Bright lights, the glittering animation of conviviality, carousing and good-time, shining off water, with perhaps the silhouettes of human forms moving against them, have always held an irresistible enchantment for me; they seem a bewitching fairyland that contains everything of joy. Why, for someone who in general shuns gaudy nights for the clear calm of morning, who isn't much good at partying and quickly tires of my fellow humans, there should be this lure from the other side of the looking glass, I don't know, but it never fails.
It first sang to me, that I remember, when I was about six. At this time as we would sometimes, as a family, take our caravan to a site on the Thames in Oxfordshire at Bablockhythe for weekends. My mother liked the name, she quoted Arnold's 'Scholar Gypsy', where it's mentioned. I rather think it was to console and distract ourselves following the first wave of emigration if my older siblings in the 196os.
The site was strung out along the river bank for half a mile or so, and the river meanders there quite sharply. From where we pitched, some way out on the fringes, as was always our wont, we could look over the water at the club house, site buildings, and landing stages, although they were in fact on the same bank as we were. This illusion of looking at the spot across the river, while being able to walk there without crossing it, always intrigued me.
One night, we had been out in the car come back to the 'van after dark. In the general activity of getting in, lighting up the amazingly fragile china-clay calor-gas lighting mantles, sorting out bedding, etc, I must have been left to my own devices. It was a warm night, and I stood apart and gazed out across the water to the clubhouse, where a disco and bar was in full swing. (Needless to say, at least to anyone who knew our family, there was no question of our having any involvement in such extravagant frivolities.)The lights glowed gold and orange, shimmering and dancing on the river, the tiny figures flickering among them. Like Yeats's Stolen Child, solemn-eyed, I was drawn as if by faery abductors, hypnotised and unthinking, toward them.
When I arrived there, I wandered freely among the revelry, adults enjoying drinks and company, dancing and music inside, couples romancing by the water's edge, warmth and movement and brightness, and, to me at that moment, utter perfection of colour and light. I moved through it as if I were invisible, transported with happiness; no one, as I recall, took any notice of me at all, either to express concern, menace or amusement.
After a while, I've no idea how long, I trotted back along the dark campsite track until I reached our pitch again, where I think my family were fairly worried, and too relieved to see me again to be angry.
"But it was all so beautiful..." I explained.