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Power outage outrage

Following the most recent heatwave, there were the usual disgruntled complaints about having to endure power outages and exhortations to power suppliers to upgrade their infrastructure.

Privatization of power may be an issue, but there’s something else going on here. Apart from people on life support systems, most of us could stand a few hours with no electricity.

Yes, it’s inconvenient and hot without air con and fans and some of your food may need throwing out if your fridge is off for long enough. It’s hardly life threatening.

Anyone who is older than 50 or has lived in a ‘developing country’ knows that for much of the world, power is an unpredictable amenity, even a luxury. Where I grew up, black outs, and the occasional brown out, were a nightly occurrence.

In the privileged west, we consider unfettered access to power a basic human right. We assume that we can cook, work, entertain ourselves and keep warm or cool at the touch of a button. If the power to that button is unavailable, even for one night, we are at our wits end.

It’s okay, relax. Next time there’s a power cut at your place, try these basic things.

  • ·         Make your cup of tea on the gas, if you have it. If not, no one has cut off your water supply, which makes you luckier than a lot of people on the planet.
  • ·         Forget the warm shower and have a cold wash. It’s a heatwave, remember?
  • ·         Your phone has run out of charge. Try not to worry. It is unlikely anyone will die from this.
  • ·         Your computer’s run out of charge. Ditto. Think how liberating it is to have an evening where you don’t feel obliged to check emails.
  • ·         Cool down with one of those elegant Jane Austenesque hand fans or, failing that, a folded piece of paper. Spray yourself with a bottle of water and feel it evaporating deliciously from your skin. Sit with your feet in a basin of cold water – magic.
  • ·         Read a book by torch or candlelight.
  • ·         Chat to a housemate, partner, friend or neighbour. In person.
  • ·         Enjoy the quiet. No fridge humming, no machines beeping, no dishwasher churning. Bliss.
  • ·         Sit quietly and watch the dying of the light.
  • ·         Light candles. They are romantic, contemplative, atmospheric, calming. You’ll probably sleep better than when you are up till all hours with bright lights and machines.

Who knows? You might even get a taste for electricity-free living.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on 1 February



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