surinenglish

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Light

In mid December comes our darkest hour. Here in East Anglia the wan light of wintry days creeps away in the afternoon and by five o'clock we are completely immersed in the still blackness of night.

And yet we are not. For what seems like weeks now the villages around us have been lit up each evening with Christmas lights which increase in variety, splendour and kitsch each year. Going cuckoo with the tinsel and twinkle for Christmas may have started as an American custom but it's really taken off here and, as an antidote to the grim British march through the cold months, most people love it.

It's true that nothing matches the jaw dropping cathedral of light over Calle Larios and the light-wrapped trunks of the great ficus trees on the Alameda Principal that Malaga presents throughout December. Still I find the personal and private attempts - no matter how small - to cheer up the winter in rural Suffolk as effective, almost more so.

On the nights we have recently driven through the countryside around us, our neighbouring villages - some mere hamlets and usually dormant after dark - have transformed themselves into winter wonderlands of colour and light.

One of the most photographed villages in the area, which is just down theroad, has surpassed itself this year with fairy lights strung all round the green, neon boats sailing along the wall behind the duck pond and pretty metallic baubles shining in the windows. I wonder if this is because the committee that normally organises the annual switch-on, the Cavendish Illuminators, decided to cancel the event at the last minute, galvanising the villagers into creating a Christmas display with more gusto than ever before.

Another nearby village has a completely coordinated effort with all the shops and businesses decorated with the same small Christmas trees hoisted like flags over their frontages and an unending chain of tiny flickering lights in every tall tree lining its very long main street. It's hard to drive past without sighing with delight.

And then there is my own village, where I grew up and, even to those who love it, is an undeniably scruffy sort of place. The least attractive village in West Suffolk some might say - not that any of us care. Here there is no attempt to be classy or sophisticated, low key or discreet. We are not stylishly wintry. We are not coolly beautiful.

Instead we are crowded out with blow-up giant Santas bobbing in front gardens, sleighs and reindeer which have seen far better days riding across roofs and - new for this year - laser holograms which cover entire houses with moving multicoloured spots of light.

Best of all is the Chinese takeaway. Not content with painting its exterior bright purple in the summer, proprietor Jimmy Wong has brought a slice of Las Vegas to the Suffolk countryside. Dripping blue icicles which flash in sequence are draped along guttering, glow-in-the-dark snowflakes are arranged on the terrace, Ho Ho Ho neon letters wink out at us from the facade.

An English mid-winter may well be cold and dark. It is bright too, lit up with fierce defiance and warm Christmas spirit.