John Walsh: "I object to being forced by politicians to change the way I use light"

Tales of the City

Tuesday 25 August 2009 00:00

From a week today I shall be a marked man. An outlaw. A renegade, beyond the reach of polite society. Call me a dreamer but I believe there are others like me, out there on the hillsides, like wartime maquis or partisans, storing and stockpiling our precious supplies. I can't be sure. This could be a one-man crusade.

I've always considered myself a hyphenated sort of person, a go-ahead, onwards-and-upwards, into-the-future kinda guy, an early embracer of technologies. I was the first guy in my generation to go for the Sony Walkman-cum-roller-skates look, circa 1981. I didn't acquire it myself, obviously, but I was the first to acquire a girlfriend who had it. She was called Sue and soon Sue roller-skated into the embrace of someone called Jimmy, but the principle holds. Technology and progress, I'm your man. Even things which initially seemed foolish and badly-thought-out have had my blessing. Electric carving knife? Sinclair C5? Lava lamp? Bring 'em on.

Sometimes, though, you hit a wall. You bunch your fists, you grind your teeth and you refuse to be told what to do. You risk looking like an obstreperous six-year-old, but that's the price you pay for being a renegade. You risk sounding like Charlton Heston saying he won't give up his .44 Magnum until they prise it from his cold, dead hands, but you must banish all negative thoughts. You're going into battle against a repressive government and a fascist diktat from Europe, and taking this rebellious stance won't be easy. But it's something a man's gotta do. From next Tuesday.

Didn't I mention what it was? Sorry. It's light bulbs. As of 1 September, that's it for light bulbs. Finito. It's Goodnight Vienna for old-fashioned, Osram 40-watt or 60-watt, I've-just-had-a-good-idea light bulbs, the ones shaped like Philip Larkin's head. Also the incandescent 100-watt ones that floodlight your kitchen. They've all been banned by European law, and nobody will be allowed to make them, import them or sell them in British shops after next Tuesday – from which day I'll be stockpiling them like Fagin under the floorboards of my home, arranging secret "bulb drops" in Brockwell Park with the bloke from Herne Hill Electrical Goods Ltd and organising meetings in my draughty, lamplit cellar with similar suburban mavericks with whom I'll plan the backlash ...

The Brussels legislators want everyone henceforth to buy energy-saving bulbs, the harsh ones with fat filaments like tubular pasta. I could tell you that I think they're rubbish, and they don't light a room properly, but you'll think me a whinger. I could point out that, by 2012, we'll all be required to use compact fluorescent "green" light-bulbs from Chinese factories where many workers have been poisoned by their mercury content, but you'll think me alarmist. My main objection is that I cannot stand any longer being told what to do by manufacturers, governments and shops. When computers brought built-in obsolescence into the world, when Currys stopped selling camera film, when Sainsbury's stopped accepting cheques, when parts of Canary Wharf objected to people smoking in the open air, when Dixons stopped selling audio cassettes, I rode each blow and accepted it, telling myself to get with the digital thing and stop living in the past. But there's something about light bulbs that goes in deep. I object to being forced by politicians to change the way I use light, and the strength of the light I use, because it will supposedly have an effect on climate change. It's a simple objection, but a fundamental one. It's, literally, elemental.

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