The night I changed four light bulbs

One by one, over the space of two or three weeks, they were slowly beginning to disappear; gradually fading out of existence in exactly the way a dimming lightbulb lives its life.  For a while, it seemed that every other evening when I would turn on my living room lights, another bulb in the five-eighths-of-a-spider-like chandelier which hangs above my large glass coffee table had been extinguished.  I was oblivious to the first bulb burning out, and even the second event had little impact on my life.  It was a little darker, sure, but the mood reminded me of the bar, and I became used to it.  Who really needs five lights illuminated at any one time, anyway?  But when the third bulb went out and I was left with only two, I began to feel worried.

The last two bulbs in the chandelier co-habited for around five or six days until some morning this week, when one of the couple decided that it didn’t want to come home.  If I had been nyctophobic then all of my worst fears would have been dangerously close to being realised.  By the process of elimination, I knew that the final bulb remaining couldn’t have much longer left before it too would burn out, and my concern heightened.  I have never changed a lightbulb before:  at least not a ceiling bulb, and never my own.  I have replaced the bulb in a bedside table lamp, in a desk lamp, and in a standard hallway light fixture, all things easily reached by stretching an arm out, and nothing that would require the use of a stepladder, or even standing on the tips of my toes.  I was considering if home ownership was really for me.

For several days the surviving bulb struggled on, using all of its resources to light the entire living room on its own.  I admired its resilience, but I knew that soon physics would get the better of the bulb and it would join the others in perpetual darkness, and this troubled me.  It quickly followed to question how I was going to change these five exhausted lightbulbs when the ceiling in my Victorian era flat is so high, and I am a man of average stature.  Am I supposed to turn all of the electricity off?  Before long I was contemplating what would happen in the event that I am electrocuted and nobody can find my body because the property is in darkness.  I suspected that it would take days for my stricken shape to be discovered, and it would only be by accident, in the way that you are looking in the back of the fridge for something else entirely and find the half-eaten mozzarella ball you bought for an Italian recipe three weeks ago.

Some time passed and I began to put some serious thought into the possibility that I could live an existence without the need for lights in my home.  It occurred to me that if I never closed the curtains I could probably just about get by on the strength of the nearby streetlights, and if I upped my tea light candle usage from two at a time to, say, eight, I might even have enough light to read.  If I happened to have visitors I would just claim that I’m trying to achieve the minimalist look and that my place is “atmospheric.”  The flat with no lighting and several dead houseplants decorating the mantel place.

My reluctance to change the light bulbs wasn’t born of laziness so much as it was a tremendous dislike of physics.  It was by far my least favourite subject at school, and any discussion of Sir Isaac Newton and his work only left me craving a Granny Smith.  For a brief time in fifth year we had a teacher who was new to the school, and each lesson he would have us listen to Moby’s new album Play.  If my Higher exam had been on Honey or Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? I’m certain I would have achieved a better grade than the lamentable letter which marks my certificate next to the claim that I studied physics.

It was probably around 7.20 on Wednesday evening when I was eating dinner and I thought I was taking a spicy sweet potato wedge on my fork, but actually ended up with a mouthful of lemon baked salmon, that I realised that there are downsides to living in dimly lit conditions.  With the fragrance of fish in my nostrils, I decided that it would be for the best if I changed my light bulbs, and the following day I purchased three twin packets of halogen candle bulbs.  I returned home from work that night with a solitary goal in mind.  The positioning of the glass coffee table proved problematic, largely due to the way that its size dominates the room.  It is by far the biggest object I own, and I was concerned about how I was going to stand the stepladder around it in order to reach the chandelier.  In spite of my failure to grasp the basic fundamentals of geometry, I was able to fit it around the table, and when standing on the top rung my outstretched arm could reach the dead light bulbs and no more.

I have never considered the possibility that I could have a fear of heights.  Over the years I have walked around the observation deck of The Shard in London, tread across the glass floor of Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower and visited the tallest building in the western hemisphere, One World Trade Center, and felt nothing but awe.  But on top of this five-foot-tall stepladder, I was feeling numb and nauseous.  I was standing there for what seemed like it must have been three or four minutes, completely frozen and unable to move.  It was an experience similar to the few moments before I approach a girl to talk to her; when I am unsure whether there will be a spark or if my jokes are once again only going to lead to resistance.

My eyes tumbled downwards as my attention turned from the chandelier overhead to the table on the ground below.  I tried to take my mind off the entire predicament by imagining the stories I could tell at dinner parties if I had fallen from the ladder.  Perhaps a few people had returned to my flat for some drinks after the pub, and they would listen intently to my anecdote as we all gathered around the battered coffee table with its shattered glass plates which are only visible due to the street light which shines through the window.  They would remark on the horror of the tale, the looks of great interest and sympathy on their faces enhanced by the atmospheric tea light candles which are placed strategically around the room, the three on the mantel place giving the impression of a loving memorial to the dead houseplants they sit between.

The scars from the fall, on my face and hands, would attract attention in the pub, and girls would be sure to ask how I had got them.  In my thoughts, I am much more suave than in reality, and I would casually tell them that I was doing some electrical work at a great height.  All manner of scenarios paraded through my mind before I was finally able to unscrew the light bulbs, one by one, and replace them with new ones.  The entire process took minutes, and when I stepped back down the ladder to turn on the switch, I was rewarded with a brightly lit room.  I admired my work and reflected on how simple the task was, before dimming the lights to the lowest setting and igniting two tea light candles.