Lights out for the territory

A message from Razors. "Don't bother coming back tonight," he writes. "The lights have gone out." But I have to go back, as I have nowhere else to go once the Duke has shut. The Hovel, I have discovered, is unusually prone to power cuts, and not, amazingly, because of its alarming wiring (although it is wonderful how much can be achieved with the judicious use of gaffer tape, which, as the botched DIY-er in all of us knows, can also be used to mend cars).

There seems to be something in the air, or more likely in the ground, that causes power cables in the area to blow up, and many is the time that a
crew from Electricité de France can be found at the street corner, drilling and running their generator well into the small hours. I have got to know individual electricians by sight, and the next time they turn up I shall bring them tea.

They like it, I think, when I come down and ask them what's happened this time; once they've realised I'm not going to yell at them, they are happy to go through the technicalities, and say what they think of their bosses. (Not a lot.) There are a lot of volts in those cables, and the men have a decent fund of scary stories. I half expect to hear a bang one day and find nothing left of one of them except a pair of smoking, empty boots.

Razors, though, is no use at times like these. When the lights go out, he goes to bed, losing all interest in the world like a parrot with a blanket over its cage. He likes to spend his evenings sending obscene messages across the globe, and without a wireless router he loses one of his raisons d'être.

I kill a couple of hours in the Duke and catch up on the latest gossip. It's all go there. Stay away from the place for a week or two and all hell breaks loose. The Guvnor's son, hitherto gay, now has an attractive Scandinavian girlfriend. (I thank my stars that I am no longer on the pull, for competition in this area is unwelcome.) Duffy, the manager with excellent taste in music, has gone and been replaced by Darren, who is lovely but pronounces the names on the labels of foreign wines as if they were English words, eg "Coats doo roans". His ex-girlfriend Ann, who let customers feel her breast implants and didn't know which band's members were Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but was still extremely popular, has left following a public indiscretion spectacular even by her standards and whose precise nature is best left unsaid, even in this column.

Waxing lyrical

But in the end it's back to the Hovel, and darkness. Sweetly, if a little unwisely, Razors has left a candle burning for me in an empty wine bottle. You might find this hard to believe, but we have rather a lot of empty wine bottles knocking around the place, and I actually know where the candles are kept. I have enough juice in the laptop for a couple of hours, but decide that firing it up would be against the spirit of the black-out, so I light a few more candles and settle down with a good book.

(I recall the Peanuts cartoon in which Linus reminds us that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, and his sister Lucy shouts "YOU STUPID DARKNESS!" into the night. She reminds me of quite a few people.)

But I love the way a power cut can still be looked on affectionately. For people of a certain generation, power cuts bring back powerful memories of childhood, almost all of them benign (although I went violently anti-union for a while when one happened in the middle of Doctor Who).

I also like being propelled back to an earlier time - a book read by candlelight seems better written, somehow, and if it's a book written before electric lights were invented, that's even better. I begin to think that power cuts should become a regular feature of modern life. And if electricity companies continue to maintain the infrastructure the way they do, they probably will.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The big choice