Once upon a time, when the world was young, O Best Beloved, it was oh-so-simple.

Electric lights invariably came with bayonet fittings. All the consumer needed to do was grasp, turn clockwise, extract, and replace in reverse order. Most households managed on just two or, at most, three: 40, 60 and 100 watt. Even so, Malcolm’s garage has a dangling 150 watt bulb which must have been there for half-a-century.

Then we got those sophisticated cookers, ovens and other appliances, which were generally produced by some fiendish European. These came lighted with fiddly little screw-in jobs (you’d soon be left feeling a fool for not knowing these were “SES” bulbs, standing for “small Edison screw”). Replacing one of these could be a day’s work. First you had to work out how the protective diffuser or lens came off. In extreme cases this would require a patent screwdriver which you did not previously dream of needing. Then you have to peer hard to work out what was the wattage. Now a trip to the nearest electrical retailer for a replacement, which unfailingly cost three times any reasonable estimate. Back home to screw in, and then wrestle rescrewing (with that new screwdriver you won’t need for another year or two, and will have mislaid by the time it is again needed) and replacing the cover.

You probably and thoughtfully bought a spare (or the thing only came in packs of two), so you were now carrying two different types of bulbs. These smaller appliance bulbs would settle to the bottom of the box where you were storing them, and became overlooked. A few years down the road and you have developed quite a collection, particularly if the oven needs a different type to the refrigerator, to the micro-wave … and, without fail, the specialist retailer will assure you that you do.

Suddenly you found you had acquired a table lamp or whatever which had a big screw-in bulb. These, heh heh! you recognised as a big brother to SES, so you recognised “ES”. These have an interesting characteristic. After a couple of replacements the tag no longer makes contact with the bottom of the bulb. You now have to switch off at the mains, and “persuade” the tag to rise from its squashed state.

You now have a third category of bulb to store, also in various hottages and wattages.

As if you didn’t have enough complication in your life, enter the halogens. These come in various forms: some are tubes (as in those security lights) others are push-in, others still (these seem to be an IKEA speciality) have a bayonet fitting.

You are now up to at least four categories.

All of this forced itself upon Malcolm as he spent two happy days tidying cupboards. Actually, he started by emptying one cupboard, and repainting the interior. That’s why it stretched overnight, to apply the paint to dry. Having got this far, it seemed a good idea to attack the glory hole (every home has one, usually that crouch-down and shuffle job under the stairs).

Meanwhile, he found that one of the halogen bulbs ended replacing. However, after using a couple of “new” bulbs, neither of which worked, he became suspicious. Yes: not the bulb, but the attached transformer. So off to the shop for a new transformer. We shall not labour on how you clumsily blew the fuse for that lighting circuit, shall we, Malcolm? Nor that it was the one lighting circuit not on a RCB, but on an old-fashioned rewirable fuse. Nor that, after two hours, you still couldn’t find any fuse wire. Which involved a second trip to the shops.

An awful warning from the late Mr Belloc:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

Cupboard love

The contents of those two cupboards accumulated a store of no fewer than sixty-three spare bulbs, tubes and what-sits, acquired piecemeal over thirty-odd years of household maintenance. And that’s why, ever since those two days, O Best Beloved, all the bulbs that you see are now neatly sorted and shelved into four see-through plastic boxes.

So, we’ll finish where we started, with Mr Kipling, and his exceedingly good takes:

I keep six honest serving-men:
    (They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
    And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
    I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
    I give them all a rest.


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Filed under health, History, Literature, London, Rudyard Kipling

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