Candles, bright lights and darkness

Electricity was slow to arrive in the far north of Scotland, partly because of the technological challenges in getting the cables installed, but also because the residents weren’t that keen on the idea, so applied no pressure to expedite the installation.  When it was finally installed, in the mid 1950s, when one elderly crofter was asked what he thought of the new electric light he replied ‘Well it’s awfi’ handy fer findin’ the candles.’

This story was told to me, and the rest of my class, by one of my secondary school teachers…more than once.  Although he clearly enjoyed revealing the punchline, I think our underwhelmed reaction to it was a source of disappointment to him.

I’ve been thinking about that story lately, quite frequently; in fact every time I switch on my hall light.

The bulb in it went last week and I found I only had ‘energy efficient’ ones to replace it.

It seems I am no longer entitled to instant light; instead I must wait.  The new bulb doesn’t even satisfy the basic requirement of being useful to find the candles because I’ve generally switched it off before it’s properly lit.

The trouble is, I really only need about 30 seconds worth of light on the way in and out, to either put my shoes on or take them off.  For the last week I’ve been doing that in flickering gloom.

A couple of days ago I even turned the light on 5 minutes before the ETA of a friend coming to visit, to make sure that she could see  down the hall when she arrived.  So ‘energy efficient’.

And that’s the shame of it; I would like to be energy efficient, but I also want to be able to see.  So I’ll be out buying some energy inefficient bulbs soon.

This all sent me back to reading John Kay’s  ‘The Everlasting Light Bulb‘.  An essay about economics, he explains that innovation is the mainstay of competition,  and that if it were possible to manufacture an everlasting light bulb someone would be doing it, so long as they could produce it at a price that the market would bear.

His essay originally dates from 1999, and I don’t recall that there was such pressure to use long lasting ‘eco’ bulbs then, so he didn’t have the opportunity to comment on how a market can develop in light bulbs that fail to illuminate.

By pure happenstance, today I read that a low energy light bulb has won an international design award this week.  It seems that the ‘genius’ of the idea is to design an attractive looking light bulb so that you don’t need a shade thereby maximising the meagre light generated.

There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’ve not quite found it yet.

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  1. I cannot stand low energy bulbs. I find them soul-destroying, and as my supply of normal bulbs dwindles, I am ever more in despair at the prospects of what lies ahead.

    • It feels like a guilty confession, so I am glad I am not alone. I’ve even started moving ‘proper’ bulbs from little used lamps when the ones in more frequently used lights go….not the kind of recycling I think the green lobby have in mind.


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