They say the first one is invisible, you only feel its heat. It’s shining somewhere out in space — or is it the womb — where love is a candle in the dark, created by a spark of something felt though never seen. The next one, then, is number two but we’ll call it one so that you can light it again, a red candle perhaps or a candy-twist pink. By this time you grasp & grab at consciousness, at these apparitions that re-appear, regularly, and each time in greater numbers: three, four, five candles. The symmetry of six demands your grudging respect, which is further whet by number seven, or heaven. Nine revolving bodies in a child’s planetarium, then the ten’s maudlin return to its beginning: a one & a zero, together, on the same cake. Compared to this, eleven’s a breeze. By now, you’ve grasped the basic terms of the deal: someone lights the candles, then you just sit back, pretending to count stars. Twelve candles brings you a dozen roses which you’re too young to blow out. From thirteen onwards it’s all a blur. The teenage candles, a soundtrack featuring a style of music no one over the age of eighteen even hears. Nineteen’s similar to the invisible one we touched on at the start, only warmer, and full of beer. Twenty brings us back to ten, which is to say the decade, ready-made. By this stage you view the whole candle thing with unaffected disdain, although you still protect your own like a bird its brood every time what you know will come comes around. To move on to candles in their thirties is to document a series of increasingly intelligent — no, brilliant crusades against the lighting of those candles which are yet to come. When you think of lighting forty candles, by yourself, in a dark room alone, a weird kind of uneasiness comes over you. Thenceforth, every year for at least a decade, you light those candles with the miniature flame thrower someone once gave you as a present. For the barbecue, you remember. The candles, dipped in kerosene, sing in delight as you make your big light-sabre sweep. From sixty onwards you experience what it’s like to be caught inside some cheerful waxwork montage, sixty two and three, especially, arousing your long-forgotten enthusiasm for years spent setting stuff on fire. Seventies? Don’t speak of the seventies candles, you don’t want to hear. The late seventies, though — there’s a film, right there, in seventy eight or seventy nine candles. The golden glow of eighty candles, set on fire, burning right through the night. The triple zero birthday cake, a double one next to another big zero. You alone get it: the invisible candle, stage left, wearing a hat that’s completely green. The sixties montage reappears right at the end of the eighty-ninth, spoiling an otherwise flawless run of candle-lighting ceremonies that someone should have filmed, had the means to do so existed at the time. Ninety and ninety one, to their credit, proceed without a hitch. Then you hit ninety two & you notice that someone else lights the ghastly things now, and you don’t even mind, particularly. You review the wisdom of this while sitting comfortably on ninety seven, & the ninety eighth doesn’t hurt a bit. You occupy your ninety ninth like a remote eagle its eyrie, watching over the abstract world two miles below you. When you hit the big ignition switch that will set in motion a slow-combustion of one hundred mile-high candles you’re already in heaven. The immensity of that agricultural slog over mid-on seems so easy that you’re lighting the next one as we speak, dispatching the following three with ease, spanking a radiant thrill of love into each of those one hundred & four candles, etching their flames into space & then settling again on your still-warm eyrie, to survey an earth parsecs below. The candles, clearly, will not be denied their eventual victory for much longer. You, for your part, feel no fear. Softly, all in one moment, you realise someone has blown the hundred & fifth one out.