This post is one of my guest blogs on To Be Shouted. Click the link to visit the archives:
Kelly, my cousin who has never been overseas before, came to visit me last week. Everything was new to her and it made me see not only London but so many experiences again as if for the first time. Every time I saw her face she was staring wide-eyed at something. Vietnamese food (which she’d never tried), the stateliness of Regent Street, the beauty of the Thames sparkling in unseasonably warm weather.
We went to Buckingham Palace, took a day trip to Windsor, wandered around the city, saw a West End show, took photos with the guardsmen, watched a little bit of Shakespeare rehearsal during a tour of the Globe Theatre, and generally behaved like the most abominable tourists. We did that special walk that I think can only be referred to as Museum Pace—shuffling along, looking about you in every direction at once to take in as much as you can. We also got off the beaten track a bit and she met some of my friends, who enjoyed playing tour guide almost as much as I did. It’s refreshing to see a place you know well through new eyes.
And then she nearly blew us both up. On her third night Kelly needed to recharge her camera batteries. She’d brought a recharger with her but failed to check the voltage. A normal plug converter only changes the shape of the plug, it does nothing to change the voltage for appliances that need it. To be fair, most electrical things are universal voltage now and you can plug them in anywhere around the world. Just not this one.
We’d had a long, wonderful, but tiring day. I’d just got to sleep. I felt someone tapping me on the shoulder and realized it wasn’t a dream. Kelly was there.
“I think I made the power go out in the living room!” She described how a few minutes after she plugged the battery charger in she heard a really loud bang like a gunshot and the lights went out. (I was sound asleep with my earplugs in at the time.)
We crept back downstairs in the darkness. The smell of ozone was strong in the living room and I knew right away she’d blown the lights in the whole building, not just in the living room. My housemate had done the same thing a few weeks ago by using an iron with a frayed cord. At least this time nothing caught fire, so I guess we should be grateful for small mercies.
I reset the breaker in our apartment and we flipped some switches. No light.
Now, back when my housemate blew the lights in our building by setting the iron cord on fire, I’d promised myself I would get a flashlight in case this very thing happened again. I have thus far failed in Mission Flashlight. So, in my pyjamas with no shoes on, using a cell phone screen for a light, I padded downstairs to the main breaker panel in the foyer. I had a mild panic when I couldn’t get the breaker box cover open. The wood swelled in the heat and it stuck. But soon enough I flipped the right switch and shed a little light on the situation.
From the time the socket overloaded to the time I flipped the breaker switch was only seven minutes—I know this from the living room clock that was off for exactly that period. It seemed a lot longer. When I got back upstairs Kelly showed me the burnt-out plug converter with scorch marks around the holes. She also showed me the battery charger, which looked suspiciously unscathed.
It was green.