Lights and Lanterns: More from Geertje’s biography

In the old days there were bicycles, even though they were somewhat old-fashioned if you compare them with now, but we didn’t know any better, and we were happy to have a bicycle. There were also bicycle lanterns, also old-fashioned of course. Now we have small handy lanterns with a dynamo, that does not always work either, especially in the snow, but in general works rather well [Transl. note: the dynamo worked with a small wheel that was turned by the front wheel of the bike]. In the old days there were carbide lamps, big machines, which were put or hung at the front of the bike. Carbide is flammable, and the lamp was lighted with a match. My father had one, but we didn’t, because we didn’t ride our bicycles in the dark, and certainly not in the winter. I liked the carbide lantern, because it was interesting when my father used it. I didn’t see it very often; probably mostly we were already in bed. If a bike came through the street, the lantern threw a wide beam of light into the room, and the beam would turn slowly along the ceiling and the wall. It was almost like a lighthouse light. Cars also lighted up the bedroom that way, but of course they passed quicker. But there were not that many cars at night yet. My parents told sometimes, that in their village around the turn of the century cars were rare, and so a great curiosity. They ran outside if they heard a car in the distance. We ran outside if we heard an airplane, we considered that very special. The first time I saw a plane close-up on the ground was when I was eleven. We came from school at twelve o’clock, and heard that a plane had landed on the sport field. It was in the other direction from our house, but we ran as hard as we could to the plane. It was a small advertising plane, with double wings, you may have seen one on television or in a book. It was an advertisement for “Oopla” a kind of cigars. Advertising is nothing new, only we have now more of it. The pilot was dressed in some kind of overall, with a cap and large sunglasses. For us it was like an alien, like you think about aliens from other planets. But finally I had to go home, because school started again on time in the afternoon. Unfortunately the plane had disappeared at 4 o’clock.

When thinking of the lanterns in the beginning, I was also thinking of street lanterns. We lived on a corner, and we had a street lantern in front of the house. That was nice, because it was never totally dark in the front room or the hallway, like in the kitchen and the alley to the shed, and in the shed itself. Fortunately later we also had light in the shed. The street lantern was not electric, but a gas lamp. Every evening when it became dark, the lamplighter came on his bicycle, with a ladder over his shoulder to ready the lamp. During the day the lantern burned really low, but the lamplighter opened the glass shade, and pulled the chain, so the lamp received more gas, and burned on full. The shade was put back, and the lamplighter went on to the next lantern. In the summer I didn’t see him, but I did in the winter when it was dark early. It was a bit mysterious, both the action and the man: he arrived, did his job with the lamp, and left again, all in the twilight. We had a large window in the kitchen, and if the full moon shone, you didn’t need any other light. Even the alley to the shed was not quite so dark.

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