The primal thrill of striking a match: Kindling hope in the gloom of winter

Ann Wroe in MIL:

The day has been grey, dreary and drizzly, and evening is settling in – a typical covid evening, alone in my flat, with another radio concert playing from an empty hall. It seems a good moment for candles. Which means, even better, it’s time for matches. There’s no shortage of choice in the top kitchen drawer. Cook’s Matches, a hefty box with an efficient look. An equally big box of extra-long matches, to reach the oven pilot light if it blows out or to kindle anything successfully in the draughts that come through my windows. A little two-inch yellow box of Ship matches with a healthy rattle to it. Elegant, slim numbers from fancy restaurants and a few of the flimsy packs you can pick up in cafés like business cards.

From this hoard anyone would think I was a smoker or at least had a fireplace to attend to. Not so. A button sparks the ignition for the gas. The restaurant matches are never used, nor are the flimsy ones, but – like the wire ties and short lengths of string with which they keep company – they have a useful air about them. The little Ship box is there for purely sentimental reasons, because as a child I found no better container for tiny treasures such as shells and beads. The very slide of the tray into the cover is satisfaction in itself. Those matches are now old and probably have no virtue left – not that it matters. They represent childhood in suspension. Potential delight.

Matches themselves, too, are all about potential. Even when dormant, they sizzle with the thought of fire. It is all there, safe and portable, a dream that the Chinese inevitably engineered first when they soaked pine splinters in sulphur a whole millennium ago.

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