The light in my bathroom went out one morning recently right while I was in the middle of showering. It sounds like the worst thing that could happen to a person at such a delicate point in the morning routine, but really it was fine since I’ve become quite familiar with the surroundings and I was able to feel my way around.
What was most remarkable about the episode was that I had actually been thinking a day or two earlier about how unusual it seemed that I had changed the lightbulbs in every room in my flat over the course of the three years I have been living here, but I’ve never had to replace the bulb in the bathroom. What are the chances of that happening – first that there would be one room where the light never goes out, and then that the light would expire just as the thought has occurred to me? These are the sort of questions that you ask yourself when you are living as a single occupant and there is nothing much else happening in your life, in the same way that you become fascinated with diffusers or are suddenly concerned about why there was a pair of walking boots seemingly abandoned by the railings along the Esplanade.
You usually see one item from a pair discarded by the side of the road: a shoe, a slipper, a glove; or you come across singular objects which you can understand how they have become separated from their owner: a hat, a child’s toy, a pacifier, or most commonly these days, a face mask. These are things you can forget about seeing, but it’s difficult to stop yourself from thinking about the possibility that somebody walked away without realising that they weren’t wearing their boots, especially when they were still laying in the same spot 24 hours later.
It took me several days to get around to changing the lightbulb in my bathroom. This was mostly because I kept forgetting that the light wasn’t working, though there was undoubtedly a little laziness involved too. During the height of summer, sunlight pours through the four windows in my flat when the curtains are opened, giving each room a natural light that could fool anybody into thinking that they can get away with living without halogen lighting. It was only when I flicked the switch outside the bathroom door and nothing happened that I would remember my plight, and on those few mornings, I was subsequently faced with the decision of whether to pull the blind down over the window as I normally would or leave it up for the additional light that was being offered. There was an inherent gamble involved in not drawing the shade, especially with the back door to our flat’s communal garden being situated right outside my bathroom window. But the way I saw it, sometimes in life you have to live a little and take a risk if you’re wanting a thrill, even if that thrill is only a hot shower in the morning.
When I did finally replace the bulb it took me all of two minutes, and most of that was figuring out how to stand the stepladder around the bathtub. Geometry was never my strong point in school and this was even worse than the unusual puzzles the textbooks would ask you to solve. I could just see myself sitting in Mr Adair’s Higher Maths class, sighing as I was faced with yet another arduous question about an implausible situation that could never actually crop up in real life. Why would I possibly need to know what ‘x’ is in the following scenario? A single-occupant (s) leaves a lightbulb (lb) unchanged for 3 days. He is 37-years-old. The light fitting (f) hangs 1.67M above the ground and 13 inches from the edge of the tub (t). t is 47cm from the point where the door (d) touches the bathroom wall. s’s ladder (l) is 43cm wide and 83cm tall, and s’s reach ( r ) is 2 feet. If it is a Saturday afternoon and h is hungover as hell (h²), and s wants to finally get around to changing lb, x is the angle at which he must position l between t and d to r the lf. What is ‘x’?
In fact, there was an elderly man in Aulay’s one Friday night who needed more time to get up from his seat than it took for me to substitute the lightbulb in my bathroom. It was the gentleman’s birthday and he had been in the pub celebrating it for most of the day, though from the condition he was in you could be forgiven for believing that he had been drinking since his previous birthday. And really, who could blame him? We’ve all been having a year of it. He decided that he’d had enough shortly after I arrived and took one of the spare seats at the table he was sharing with another man he had never met, Nathan the wind farm engineer from Manchester. Before leaving, he had to first get up to go to the toilet, and this is where his trouble started.
He placed his large bear-like paws on the two tables that were either side of him, one paw on each, and pushed down with all his might. Beneath his blue trilby hat, the old man’s face was pink as a watermelon, while his eyes were like steely pinballs; the most determined I had ever seen. He tried and tried to prise himself from the patterned cushion, but it just wasn’t happening; his body presumably weighed down by all the Tennent’s Lager he had consumed.
Meanwhile, on the television in the corner of the bar, the BBC highlights of the day’s Olympics action was being played. I would occasionally feign an interest in the Men’s 200m individual medley, but it was difficult to peel my eyes away from the Olympian effort which was taking place before me as the birthday boy made yet another attempt to wrestle himself out of his seat. Each time he failed to get up he insisted to me and Nathan that he would be fine once he was on his feet. All he had to do was get there. It must have been at least the seventh attempt when he finally managed to steady himself, his paws gripping the two tables the way I hold onto a pint glass. The first thing he did after rising to full prominence was to ask the barman to phone a taxi for him, and when he returned from the toilet we had to implore him not to sit down again as he reached for his nearly empty pint. The taxi wasn’t long in appearing, and when the barman wrapped his arm around the birthday boy’s waist to support him, it was like watching a victorious athlete being carried around the running track by his jubilant countrymen.
With the old man safely escorted to his taxi, I felt obliged to make conversation with Nathan since he could just as easily have refused my request to sit on the spare stool at his table. It seemed we should have had a common bond since we were both so impressed with the feat of perseverance we had just witnessed, but our conversation fell into silence when he asked if I had been watching any of the Rugby sevens and I was forced into confessing that I wasn’t even aware it is an Olympic sport. We both glanced up at the TV screen as though the Men’s 10000m athletics final was suddenly the most compelling thing in the world, and in a way it was. We could have run the entire thing ourselves, so interminable did that silence seem.
Eventually, my newfound interest in athletics faded and I made another attempt at conversing with Nathan shortly before my brother joined us. I learned that he is in the area working on a wind farm project down in either Tarbet or Tarbert – I can never tell which is which, and it only confuses matters if you ask. He couldn’t find accommodation in whichever village he is employed, so he had to travel all the way to Oban for a place to stay. The life of a wind farm engineer sounded pretty fantastic once Nathan got into it. Since there is such a high demand for renewable energy these days he is basically travelling all around the world helping to install wind turbines. It is delicate work, however, and there are certain conditions in which Nathan can’t do his job. On these days he is forced to sit in a hotel room or a pub, where he likes to sample a whisky from whichever town he has ended up in. It seemed fortunate that he landed in Oban, where our whisky is terrific. I was curious to know what type of event would cause a wind turbine installation to be halted, and Nathan obliged by telling me that he isn’t able to work when the temperature is too hot or too cold, or when it is especially windy. I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. The one thing that a wind turbine lives for is the thing that can stop it from functioning altogether. It is exactly like me and sex, I thought.
Nathan was reeling off a list of the places where he would ordinarily be working when my brother turned up. In the last year, due to the circumstances around Covid, he has spent more time in the UK than ever before, when usually his job takes him to places like France, Germany, Italy, Croatia, the Gulf, and Japan, amongst others. My brother asked him if he goes wherever the wind takes him, but he didn’t seem to flinch. This got me to wondering if Nathan ever gets tired of hearing people making wind-based puns. He must get them all the time. How could you expect to be in his line of work and not be inundated with wind puns? I decided to ask Nathan if there comes a time where he’s sick of everyone he meets insisting on making puns based on the fact he works with wind turbines or if it eventually all blows over. He took a gulp of his Oban Malt and crooked his neck to look up at the television. “I don’t like to have too many of these in case I need to work in the morning.”
It is difficult to say whether I was more inspired or shamed by the birthday boy into replacing the faulty lightbulb in my bathroom on Saturday afternoon. I had awoken with an unusually fresh sense of purpose that morning, which was all the more remarkable considering the Plant Doctor, my brother and I had reintroduced the tough paper round drink into our Friday night. As well as getting my large weekly shopping trip out of the way, I also found time to make a visit to the barbershop. It was my second haircut since Covid restrictions were eased enough to allow the barber to reopen, and I was glad to get it out of the way in advance of the lifting of the last remaining restrictions on 9 August and some upcoming adventures.
The barber’s was completely empty, a rare sight on a Saturday morning, which allowed me to enter my name into the appointment book and immediately take a seat in the big chair. As I removed my glasses and settled in, the barber was in the midst of an internal struggle over how much longer he was going to keep the shop open. He wasn’t seeing the kind of trade he usually does on a Saturday, with there being particularly fewer tourists coming in than he would expect. I was surprised to hear that people go for a haircut when they are away on holiday, since I’d imagine that’s one of the first things anyone would do before a big event, but apparently the barber makes at least £300 a week from visitors.
According to him, many small towns in England don’t have a traditional barbershop, only a unisex hairdresser, so one of the first things they do when they arrive in a place like Oban is to get a haircut. Then he also gets a lot of American and Australian tourists, his theory being that they tend to take longer trips around Europe of up to a month, meaning that by the time they reach Scotland they are due to have their hair cut again. It was all very fascinating to hear about, even if I’m not sure that I believed that small English towns only have unisex hairdressers. I feel like I always learn something when I’m in the barber’s, although I never know how useful the information actually is. It’s all well and good hearing about the hairstyling habits of holidaymakers, but what I really need to know is why light bulbs last much longer in some rooms than they do in others, and where I was going to position my stepladder to change the bulb in my bathroom.
6 thoughts on “Lights out”
Windfarms-I’m a massive fan.
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Very nicely done.
I’m so coming on a pilgrimage to Auley’s! A social anthropologist’s dream destination!
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Ha, you should! It is ripe for material. I don’t know what I’d ever write about if it wasn’t for that place.
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I will turn up “in character” 😂
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New game, in our backwater, counting the discarded masks, car park to the shops.
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