Light


It’s June, so I’ll keep it light.

In this solstice month, the days sweatily stretch on and we are truly drenched in summer. It’s the time when people jet off on holidays when the local climate fails them, to get their fill of exotic vitamin D and bask in the rays of pastures unfamiliar.

It’s time to make the most of these long evenings, so get outside and visit some literary events. I’d like to direct you all towards Three Minute Theatre in particular, which is staging a number of Bard-inspired events to commemorate 400 years since old Bill popped his clogs. Watch as the Manchester Shakespeare Company Does Will and Anne on Sunday 12. For your poetry fix, there’s the inspiring monthly Feminist Poetry Night on Monday 27.

Word Life has a distinctly well-travelled feel this month too, with our literary pieces absorbed by descriptions of light that’s visible only through the keenly awake eyes of wanderers. Equally, it’s easy to forget there’s a sky up there above us at all times and even the most well-worn of scenes can be transformed by it, in a beautiful haze of summer sun. Fingers crossed Manchester gets some this month.

Elspeth



Santa Monica Sunset

We drank IPAs and had no sense of time
As the jet lag prevailed and the solstice loomed.

Sky is beautifully dependent,
Though wonderfully inconsistent.
It’s always there, never the same.

Crimson shade and sandy palms spoiled us.
In Californian vibrancy,
Hues whose beauty is for everyone
Perhaps the only equality
On a beach of contrasts.

We gladly never fit in
But all bathed in five o’clock tincture,
Of vermillion smoke
And moonlight indigo,
We stripped back the lights
To a kind of universal truth.

Elspeth Vischer

Light and Shadow in the Fields and Monasteries of Normandy


Imagine a small thatched, timber-framed Normandy cottage set within a vast seascape of butter yellow rape seed fields. Imagine a brilliant blanket of shimmering yellow stretching across the vast plains of Normandy, with just a long, solitary road breaking up this outrageous riot of colour. Then imagine the late spring evening light dissolving to a Magritte-inspired inky blue before a constellation of starry diamonds populate a wide open sky.

All sounds a bit poetic, doesn’t it? But then why not convert such an emotional response to such an incredible landscape through the power of words? For nearly 20 years I have made annual retreats to one of my favourite regions of France to enjoy peace, solitude, wine, cheese and a much needed break from the chaos of Blighty and work. It’s the same old formula every time – a last-minute panic over packing, driving down through the night to catch the 8.15am ferry from Portsmouth, and then arriving in Caen six hours later, slightly punch drunk with tiredness coupled with a sense of elation at being the other side of the Channel.

This year’s arrival on French soil, however, was so much more than just the start of another holiday. By sheer coincidence, I found myself in this pocket of northern France at the same time as many of its fields were ablaze with a carpet of stinging bright yellow. Farming in this part of the country is conducted on a scale nothing short of heroic. So, when a series of farmers individually decide to plant their fields with this crop, the ensuing result is breathtaking. At six foot two, there aren’t many field crops that dwarf me, but some fields were head and shoulders above and were spread so far and wide that without a ladder you really couldn’t gauge the extent of their seeding. Coupled with two days of brilliant sun, it all felt like the lavender fields of Provence had been displaced 400 miles north.

Two days later, as the weather turned, I had the opportunity to reflect on this flaming sea of light when I made a visit to the Abbey of St Wandrille, a Benedictine monastery near Caudebec-en-Caux. The writer, Patrick Leigh-Femor, who recounted his visit to this place in his book A Time to Keep Silence remarked on how the monks, bereft of the distractions of everyday life, could focus on their sole intent to worship their god. From a very interior perspective, watching them sing plain song during midday prayers in a dark Normandy chapel was an incredible recalibration of both light and mood. Philip Larkin, in The Whitsun Weddings, remarked that “sun destroys the interest of what’s happening in the shade”. But here, among the shadows of ancient oak beams, dappled mosaic light through stained glass and the noise of collective homage to an invisible god, an intimate source of fascination and a welcome retreat from the broadest of daylights that greeted me on my arrival.

Tom Warman