In winter, Frances and I warm our séjour (living room) with a log fire. This is quite common in rural France. It helps warm our bedroom too, which is directly above.

Of course, log fires mean flames, and watching the flames in a fire is supposed to be something everyone does. I used not to, but increasingly, I do. It's enjoyable in any normal circumstances because it means that I'm warm and have nothing better to do. Whether I see anything more meaningful than that in the flames is disputable to the point of barminess. I see demons and angels, past and present, happiness and sorrow.

When I was a boy in England, we had coal fires, but they just aren't the same: log fires give you far more to look at. Infant flames flicker hesitantly at the side of the parent log. Adolescent flames appear big and bold and bright in the wood-smoke; crumple into themselves with a complete lack of confidence; then reappear, more beautiful and muscular than before. Adult flames are hot and confident. Old flames die, or smoulder until a breath of oxygen revives them. The oldest flames are barely flames at all, just a deep red glow. Even then, they may fade to grey nothingness or suddenly ignite a thread cast on the fire. Or a discarded envelope or scrap of paper turns crispy brown, smoking until some secret tipping point is reached and it bursts into flame, soon to be consumed, leaving thin ash that coruscates at the edges.

Nor are these the only flames. There are ghost flames that appear in smoke, impossibly transitory, their shape changing faster than the eye can see, their whole shrouded in grey and swirling smoke; and there are scavenger and parasite flames, slyly licking at the burned flanks of logs that the other flames have abandoned. All mean no more and no less than we want them to; except, of course, that we are warm and have nothing better to do.

Dreams are much the same. They come most easily and most often when we are warm in bed, with nothing better to do. Read two books on the interpretation of dreams, or visit just one of the more inclusive websites, and you will find a vast range of symbols and an even vaster array of interpretations, many of them mutually contradictory. It is hard to tell whether to feel amused or dispirited.

If you really want to interpret dreams, or flames, do not be too hasty to seek the advice of others. Look first inside yourself. As yourself if you really want the dreams or flames to mean anything, and if you do, what it is. What are your current concerns, hopes, obsessions, fears? Next ask yourself the only question that has any meaning. How did you react to what you saw, what you dreamed? Because the dreams and the flames themselves mean nothing. Only your reactions have any meaning; and even then, they may not mean all that much.

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