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Blogvent – Day 12


With only thirteen days to go until christmas I am starting to find my festive spirit, aided in no small part by the purchase last Friday of a set of christmas tree fairy lights to replace last years inoperable ones. For the fifth year in a row I have found myself forced to replace the christmas tree lights. I’m not sure what happens to them in the intervening twelve months from the last time they were used (to be fair it’s probably more like eleven months, given they are in use for the better part of one) to the next time they are required, but whatever it is seems to kill them dead. There’s every possibility it’s because I always buy cheap christmas lights but I don’t think this goes far enough to explain five sets of lights. I’ve tried storing them in different parts of the house, keeping them in the box, wrapping them round custom built cardboard carriers to prevent tangling and snags but nothing seems to preserve their lifespan.

I’ve started to believe that they are now designed to cease to function six months after they are first used so you have to buy a new set every year. I wouldn’t be surprised if some OCP style mega corporation is responsible for the manufacture of all the world’s christmas lights and have deliberately incorporated a limited lifespan to maintain their sales.

Last year I had a particularly fun experience when trying to get another set of replacement lights. B & Q had a number of different sets on clearance and so, being fond of a bargain, I bought some only to discover when I got home and tested them out that there were more blown or faulty bulbs in the set than there were spare, replacement bulbs. So enraged was I by the hassle and rudeness I had to endure in order to return the lights I decided that christmas 2009 would be christmas-light less. This led to some confusion when putting up the tree this year when I couldn’t find the fairy lights, although admittedly had I actually had a set from last year they almost certainly wouldn’t have worked.

I hate designed obsolescence. I do however accept it is an economic necessity. There is a tremendous Ealing film called The Man In The White suit. In it, Alec Guinness is a scientist who designs a revolutionary synthetic material that never wears out and cannot get dirty. It’s impervious to all but extreme temperature. His intention is to revolutionise the world. In theory it sounds extraordinary, an opportunity to ease the lives of millions by making their lives cheaper to live and more convenient. It doesn’t take long however for him to fall foul of not only the shadowy king pins of the textile industry who want to suppress such an invention as it means their ruin, but also the workers from the shop floor who quickly realise such a fabric would create a finite market and therefore finite work and so would rapidly leave them unemployed. Even his landlady turns on him as it would mean and end to the washing work she does on the side to earn a little extra cash.

The film is tremendous, a typical Ealing blend of dark edged humour, complete farce and biting satire. The thing that struck me most of all was the seemingly bullet proof logic applied to the scientific explanation of the miracle fabric. They could have easily not bothered trying to explain the theory behind it and I admit I have no frame of reference or way of confirming the validity of any of their claims, but the pseudo-scientific explanation at least sounds convincing and in sounding convincing underpins the plot quite nicely. It really is excellent.

Anyway it’s message is clear. While the limited lifespan of things is an irritation it is a necessary one and the powers that maintain the status quo might not be shadowy and immoral after all. I’ll try to remember that next year when I’m buying another set of tree lights.

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