Road, Chelsea that sold all the paraphernalia. First, and most importantly, was the wax. We didn't go for the bee's wax, too costly, especially as we were only starting so we bought, I don't know, what seemed to be quite a lot of paraffin wax. We also bought a range of wicks and some dyes and sand. Even at that early stage we had artistic pretensions.

The key trick was to have something in which the wax could set. We hit on plastic drain pipes. They were perfect: You'd cut a "V" in the top and bottom of a length of piping, width and length depending on what type of candle you were making. Then using match sticks you'd secure a piece of wick to either end of the pipe. You'd place the pipe, with the wick in a very,very large container full of cold water, secured so it remained upright. You'd heat up the wax and gentle pour it into the piping which was sealed at one end with something better than putty. Putty was no good since the heat of the wax distorted it and the wax spilled out.

We used all different lengths and widths of piping. Vegetable oil made a great lubricant and our first candle was stunning - to us. It was long and thick and colourless. So next we'd add a dye; and then pour in one colour, let it set and pour in another, and then another. We'd also tilt the pipe so we'd have a zig-zag of different colours. We produced multicoloured candles of different shapes and sizes.

When we became really adventurous we'd pour in one colour, let it partially set and then pour in another so that the two mingled. Finally we'd make sand moulds and after pouring in the wax and it setting, with a match stick, we'd melt some of the wax to create images on the body of the candle. When lit  the candle would throw a projection of the image onto the wall.

That's as far as it went. We tried perfuming the candles and using bee's wax but none of that was very successful. It all came to an end, when a huge saucepan of paraffin wax exploded in the kitchen throwing goblets of fire all over the place. One of us, I don't know who, knew their science and threw a wet blanket over the inferno. It took us an age to clean up the kitchen.

After that we lost heart. It no longer seemed trendy to sit in a darkened room listening to Buffy Sainte- Marie and King Crimson, watching a rather poorly etched shape flicker across the walls.

But what I remember most about Sutton was a hot Friday afternoon with the kitchen window open and commuter trains streaming out of London. The train carriage windows were down and the passengers were so hot. What could we do? Armed with washing up liquid bottles and wet sponges we sprayed the open carriages with cool, refreshing water. I don't think we were ever thanked for that service to London's sweaty mass.

We didn't care. We were off to the Isle of Wight, to write a huge  "Fuck Off" in discarded bottles as security helicopter droned over head. On the hill in Cannery Row, we looked down on "The Who", John Sebastian, Hendix and Melanie and many more whose names are lost.  It was our Woodstock.


The Sagittarian said...

Great post. Took me back to a few instances in the 70s again...

Barry Coidan said...

Dear Sagittarian, thanks.