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  • Writer's picturePhilip Bryer

True Colours

In the days when Mrs Bryer and I spent our evenings wreathed in tobacco smoke, we had candles of myriad hue and scent all over the house. Some of which were those squat, lightweight fellers with a soft metallic base known as tea-lights. There was a holder on my desk, with a space for a tea-light at the bottom and a recess in the top for some sweet-smelling oil.

Now, I still don’t know why the coming together of flame and oil caused such a bother

on this particular night when I sat there at work with a glass of wine at the side, a chain of ciggies on the go, and Sandra away. But I looked up and the usual quarter-inch flame of the tea-light was all-of-a-bloody-sudden an oil-fired foot-and-a-half high. So, I blew on it and, as tea-lights weigh even less than a butterfly’s wings, eighteen inches of fire slid down the back of the desk and I thanked God the wall had caught fire because it took my mind off the gathering blaze on the carpet. Over which I threw a glass of wine and beat out the remaining flames with a pile of important papers that were lying on the desk. The metallic candle-base melted into the carpet, where it remains to this day, although I did attempt to disguise it by laying the 4-way extension lead over the top — my sole contribution to the art and design of our home.

Mrs B once had a mania for plug-in carcinogens disguised as air–fresheners and, although we don’t have them anymore, I hear that some now actually fire their chemicals at unwary passers-by. Like spitting cobras.

We still have pot-pourri, but what I remember as being small, dried, flowery flakes now seems to be altogether bigger and lumpier and more hardcore. So much so that I find I have to keep rearranging the really big, perforated bits because they bring too closely to mind the surgeon’s remarks about what my diseased lungs probably looked like. And you have to buy miniscule vials of oil to drip on this indoor forest floor. Who knew? Several times, I’ve nearly lost an eye to the stack of dead wood which has landed itself a sweet gig idling about in a vase in the spare bedroom. Like fragrant droplets for dead and dried-up plant matter, why couldn’t I come up with the pastel-shaded-twigs-for-bedrooms idea?

Once upon a really long time ago, silk flowers were about as edgy as it got. My grandmother had those, and she had a red vase shaped like a huge brandy glass which had a china mouse in the bottom of it and a china cat hanging in artful pursuit on the rim. Lava lamps came and went, made a comeback on the retro tide, but seem, thankfully, to have drifted back into open water. Fibre-optic lamps, as Sandra reminded me, were definitely cosmetic, as they were no bloody good as a source of illumination.

When I decorated my first flat, I came away from the Co-Op with two tins of paint: magnolia and white. No fancy shades of white either, just white. But lately we’ve been covering hall, stairs and landing with something called soft mango and yet another shade of white. A new white, one for people for whom apple-white could no longer cut the sun-blush mustard. A perpetual fear of mine is being offered the colour chart for my opinion. Because, as any fule kno, mostly the only thing that changes on those lines and lines and lines of identical blocks is the names underneath them.

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