Monday, February 26, 2007

A Short Treatise On Lamp Posts 2

My attempts to research the phenomenon of the intermittent street light led me to the shadowy world of the lamp post enthusiast. Like Queen Victoria and lesbians, I know some of you will refuse to acknowledge the existence of this strange sub-culture, but let me assure you : exist it does. A good starting point to survey this exotic milieu is Street Lights Online - a site which will get the real lamp post enthusiast salivating within seconds. I was particularly impressed with the specialist pages on local side-entry lanterns, and the selection of photographs of damaged lanterns brought a lump to my throat. I would really like to let you share some of the delights of this site but it would appear that enthusiasts are as vigilant of their intellectual property as they are loving of their Atlas Alpha 8 twin mercury lamps. Most of the websites which cater for this most esoteric of passions carry multiple copyright notices and dire warning of the fate that will befall anyone who attempts to cut and paste their content (their lights will be well and truly extinguished). I would therefore point out that the illustrations which accompany this short piece are taken from my own extensive collection. They are not copyright protected - I give them to the world.

The links page on the above site took me to Phil Macbeans fascinating "Lighting Pictures- Here and There" which is a must for the serious devotee of this consuming hobby. Only the other evening I sat wide-eyed and enthralled as I watched the four minute video of a Philips HPL-R 240V 125W reflector, ES (medium) base warming up. In his detailed commentary Phil points out that the most interesting sections of the film are when the light is switched on and again when it is switched off. Here I beg to differ. I found the two minute central section when nothing seems to happen other than the incandescent glow of the central element spellbinding. If anything deserves an award at the ISLA's this is surely it.
Interesting as they are these sites were not providing me with the information I craved : why do streetlights go out when I - and I alone - walk under them. What I needed was the advice and assistance of experts and therefore I headed for the specialist discussion groups that were listed on the Street Lights On-Line site. There are seven listed : Street Lighting UK; Street Lights International; Street Lantern; Street Lighting; Street Light; Lamps and Lighting; and the UK Street Lighting Forum. True to the furtive nature of the enthusiasm I had been drawn into, these were all closed groups and therefore before I could pose my question I would need to join. The first part of this process was comparatively easy - I needed an Yahoo identity. Behold "Lampmanlit! now stands before you (I can be contacted at I thought it would now be easy to subscribe to the Forum (I had decided on Street Lantern because it sounded the nicest) but I had forgotten the world within which the lamp post enthusiast plies his lonely addiction. I had to fill in an application form which contained a section where I had up to 100 words to explain why I wanted access to the discussion group. I chose my words carefully - "to seek information and further my interest in the fascinating world of street lighting"

Now I must wait. I have received an acknowledgement saying that my membership application has been submitted to the group and I will be contacted again when a decision has been made. All I can do now is wait and see. And perhaps I can make this heart-felt plea. If any of you out there, know a member of the group - an elderly uncle perhaps or the milkman's older brother who has not been out of the farm for the last fifteen years - please intercede on my behalf. I need answers. I need to know. I need light to enter the dark recesses of my soul.

1 comment:

  1. I once walked the length of the military railway at... um.. anyway, south of London, much used to this day for film sets needing a tame railway.. with a young Scot (in his military kilt - note the "l") who could quote you the detail of any tram ever known in Glasgow. (In fact he was good company so long as nobody mentioned trams. (Sadly, not a lamp-post authority....))

    To extend my previous comment about why lamposts go out, I first noticed this phenomenon ages ago in my early teens when wistfully looking out of a window in Goodmayes, Essex. And then it came back on again. Faulty lamp, I thought. But its neighbour then went off.... and, later, back on again. And then another, further down the road. Quite intriguing with nothing more to wist at. Even at that young age I realised that seemingly several lamps could not have suddenly become faulty, but it was a hitherto unobserved (by me)property of street lights...

    I asked my (truly) inspirational physics teacher about it and he explained about the thermal cut-out. Since he was the kind of person knew how to make fireworks and home-made photographic enlargers, he wasn't the kind to have been fobbing me off!

    I've since seen the effect many times - indeed, also had the impression they turned off because I happened to be driving by one particular time... the effect can be quite disconcerting even when you know the reason.

    For those of us who fell asleep during the Harry Potter film I quoted, it uses failing street lights to be spooky when the Dementors are first around... although we don't know about them yet (unless we've read the book.)

    As regards seeming lack of randomness of basically random events, our house light bulbs always seem to blow in batches.... with the result the feeling they have it for one personally is unavoidable. Paranoia is never far below the normal human surface.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...