Black-out Nights

Editor’s note: September 1, 1939, two days before the declaration of war, Britain imposed mandatory nightly black-outs to prevent enemy aircraft from identifying targets. The black-outs resulted in many people spending long, quiet hours at home once darkness fell.

Years ago I knew an old schoolmaster who, after his retirement, had made a hobby of landscape painting. All through the summer months, and on any mild winter’s day, you would meet him stepping out briskly with his folding easel, sketching stool, paints and canvas—a lean, dapper, grey-bearded man, with weather-beaten face and twinkling eyes. A man who enjoyed talking to any man, woman, or child he met, who had his own cheery philosophy of life and sent every one away smiling from the encounter. A man who in the evening of his days was leading a contentedly full, happy life.

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Even then I did not realise, till after his death, all that he had gained from it. It happened that I was invited to his house to choose one of his pictures as a souvenir. I was one of the merest of acquaintances, just one of the many who used to enjoy a gossip with him by the way, and I had never entered his house during his lifetime. I remember gazing about me in astonishment at the overwhelming evidence of his industry. Not only were the walls of every room completely covered with pic­tures, but there were stacks of them in a lumber room as well. And, looking at them, one realised that not one moment spent upon them had been wasted. They were not great art. They would never make him famous. Probably by this time, except in the houses of those who loved him, they have become real lumber and have long ago been destroyed. But in them he had captured the sunlight shining on the buttercup fields, lighting up old red roofs, glinting on the surface of a running stream and on the grey-green of overhanging willows. He had caught the sky in all its moods, dappled with drifting cumuli clouds or dark with storm. And he had looked at it all with the eyes of understanding and painted the best he knew. Gazing at those pictures, you felt how he had enjoyed painting them. They had taken him into another world, shown him the beauty that lies hidden in simple, everyday things. No wonder he was a very happy man.


All this comes back to me now in reflecting how much more in the months—perhaps even in the years—to come, we are going to be thrown back upon our own resources for the filling of our leisure time. There will not be the same facilities for pursuing our pleasures away from home, still less an inducement to do so during the long black-out evenings. But if we can really concentrate upon some hobby or occupation that will keep hands and minds employed we shall not lose by the change. The man already having a fair proficiency in woodwork who sets himself to become a skilled crafts­man, the novice who determines to remain a novice no longer, by so doing enter into a new world, one in which they are discovering the possibilities of their own powers, establishing new standards of self-reliance. And one never knows where discoveries of this kind will end. …


… So that we have to set to work to make our plans for the black-out evenings—plans that will not allow us time for brooding over-much over what the future may bring, because that is futile and weakening. “Don’t cross your bridges before you come to them” is excellent advice. Our imagination is so apt to run riot, to show the bridges breaking down under our feet, without revealing the other side of the picture—that there is always some way of getting across. Let us therefore keep these troubled minds of ours fully occupied over a good practical job and worries and anxieties will assume reasonable proportions: In times like these we cannot hope—or even wish—to escape them altogether. To do so would be to stand altogether aloof from the common danger and the common purpose. But we can learn to cope with them like men.

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1939


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