We had a brief powercut in today. It only lasted a second and I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been sitting near the phone – when it’s turned on it goes through a startup sequence where a voice speaks some of the settings.
“Calls will go through to the answerphone after 6 rings.”
Huh? Why’s the phone making that noise? The phone didn’t ring so it can’t be voicemail activating… Ah ha! That’s what the phone does when it’s just been turned on! But that means the phone must have been off, and it was on a minute ago and no one has been near it for a while, so… it must have lost power only to have power restored! Was the phone on the fritz or was something else to blame? I looked over to the cable box above the TV and it too was in its startup sequence. Now I knew what’d happened.
Alan! Did your computer just turn off?
How did you know?
Alan didn’t need to know my methods, only my conclusion.
POWERCUT, I replied.
I know it must have been momentary because I had been using my iPod and its Wi-Fi connection right up till that point. Several second later, my modem and router must have rebooted because my iPod regained its internet connection.
My first reaction was to go onto Facebook to see if anyone else had reported a powercut, and someone had. But this was strange – the friend who posted the message1 lives in Scone, which is a couple of miles away from the other side of Perth. Several other people from all over the area commented to say the same thing too. That means it’s quite likely that the powercut affected the whole city and surrounding area, though just for a second. That strikes me as very unusual, and I wonder why it happened.
Actually, I don’t wonder why it happened. I’d be interested to know, but I’m not going to waste any time thinking about it, because without any more facts I’m going to get nowhere. Unless anyone has some insider knowledge, I’m going to move on to something which I find much more interesting: what we do when there’s a powercut.
I usually know straight away if a powercut has happened. The computer cuts out, the lights go out, the TV turns off – that sort of thing. Sometimes it’s more of a surprise, like what happened today, or something like opening the fridge and wondering why the inside light didn’t turn on. The first thing I’ll do is make sure that the power is definitely off – I’ll check the lights, turn on the radio – and then check that ours isn’t the only house that is affected. If it is, I might need to sort out some circuit breakers or call an electrician.
Once I’ve confirmed that this is indeed a bog-standard powercut, I’ve got to decide what to do whilst the power is off. It makes me laugh to think just how much I rely on electricity, and how I don’t realise how much I rely on it. Yes, if I try to think of all the things I do that depend on electricity I will probably get everything, but the truth is, I don’t think about it.
My first reflex to boredom is to take out my iPod, so that’s what I’ll almost always do in a powercut. Yet my subconscious isn’t thinking properly – although my iPod does indeed have its own power source, my router doesn’t, so I’m not going to be able to connect to the internet.2
I can’t watch TV and I can’t watch that film I’ve wanted to watch for ages. I can’t put the Playstation or Xbox on to play a game, and of course I can’t go on the computer (duh). If it’s dark I can’t read, because I don’t have any lights to read by. I can’t have a shower. I can’t use the microwave, toaster, and unless I can find a lighter, I can’t use the cooker. Often that doesn’t leave much to do, so I’ll maybe go to sleep, try to read something, or go for a walk.
Or I could go shopping, which during one powercut I thought would be a great use of my time. Sadly it wasn’t – Tesco was shut due to the powercut as all of their systems were offline. That’s something you don’t think about – you rely on electricity to shop. I trodded back, past the man that was neither red nor green, to the misery of a powerless home.
But I’ve had one great idea of what to do during a power cut. I think it’s one of the best ideas that I’ve ever had. One night last summer, I was watching a James Bond film3 when all of a sudden… powercut. After checking that the power was indeed off, I went upstairs to look out of the window. Do you know what happens when there’s a powercut at night? The streetlamps turn off. All of them. It was the first time that I’d seen a neighbourhood at night that was completely dark. It was so cool.
Then I had my great idea. If the streetlamps are off… why not go out to stargaze? I hate streetlamps because they produce so much light pollution, greatly reducing the scope for stargazing in a city. But if the streetlamps are off, why, won’t that mean that there’ll be no light pollution? Perhaps I’ll be able to see some amazing things!
I was so excited… and then so disappointed. Not only was the sky mostly cloudy, it still had that distinctive orange glow of streetlamps. Fuckers. Evidently the powercut didn’t extend very far beyond our neighbourhood, and the rest of the city was spoiling my golden opportunity.
At least next time, I’ll be ready. Roll on powercuts!
This post started as a draft over a year ago, with the title “Powercut” and a main body that said “my experiences”. I don’t know if these thousand words have improved on it, but I’m glad I’ve written them.