Being Modern: Candles

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The Independent Online

Nothing says "I love you" like flowers. But nothing says "romantic" like candles. In the finest restaurants and hotels, at the smartest weddings – wherever, in fact, you wish to create an atmosphere conducive to gazing into the eyes of someone special – stick a few tea-lights in holders and voilà, the flicker of the flame a shorthand for instant intimacy.

Which is weird, because the history of wax-based lighting is littered with people who merely needed something to help them see once the sun had gone down. Some of our wiser ancestors even devised ways of telling the time by observing how the wax burned. Never mind such practicalities, though. Over the centuries, the candle found its way into the holy realm from festivals of light to flames of remembrance and, somewhere along the way, acquired an air of mysticism.

And that was before they made the things smell like those dried piles of pot pourri that were rapidly collecting dust on our coffee-tables. Now we are to believe that if we fill our houses with candles made with the careful addition of aromatherapy oils, our homes and our health will benefit. Cinnamon, apparently, eases the symptoms of colds and flu; lavender relieves stress; ylang ylang settles nervous problems; patchouli soothes the spirit. And so on.

Something to soothe the spirit is needed if you are still attempting to live the kind of lifestyle prescribed by a certain type of glossy magazine. If these are to be believed, the only candles worth buying are those that come in little glass tumblers and cost the best part of a day's salary for those on the minimum wage. You know the ones. They do look and smell delightful. They do last longer than the ones you buy for a quid or two in Ikea. And they do tell the world that you are the kind of person with money to burn.

In fact, such candles are fast becoming a sort of Glade air freshener for the footballers' wife classes. Someone should tell them about the Ultimate Luxury Candle, which smells of champagne, is encrusted with diamonds and costs $5,000. Or you could just install a dimmer switch.