I am unscientifically vague about such things as greenhouse gases and global warming - although naturally I am against them. But when I heard the other day that "light pollution" was beginning to be of concern in Britain (where I live), I suddenly became very knowledgeable on the subject.
I could see it might be useful to me - in the matter of changing light bulbs. My wife is forever asking me to replace burned-out ones. And I have a strange, built-in resistance to the task.
So she asks again, with an admirable lightness of tone and a studied nonchalance born of many years' experience in such things. But this time I reply: "Well, don't you think perhaps it is better for it to be dark out there? Have you heard how light pollution in cities now means that we can't see the Milky Way anymore?"
She isn't impressed, of course. What is she to the Milky Way or the Milky Way to her? She just wants to be able to see the front-door keyhole when she comes home at night. So do I, actually. But it would not be politic to admit it.
"And anyway," I continue, pressing my disadvantage, "our electricity bills are far too high, aren't they? And all this artificial light keeps the blackbirds awake at night. And...."
And I am beginning to run out of ideas, so I suddenly talk of cabbages and kings.
There was a time when she might have considered rather more schoolmistressish forms of coercion. But such desperate measures tend to lose their effect across the decades. So today her technique is a quiet, continual, relentless, endless, reiterative ... inquiry. "Have you managed to put a new spotlight bulb over the front door yet?"
I know I'll have to give in eventually. I have long since conceded that light bulbs are my bailiwick. But that doesn't mean I like changing them.
For a start, I am not sentimentally attached to electricity. Then there is the question of those table lamps we have: frosted glass globes sitting on a round wood base. Getting at the dead bulb in these is a high-risk venture. Sprung wire clips hold the globes in place. They operate on the mouse-trap principle, and do not differentiate between small rodents and my fingers. Years of practice has not perfected my love for these lethally designed snappers.
Then there are the spotlights in the kitchen and in my study. For a long time these were of that brilliantly engineered type in which heated metal, expanding, would form a perfect weld between a light bulb's lower metal regions and the socket into which it was screwed. Also, the bulbs fit the casings precisely. No finger space. This made it very hard to grasp the slippery glass surface of the bulb, and, even if you could get a purchase, the internal weld made removal well-nigh impossible. I have been known, in a state of melodramatic angst and tragic catharsis, to resort to a hammer and pliers.
We have, however, now managed to replace these ingenious fitments with new ones designed for smaller bulbs and human fingers.
The spotlight over our front door is another matter. In fact, we have one like it over the back door, too. And on two corners of the garage. And on the front of the garage over the doors. And on the corner of the house, high up among the climbing rose, Virginia creeper, and clematis. Nobody can say we're not doing our bit for light pollution.
Actually, I feel half serious about this. Sometimes our antiquated orange street lights inexplicably go out, and a whole street is plunged into unaccustomed darkness. After my city- conditioned reflex of initial irritation, I think: "No. It's rather nice." It's like power outages that disable houses. Such a nuisance. But for a short time they are kind of enjoyable and cozy - excuses to indulge the fantasy of a primitive existence, cuddling around the fire, reading by candlelight, scooping cold baked beans from the tin. Like being on a camping trip without leaving home. Like living at the time of Henry VIII.
And temporarily dark streets remind me a little of the pleasures of country darkness, where the vast canopy of stars above you is magnificently visible, and you stride the fields in the glorious night as if you and the universe share the privilege of existence like a close personal secret.
But after a while, you want those street lights on again, and, indoors, you want lights coming on at the flick of a switch, and toast, and unmelted ice cream, and even TV and computers. The pleasures of being without electricity for very long are, admittedly, overrated.
So - finally - I heave the two-stage ladder out of the garage, erect it on the gravel at the foot of the front steps, and gingerly climb up to the spotlight. The ladder wobbles as I take out the old, twist in the new. I descend with trepidation, grateful to be back on earth. And my good wife desists from verbal persistence. And I no longer have to think up excuses. And you can put the key ungropingly in the keyhole. And all's well with the well-lit world.
Until next time.