Friday, 13 January 2017

By the light of the silvery moon

The other night, there was a full moon, large and looming in the sky. It was cold, and I was tired after a lot of walking, but I dropped off my baggage at home and went out to the park to sit on a bench and look at it.

The night sky is full of stuff, but nothing captivates like the moon. The stars are just so many lights, of varying brightness and even (or is this just my eyesight?) colours, but the moon is a place where the Clangers and a soup-dragon could live.

One of the unforgettable moments in my life was whilst staying with friends at Montauk, the last, and naughtiest, of the Hamptons on Long Island. I decided to meander back from an emergency run to the "Liquor Store" along the beach, and was met by the most glorious sight, as the sun was setting, and the moon rising, over the water of the Atlantic Ocean. Long Island is famous for its sunsets, but this was a double-helping of celestial beauty, as both sun and moon shimmered their reflection into the breaking waves. I stood there a good long while, and the moon was firmly in command, the sun long since sent to waken others elsewhere around our little globe, by the time I clanked home with my swag.

The astrological witchcraftmongers say that the moon, and silver, are things associated with my birth sign (Cancer - not a very popular word in my life just now) and it's true that I have inherited from both my parents a liking for silver things. When I was ordained priest, I was given by friends a Pyx, a silver box for carrying consecrated wafers to take communion to the sick, and by the parish, a tiny silver chalice and patten for home communions. They sit on my desk as I type.

What's charming about silver is that, unlike gold, it tarnishes - oxidizes in the air and starts to look grey or even black. It's soon polished off, and if you wear a ring, you do it almost automatically. When I collected coins, some of the silver seemed to be exceptionally beautiful - I remember an Edward VII florin, and a George V sixpence that was my Auntie Margaret's in particular. I made a point of acquiring a "silver penny", England's basic currency for centuries, and the reason why a pre-decimal pound had 240 pennies - that's how many you could smash out of a pound of silver. Until I started to look into it, I was sure that sterling silver - 925 parts per 1,000 was the same as sterling gold, but I was wrong. Gold sovereigns are made of 917 parts per 1,000, so silver currency is in fact the more pure, and you can see from the coins themselves that it is, even so, considerably more hard-wearing.

Maybe that was the idea behind the "Silver Ring Thing", an American Fundamentalist idea to persuade teenagers that sex is a bad thing - to mark their commitment to chastity before marriage, they would be given a silver ring they could discard when they acquired the gold of a wedding ring. Marcus Brigstocke commented "if they want to wear a ring to show the world they aren't having sex, why can't they just get married like the rest of of us?"

Of the trials and tribulations of my broken wrist, the worst, beyond pain, discomfort, and incapacity, is not being able to wear my silver engagement ring. A thoughtful nurse suggested removing it before my arm was put in plaster. Three months later, my finger is still too swollen to put it back. We were in town in Londrina one afternoon on my first visit to Brasil, and HL asked if I preferred silver or gold. Then he nipped into a jeweller's and a few moments later, the rings were ready. They are engraved with the date "01 - 07 - 2005" and mine has his name, and his has mine (or his would, if he hadn't lost it). We didn't wear them at first, and thought we might exchange them when we were both back in England - he was staying on longer to be with his family when I had to return to work - but at Sao Paulo airport, on the 12th of July, under the city's smog and the watchful gaze of the black urubu vultures circling overhead, we exchanged them just before I came home.

The silvery moon makes me think of these fond things, and also of this silly song:

"By the light of the silvery moon,
I want to spoon, to my honey I'll croon love's tune,
Honeymoon keep a-shining in June,
Your silvery beams will bring love dreams, we'll be cuddling soon,
By the silvery moon."

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017

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