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16 July 2023

My new smart meter offers more drama than anything on TV

I may now be too terrified to boil the kettle or use the toaster, oven or grill, but reader, I am gripped.

By Nicholas Lezard

Ding! A text from my great friend Ben. “Got a flat-screen FHD 44-inch telly to sell. You interested?”

As regular readers of this column might remember from a couple of weeks ago, 44 inches is almost exactly four times the size of the machine I use to watch everything that is not the real world. (Apart from my phone, which is, of course, even smaller.) So I say no thanks and he says, “Thank **** for that – I’ve already sold it,” and we have a chat about other matters. During the course of which I mention the most exciting thing that has happened to me since my death threat (“Call this number again and I’ll put a bullet through your head,” etc).

“The thing is, Ben, I wouldn’t be able to watch the telly even if I had room to put it up, as I got a smart meter yesterday and I’m riveted to that.”

And this is true: not just that I got a smart meter, but that I am riveted to it. There is a writer for a national newspaper – you know the one I mean – who writes columns of such aggressive banality that people are astonished that he has a job. I would like to think that, as of this moment, we are in direct competition.

But seriously: this smart meter is fascinating. A Certain Energy Company had persuaded me that having one would be a Good Thing.

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“So no more hammering on my door trying to install a pre-payment meter?”

“Nope.”

“I’m not in trouble with you?”

“Nope.”

“We’re all good?”

“Yup.”

So I did some tidying up and the first person to enter the Hove-l since N—, who has seen the worst of human depravity and is therefore unshockable, came in, with a toolbox and a West Country accent. He took out the old electricity meter, a pleasingly retro piece of kit with dials and a rotating wheel, and I now have a white box with green LEDs that flash on and off for reasons that are obscure to me. I also have a little black screen, in size somewhere between a phone and a credit card, which tells me how much I am spending.

Reader, I am gripped.

Do you remember that scene in Apollo 13 where they’re trying to shut down as many systems as possible so there’s enough juice in the batteries to restart the computer? It’s been a bit like that round here. Not that there’s a lot of fat to trim. This is a low-energy household, in every conceivable way. I have since learned that, in the 24 hours since the installation, I have consumed £1.14’s worth of gas and electricity, and I am quietly confident that if I forgo my daily Sports Direct mug of tea, I can get that down to about £1.05.

Naturally, I am too terrified to use the toaster, and as for the grill or the oven, forget it. My friend Z— reminds me of her experience: “It’s much cheaper to take a lovely hot bath than it is to do the hoovering, so I do that instead now.” Z— is a most enterprising person; she once used, um, a personal infection to get her sourdough started, announced this on Twitter, and caused what may be euphemistically called a scandal. Good for her, I say.

And that’s it. That’s all I’ve been doing. I’ve been unwell, the kind of unwell that means you have to sleep for 20 hours a day, but I’m really good at that so no harm done. The attention span is shot so I found myself alternating between wildly different films: The Lady in the Van and The Hunt for Red October. That is, at first I thought they were wildly different but as my temperature rose so did my critical perception, and after a while I decided that they were essentially the same film after all: they are dramas of confinement and release – as is, of course, Apollo 13, which I also watched. I am quite sober now and not hallucinating and I stand by this.

Moreover, living in the Hove-l lately has also been like these films. I may not be in a tin can like Sean Connery, Tom Hanks or Maggie Smith but I am certainly in a confined space, isolated from the rest of the world, trying to find some kind of sanctuary while anxiously watching the numbers.

I have absolutely nothing on the cards until next week, when my old mucker Martin Rowson has invited me to lunch at the successor to the Soho restaurant the Gay Hussar. The last time I had lunch with him at the GH I got drunker at lunchtime than I ever have before or since. Expect a report in the next issue. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a smart meter to stare at.

[See also: Thanks to a kind reader, I won’t need to sit through winter in an electric onesie]

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This article appears in the 19 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, How Saudi Arabia is buying the world