Written By Candlelight

April 2005

You've heard about slow food and slow towns, well, now here's slow energy. I discovered it last night when a powercut blacked out our north London street from 7pm until 2am.

save fuel

Within minutes of the electricity going I had spoken to more neighbours than I had all week. In the dark street the barmaid who lives a few doors down gave me three candles from the box she'd just taken from the pub opposite, and some matches.

The doorbell is dead and the phone line is cut. Now, if I'm honest my phone almost never rings anyway. But psychologically there's a world of difference between its almost never ringing and the impossibility of it ringing.

What debilitates the mind nowadays, I think, listening to the silence where the combi-boiler used to whine, is less distractions so much as potential distractions. This continual threat of distraction puzzles the will. Why settle down to any one thing? There'll be something else along shortly.

Ironically, the blackout came just as I was checking my e-mail for the address of the isolated Gower peninsula cottage where I was going to meet some friends. But now it's as if the isolated Welsh cottage has come here instead.

Time slows. I found myself reading aloud. Consequently I actually understand, for once, what I'm reading.

By candlelight the recycled packing crates look like Robinson Crusoe's own table, rather than the unimaginative salvage of a skip-diving expedition. The objects in its arc of light take on a pleasingly photogenic aspect. In fact, there is a feeling of a continuum with all those others who have written or read or stitched by candlelight down the ages, a connection you only get when the candle is the sole source of electricity.

For a couple of years now I've been trying to make slow tea. I do leaves in a pot, soya milk in a jug, tea-cosy, the works, but it never takes somehow. I always feel like I'm just fucking about, wasting time. It's pointless. But now, with a single, small pool of light in the flat the tea ceremony gains a practical purpose. I see why it was devised. You needed to have all the works with you in the place where you sat. You don't want to have to get up again.

I start to have visions. I think electricity privatisation is their bridge too far. They have created the conditions for their own demise. These powercuts are too enriching for the resistance. I have used this powercut to have visons. One of which was prompted by my tea-set.

switch on

Orwell once argued that for all we may lament the alienating and estranging effects of technology it can't be uninvented and then he goes on to something like "no-one would ride alongside the A1 on a donkey while motor cars whizz past them". (I'd find yer exact quote but it'd mean lighting another candle and tripping over the fruit crates.) That was before climate change had kicked in, and now, which of these two precisely is the affectation: the donkey or the car? That is, which is pretending modern realities don't exist?

We will have more when we have less. We forget this by trying to think how to appeal to government policy-makers.


A week later there was another powercut which affected only me, only my flat in the whole of London and I lost my fucking mind. I'd just come back from a long train journey and I needed a hot bath and a coffee. I'd been away for days, yet the electricity waited until I had been home for twenty minutes before cutting out. Just so as I'd know it was personal. I was screaming in the dark, slamming doors.The sub-station explained how it could happen that a particular junction box in the central metropoltian grid might short out only one house in each postal district.

The power was re-connected only for the combi-boiler to stop working just as I got gastro-enteritis. Barricaded in the bedroom by the one electric fire, I passed a philosophical week lying in shit-stained sheets.


When Robert sent me this piece to put up on the website the last line he'd written didn't make a great deal of sense. It read:

"The power was re-connected, I became ill and was lying in shit-stained shits when the top-of-the-range combi-boiler to stop working, blocked by leaves."

I remarked that it looked like he had fed the last sentence through an on-line translator from English to German and then back again. Which of course, we then had to do. It translates in German thus:

"Die Energie wurde wieder angeschlossen, wurde ich Kranke und lag in Scheiße-befleckten Scheiße als der Oberseite-von-d-Strecke Combidampfkessel, um das Arbeiten zu stoppen, blockiert durch Blätter."

And then back into English:

"The energy was attached again, I patient and lay in shit-stained shit as the top side of D distance combi steam boiler, in order to stop a working, blocked by sheets."

So there you go. Many endings to choose from.