Thursday, 3 April 2008

Dancing in the Dark

Yesterday was a rather surreal affair in Melbourne, and it doesn't have to do directly with Dylan being sick again, me staying with him at work again, or me having to change his nappies a record time because of a stomach virus.
The real reason for excitement were the remnants of a cyclone off the coast of Western Australia, which, probably using a bit of an aid from global warming, hit Melbourne with winds north of 100km/h. Dylan and I spent most of the day hearing its effects and also seeing them: the sky was funny colored, the effect of dust coming in from central Australia, and the sounds of branches giving up and leaves smashing up against the windows were a constant feature. Then there were big thuds: A major branch from the neighbor of our neighbor fell upon our neighbor's driveway, blocking it altogether and smashing some of the fence between them; a smaller but still respectable branch from our own tree fell down our front yard; and an even smaller but still very much respectable branch hit our car (no damage, as far as I can tell).
As I was watching the party unfold I was also listening to the news. Public transport was in shambles, even worse than its business as usual form: they kept on telling people to go to the Connex website to receive updates about service problems, but the site was down most of the day. Even when it's up, the news page (containing breakdowns) is so badly designed it only shows the ten top news items, sorted alphabetically; this morning, for example, nothing north of F (Frankston line) was showing.
It was pretty clear that disaster is only a matter of minutes away, and indeed at exactly 14:00 it struck: a power failure has hit our entire area. According to the news, 160,000 houses all over the state of Victoria were cut off the grid. Oddly enough, this is the second time in recent history such a massive blackout takes place, and both happened within the last six months: earlier we had a fire due to the heat cutting off power lines, now it was the wind doing the same. They've said Adelaide is a backwater, but it appears to me that aside of its poor infrastructure, Melbourne is very much suffering from its huge geographical spread.

It's funny how taking something we all take for granted away affects you.
I had to take Dylan to a doctor's appointment at 14:30, so with all the preparations for the expedition I didn't have much time to fuss about the power failure; I mainly fussed at how the appointment was exactly when Dylan was due for a bottle.
We came back home at about 15:15 and Dylan was still bottle-less and obviously pretty annoyed about it. I called the power company, and after four calls actually managed to acquire the faults helpline (which, I then noticed, was staring at me all along from the very top of the power bill I was holding). The woman at the fault line sounded as if she was just facing Freddie Krugger when she told me there are general power failures all over the place and they can't even spare the resources to talk to me, so please leave me alone and let me do my work (which is to tell people that there is no time to tell them about their power failures).
At this point I turned to the gas stove to heat Dylan's bottle up. After finding the Turkish coffee pot (we don't drink much coffee) and filling it up with water
I switched the stove's gas knob, but nothing happened; the sparks that are usually there were not there. It's electric.
So I searched for the gas lighter thing I bought on my very first Australian supermarket adventure, a time in which I thought one needs one of these to ignite the stove gas. How ignorant was I? At least it meant the lighter was still, effectively, brand new. It worked like a charm.
Given the ongoing severity of the storm I then went to prepare our hand held lights and some candles. I took the old fashioned phone that doesn't need power and hooked it to the kitchen's phone outlet so we'd have a phone within usable range, and I charged my PDA phone in the car while going to pick Jo from the train station.
Dylan's next set of nappies were replaced under battery light; we were just hoping we managed to wipe all the artifacts away, because there was no way we could tell what it is we were doing down there. Then Dylan has had himself a candle light bath.
By 20:00 it felt like we were at around midnight or so. We were just so tired! I went out to see what's going on in our street, and I could see our entire area was in the dark. Far away in the distance, though, I could see lit neighborhoods. When I looked up at the sky I could see many more stars than usual - it was pretty beautiful.
The plan was to spend the night reading, or watching something on the laptop, but we were both pretty tired. The darkness gets to you, and even though the time was pretty early by normal standards it felt like past midnight. It's amazing what this invention of artificial light can do to us, humans: it is obvious we are wired to switch off when darkness settles, but we manage to cheat nature by extending light time artificially. What do we do with this newly acquired time? Usually, just work a bit longer, so we can get more stuff that we can mess about with at the time we don't have anymore. I wonder who it is exactly that profits from this artificiality.

Shortly after 21:00 the lights came back on. It felt weird: the light was just too strong, too obscene. All of a sudden I didn't feel like going to bed anymore, I wanted to play on the computer as per usual.
Aside of worrying about the food in the fridge going bad, maybe we do need some more blackouts to help us fix our lives. Who needs an Earth Hour when a good blackout is just a tree fall away? Trust global warming to work something out.

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