The Rime of the Ancient Floating Candles



A bizarre thing happened yesterday. I chanced upon a modern day Ancient Mariner. Maybe.

Let me set the scene. I was at a lunchtime “do” with my beloved Mem and a room full of nice people. It was one of those functions where people dress up in their second-best bib and tucker and quaff a congenial glass or two over a turkey breast with all the trimmings.

Much pleasant conversation was had, while we all skirted gingerly around the Brexit and Trump questions until we worked out whether the other person was strongly pro or strongly anti.

Then we got to the part of the “do” where we had a charity raffle. Pay a pound to get a chance to win a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates.

Personally speaking, we have to count the raffle a success. Our £5 won twice and netted us two boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The bad news is that Ferrero Rocher are basically cheap as chips chocs with little bits of crushed nuts, covered in glossy foil and television advertising to try to make them look vaguely aspirational.

The good news is that no-one else in the house likes nuts, so they’ll be all for me. Yum.

The remarkable thing happened next. It just so happened that I was sitting next to the lady who had organised the raffle.

And it just so happened that she had the last winning ticket.

She burst into laughter when she won – far more than the monetary value of the prize warranted. Because she had won … this:


A pack of floating candles. Except they weren’t as elegant as these. These were gaudy Christmas star shaped candles in a colour that was hovering around purple, violent, mauve and crimson. Apparently they are too hideous even for the internet because I can’t find a picture of them.

Then followed a little two-handed drama as we discussed her magnificent prize.

Me (feeling guilty at having won two much more edible prizes): “Oh, I do commiserate! They are quite naff, aren’t they?”

She (thankfully still laughing): “No, you don’t understand. I donated these to the raffle.”

Me (mortified): “I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t realise. They’re … um … “

She (laughing even harder): “No, no. I can’t stand them either. I won them at a raffle last week and was trying to get rid of them.”

And that gave me an instant image of a haunted box of floating candles. Forever unloved and unwanted, they are doomed to be handed round from charity raffle to charity raffle. Like the Ancient Mariner their fate is to wander the world without ever finding a home, telling their story wherever they go. A little bit of glitzy hygge adrift on life’s ocean.

Incidentally, I once was in a pub quiz where the quiz master asked: “Who wrote the rhyme of the ancient marina”. And that gave me a lovely image of a poem about an old and rusting British Leyland car from the mid seventies. One of these:


Now let’s go from naff to sublime. Enjoy:

It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?


The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,

And I am next of kin;

The guests are met, the feast is set:

May’st hear the merry din.’


He holds him with his skinny hand,

‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.

‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’

Eftsoons his hand dropt he.


He holds him with his glittering eye—

The Wedding-Guest stood still,

And listens like a three years’ child:

The Mariner hath his will.



2 thoughts on “The Rime of the Ancient Floating Candles

  1. Hideous floating candles there; pasty, preservative-laden Christmas fruit cake here. Everyone has their “Ancient Mariner” or his albatross.

    I once read about a family whose silly Christmas tradition was to send each other the same box of old dried-up bones from a turkey consumed decades before. Sending it on to the next keeper for the year was far more fun than opening presents on Christmas morning.

    My family’s Christmas cheer is (besides eating a marvelous meal) an old-fashioned Yankee swap, usually dealing in second-hand items. My #3 brother (age 65!) often cheats, however, when he opens a package containing some comestible, such as your box of chocolates, and starts eating it before anyone else can insist on a swap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did hear a story once about two brothers. Every Christmas brother #1 would solemnly give brother #2 an envelope containing a crisp £5 note. And then brother #2 would hand over an envelope also containing a fiver. And they would both thank each other for their gifts and wish each other a merry Christmas.

      There used to be an art in hunting down that perfect present – the rare book or record, a piece of sculpture that had to be specially made – something that showed that a lot of effort had gone into the choosing. I think Amazon has mostly squashed that one.

      Meanwhile almost everything my 15 year old son wants can be downloaded over the internet – and how do you wrap that?


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