Class conscious

In the 18th century, the more upper class you were, the bigger your chandeliers and the more light you had in your house. Today, the opposite is the case: bright light is associated with relative poverty. Think of the washed-out look of a McDonald's, or the merciless blue-white light of your average chippie.

In the past, light cost lots of money, but now people pay for darkness - for dimmer switches, which always fizz slightly in my experience (or maybe I should just change my electrician), sunken lights, 15-watt bulbs and other gloom-making gimmicks.

When growing up in the north, I became accustomed to the notion that if you wanted to illuminate a room you "turned the light on", a relatively simple act. Today . . . well, in our north London home, turning the light on in, for example, the living room takes about five minutes: you have to grope your way in and then begin turning on half a dozen sidelights carefully positioned by my wife.

When they're all on, the room looks very nice, but you can't exactly see anything. And if I want to read a book, I usually wait until my wife-cum-lighting director is elsewhere, and whip off one of the shades.

There are no overhead lights at all in our house, because they are considered too glaring. When I walk into our bedroom, I switch on my bedside light by means of a switch near the door; I can also turn it off with a switch on another wall - the one near the bed.

It's all fiendishly clever. But being essentially working class, I've never got used to the idea that you can turn on a table-lamp from the wall, and I get the switches all out of sync in a way that is hard to explain briefly in print. Suffice it to say that, in order to turn my bedside light either off or on, I often have to shuttle exasperatedly back and forth, and walk between the various switches for quite some time.

This is all down to my wife, and I suppose you could say that I suffer for her art.

But I'm not complaining. I'm a lot handsomer in the dark.

This article first appeared in the 24 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Are the loonies coming back?