27 July, 2006

London collapses

Or some of it, at any rate.

By lunchtime, rumours were going round at work that parts of the West End had been subject to a power cut. The local company were apparently rationing the supply, such was the demand being caused by a million air conditioning units and cooling fans. There was some idle speculation as to whether our offices - just behind Piccadilly - would end up the same way, but nobody was taking it seriously. I mean, the very idea of electricity being rationed - in this day and age? Preposterous!

Anyhow sure enough just after 2pm the power went off and the entire building was plunged into darkness. And intense heat. And misery. And the eerie glow of a hundred battery-powered laptop computers.

To begin with everybody just carried on as normal. This was, of course, a thoroughly typical British attitude to the circumstances, and, in that sense, a thoroughly hopeless one as well. Sure, we may have been able to do a bit of work, but the batteries in the computers only had, at the most, a couple of hours life, the temperature was rising steadily with each passing minute, and we could tell that the streets outside were filling up with people who'd only too readily abandoned their desks for the thrill of being sent home early.

No word was forthcoming as to what we were expected to do. No word at all. And so the time passed, and the amount of stuff actually being done slowed to a crawl. The situation was ludicrous. The phones went down. Machines started dying. You couldn't even go to the toilet, as you couldn't see anything inside the cubicles.

Finally it was decreed that we would be allowed to leave the premises and go home. Not to relax, though, but to continue work. For there was stuff that had to be readied for tomorrow, and it needed to be completed one way or another. So that was what I did. I was back here by 5pm, and after having a shower and my tea I picked up where I'd left off and worked on through till 8pm.

At which point I discovered there was no water in my flat. Nothing was coming out of the taps - not a thing. I phoned up Thames Water to be told that - yes - a power failure had knocked out the pumping station serving the whole of north west London. This, by the way, was a different power failure to the one affecting the West End.

For a dreadful couple of hours I have sat in the knowledge that, during one of the hottest heatwaves in history, I couldn't even fetch a glass of water or wash my face.

Then, a short while ago, I heard the gurgle of something trying to make its way through the plumbing and, thank heavens, the water returned. Spluttering and stuttering, to be sure, but it was there.

I can't help but wonder for the future of our supposedly advanced society when basic, fundamental utilities are so prone to being simply wiped out, seemingly in the face of anything we can do about it.

Either that or it's just too fucking hot.


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