Sunday, 22 January 2012

Dark Star

Community Orchard Management Committee meetings take place in our Committee Chair's house, a few streets away from ours. I usually cycle but, not wanting to risk my hand, I decided to walk this time. It's surprising how much longer this takes, and what gets noticed as a result, that would otherwise be missed. Like this odd piece of street furniture.

From the ground up to about my shoulder height, it was obviously a lamp-post. From there on skywards, it was empty space. Someone had come along with an angle-grinder, sawn it through at shoulder height, and removed it. They had then thoughtfully covered the hole at the top of the severed column with green-and-yellow striped plastic tape, of the sort that would say to an electrician "Earth".

Standing in the circle of darkness granted me, for once I could look up and see a few stars. But the whole thing begged far too many questions for me to concentrate on finding Cassiopia or a stray planet.

Who would carry off half a lamp-post, and why?

Our City Council are trying to save money. To this end, they are planning to replace the city's lamp-posts with more energy-efficient ones. Our local Councillor has even put "I like lamp-posts" on his facebook page. But according to numerous "Disgusted, Viking City"-type letters in the local paper, what has been happening "on the ground" is that lamp-posts have been disappearing randomly, clumsily and unaccountably from various streets throughout the city, and the only new lamp-post to have been seen anywhere has been put up right next to its predecessor, leaving the latter still in place, and both (allegedly) shining merrily away side-by-side through the night. To cap it all, the two are identical: there's no sign that the newer one is working any more efficiently, or cheaply, than the original. And it's every bit as ugly to boot.

But we might be seeing more than simply an everyday tale of mismanagement.

The price of scrap metal is soaring, and one consequence of the resulting crimewave is that the present right to sell scrap anonymously may not be in place for much longer. Metal marauders will be going on one last frantic binge, and what better cover than as Council workmen removing lamp-posts that everybody knows are due for replacement?

But what if someone even more devious is using the metal-marauders as cover?

What if Astronomers, fed up of the tyranny of ubiquitous light pollution, are having to resort to crime just to get a look-in, hiding behind respectable reputations and using all-night observations as alibi?

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