An everlasting lightbulb brighter than the Dog Star was installed in the street lamp outside my house one morning as I watched the two engineers being lifted up on a crane.
I knew it was trouble as they took out the soft yellow bulb from the antique holder and installed a bright-white LED. I had been dreading this, but when it finally happened the result was worse than I could have imagined, because they didn’t put it on a timer, like the old one.
They switched it on and left it on. All day and all night it blasts out its blinding white light. It is never night time.
What the devil is this light for? I live up a track on a quiet village green. Counting mine, there are only eight houses up here.
No one comes or goes at night except for the odd dog walker. Come to think of it, they do wear powerful head torches, as though they were ascending Kilimanjaro. One woman ties a second torch around the neck of her Alsatian. Has some deranged cockapoo owner demanded that the green be health-and-safety-ised?
The lamp is so bright that as I drive up the unmade track after dark, I cannot park without putting on sunglasses. As I turn in, my heart skips a beat. ‘Oh no! Did I leave the gas on?’ I think, because it looks like a scene from a disaster movie outside my house, as if emergency lighting equipment has been trained where the unfortunate victim has been found in a pool of blood, or in the debris of an exploded kitchen.
I could have kicked myself for not taking issue with the men in the crane but I assumed it was like a central heating timer, and would revert to the timed hours once the timer switched it off during the night. When I looked out of my window at 3 a.m. and realised I was not sleeping because the county council had confiscated night time, I was panic-stricken.
I called the next day and, after ignoring the usual ‘Because of Covid we would like you to put the phone down and go away, otherwise please hold’, I got straight through and a nice man agreed they would fit a timer and a shield. A week later, deranged by the constant low-level torture of knowing there is no darkness outside, I rang to complain that no one had yet come to my aid. The lady was apologetic, but I thought it best to throw everything at it this time.
I told her the animals were suffering. ‘You know, the foxes and the owls. They can’t cope without night time. It messes up their body clock.’ There was a shocked pause before the lady said: ‘I’ll get on to this right away. Hold the line.’ And when she came back she told me she had escalated the matter and it would be dealt with within three days.
When three days came and went, I rang again and got through to the chap I had spoken to initially. Nearly two weeks without darkness, I was rude as hell.
‘How would you like it,’ I raged, ‘if you didn’t have night time? And what about the cost of a light that never goes off? Environmentally, and to the taxpayer? Why? Why put a street light on a track that isn’t even a street? I’m going mad. I’m ready to jump out the window.’
Whereupon his voice grew especially soft and he said: ‘Would you like me to send social care?’
Part of me wanted to say yes. Let’s have something I’ve paid for with my taxes. If I can’t get an engineer to fix the street light, I’ll take anything. I had this before when I went to hospital with eczema on my hands one Saturday. The nurse at A&E said dermatology was closed until Monday but she could get me a psychiatric assessment.
There doesn’t have to be any more than the most tenuous of links between the state service you need and the service you are offered. The idea is that you take what you can get, even if it means being committed to an asylum for having a skin rash.
On balance, I decided to scream: ‘If you don’t send the engineers to switch this light on to a timer I’m going to smash it to bits.’ And I slammed the phone down.
I figured I could reach it by hurling rocks. ‘That won’t work with an LED,’ said the builder boyfriend, who had overheard the conversation.
‘What about,’ he said, in that tone of voice he uses when he has had a brilliant idea, ‘if you ring back and say you desperately need a social worker? Would they then not send you a street light engineer?’