Sunday, December 14, 2008

Through a glass, darkly

SO I turn on the television and there’s a middle aged man in sensible shoes standing on his patio saying: “Just remember - an anagram of ‘garden’ is ‘danger’.” He then goes on to demonstrate how plant-supporting canes can be lethal if you are stupid enough to bend down and ram your eye onto one. What a prat.

This was Channel 4’s documentary about the people who work in our burgeoning Health and Safety industry – a special breed who tiptoe through life as if every manhole cover was a land mine. Step on a crack and you lose a leg. As you might imagine, five minutes in and I’m already frothing at the mouth. I was just about to get up to go and run around the kitchen while holding a pair of scissors when ‘pouff’ – the light bulb in the drawing room goes kaput. And that’s another thing.

Rummaging in the boot room cupboard, I can’t find any normal bulbs. All we seem to have is packet after packet of these new-fangled low-energy things, most of them given away free by supermarkets or, for some strange reason, by the Gas Board. So I stick one in, turn it on … and nothing happens. So I turn it off and turn it on again. Nothing happens. After a couple of minutes of this I give up in exasperation and go to walk away when, as if by magic, it comes on. It appears that there is some kind of time lag between you turning it on and the bulb actually illuminating. Well, that’s progress, especially if you’re standing at the top of the stairs half asleep.

And what a grim, grey, mean light it is. I’m immediately transported back to my days in Kruschev’s Soviet Union, or somewhere in Wales on a winter Sunday afternoon. Reading the newspaper is impossible; groping your way around the room is just about possible if you wear one of those head-torches popular with cyclists, pot-holers and midnight gardeners.

The next morning I’m off down to the hardware shop in search of good, old-fashioned, 100 watt bayonet bulbs. And that’s when I come up against the might of the European Union. The man in the brown coat behind the counter informs me that 150w bulbs have long been regarded as worse than crack cocaine while, as from the end of this year, normal 100w light bulbs will also be banned by the EU. We must all now use the energy-saving version, like it or lump it.

He then starts winking at me, in a passable impression of Ronny Barker’s Arkwright. I finally catch on and, 10 minutes later, leave the shop clutching a box of Number 3 self-tapping wood screws, a magnetic device for cleaning one’s outside windows from the inside, four bottles of Cillit Bang and, crucially, a brown paper-wrapped package containing half a dozen illicit 100w clear glass, bayonet-ended light bulbs.

I go home, draw the curtains, replace the idiot bulbs with the proper thing and then flick the switch. I’m like a junkie who’s just hit a vein; happiness floods through me as bright, white, coal-burning, carbon-unfriendly, dolphin-killing, polar bear-murdering light floods the house. I bask like a Page 3 girl on a Barbados beach.

But why should it have to be like this? As far as I can establish, the alleged ‘ban’ on proper light bulbs is merely voluntary. So why have most of our shopkeepers rolled over and given in to the iron fist of Europe?

And don’t be fooled. These environmentally-friendly bulbs are nothing of the sort. They contain mercury for a start. If you break one, you’re supposed to evacuate everyone from your home, seal up all the windows from outside, take out your dedicated ‘light bulb’ brush and dustpan, clean up the mess and then ship it in a nuclear-safe container to the nearest dedicated dump where men in chemical suits will carefully take it from you before sealing it up in a lead-lined rocket and firing it to the moon. Except you won’t. You’ll just chuck it in the bin with everything else.

And what’s the biggest argument against them? Well, they’re so dim that you’ll need twice as many bulbs to yield the same amount of light. And doesn’t that somewhat defeat the object?

AFTER MY comments of a couple of weeks ago about the impact (or non-impact) of a 2.5 per cent cut in VAT on our spending habits, a reader called Charles Courtney writes in the following terms:

“Just a small point on your wine price calculation: the VAT reduction of 2.5 per cent is actually less than a 2.5 per cent reduction in retail prices. It is 2.5/117.5 i.e. 2.13 per cent. Therefore your £6.99 bottle of wine would not drop to £6.81 but would be £6.99/1.175) x 1.15 = £6.84.”
Anyone care to bet that Mr Courtney owns a leather Radio Times binder and wears string-backed driving gloves?

THE LATEST BBC trailer asks where you were when certain newsworthy events happened, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the death of Elvis Presley, and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa.

Well I certainly know where I was in the case of the latter. I was on the phone to the BBC complaining bitterly that they’d gone and cancelled the bloody Antiques Roadshow on a Sunday evening.


Blogger Thud said...

Like some furtive smackhead I am in the process of buying and stashing as many lightbulbs as is possible....who would ever have believed it?

3:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes yes, but is your Stilton behaving itself?.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Old anorak said...

Actually Mr Courtney isn't quite correct. A £6.99 bottle of wine which includes 17.5% VAT would be precisely £6.841276 with 15% VAT. The shops would almost inevitably round up so as not to defraud the Revenue and price the item at £6.85 therefore I venture to suggest that the saving would be a mere 14p (6.99 - 6.85) i.e about 2% (or 2.0029%
to be exact).

Mind you, I remember the days when you could get a decent pint of mild for 14p at the Old Portsmouth Sailing Club, but I digress and that's enough excitement for one day.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Shades said...

Old Anorak, ISTR from my self employed days that VAT figures are truncated, not rounded.

DA, I've actually found a half decent low energy light bulb that can be dimmed, is an acceptable colour, lasts for 16,000 hours and is as bright as a 100W lamp. Made in Poland, sold by B & Q, but costs £8. However, the 2000 hour tungsten halogen 100W equivalent is more than £4 anyway.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the EU outlawed Mercury in traditional barometers "to protect the environment" and forces us to fill our houses with light bulbs filled with the bl@*dy stuff instead? I know that if brains were dynamite the average EU apparatchik would not be able to blow their hats off but WTF?

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Old Anorak said...

Oh really, Shades?

I've referred your post to HM Rev & Customs.

If you're wrong Sir then expect a midnight knock from the dreaded VAT men: Black Marias, rubber truncheons, "waterboarding" and the like.

11:59 AM  
Blogger cartermagna said...

I don't mean to be offensive Mr Anonymous but I wasn't that keen on the Christmas Stilton. He was a yob. The man Whittaker was much more of an everyman than some lump of smelly yellow stuff. Or Bazza as we know him.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOP TIP: If you keep all your old tennis balls you can put them on the top of garden canes to stop you getting your eye poked out!

10:50 PM  
Blogger northerner said...

Dead right. We don't need energy saving light bulbs here in the UK as the heat "wasted" helps to keep our chilly homes above freezing in the nine months of the year when we need the light on. The major energy loss in british homes is from the heating system. What we need is better thermal insulation and draughtproofing, but the government recently junked proposals for higher building standards. They really are hopeless.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous brickbat said...

it´s that ted malt and everest windows what started all this global warming fiasco?

12:20 PM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

Are those huge spotlights in thratres, concert halls and film sets also to be replaced with low-energy fluorescents?

At the thick end of a kilowatt each, once the cameras start rolling half the streetlights in Elstree go dim.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

That's "theatres", of course.

6:01 AM  

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