Every year we try to celebrate the World Wide Fund For Nature’s ‘Earth Hour’. Celebrate is probably not the best word to use – respect, maybe, or observe. Because only a nihilist would want to celebrate a symbolic gesture designed to underline how close to the edge we have come in the last 30 years or so.
It is only a symbolic gesture, so I can’t get very excited about it. No matter how many millions all over the world turn off their lights during the hour in question, we’re always going to be in a small minority. I can’t imagine, for example, the da Silva family, holed up in some shack in a Rio de Janeiro favela, would have enthusiastically cut off their intermittent electricity supply for an hour so that… what, exactly? So that the Powers That Be will be sufficiently moved to decree that enough is enough? Mankind will be responsible, will be good.
Even though I was raised on a diet of The Lone Ranger and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I do not alas believe that good will ultimately overcome evil. History teaches me otherwise. My belief system is debilitated by a conviction that, whatever we do and however we strive to redress the balance, the forces of darkness will have their evil way. It looks pretty bad to me at present. And where are the goodies, who can lead us to salvation? Where are Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King jr. when we need them most? Oh yes, assassinated by the baddies.
But – as Alan Shearer punctuates every pronouncement he makes on Match of the Day – I still believe that it is a far, far better thing to do something, no matter how futile, rather than nothing at all. And so on Saturday evening, the 31st March 2012, the Sampson family observed Earth Hour.
And it was rather nice this year. One of the best things about the global gesture is that it makes you appreciate just how dependent we are on electricity for entertainment. Much more so now than when I were a lad, what with com-pewters and them big, big tellies. So it’s a bit of a challenge to dream up some old-fashioned form of entertainment for an entire hour.
We cheated slightly. By a clever use of synchronisation, we had a late but welcome candlelit dinner. All those night-lights (or should I say nite-lites?) from Ikea came into their own. Our table was festooned with little glowing flames, like a whole colony of lightning bugs. Well, perhaps that’s a little fanciful, but the effect was lovely. My wife (‘Have I told you about my wife…?) served us up with a delicious plate of spaghetti enlivened by a sauce of her own invention, sprinkled with shards of parmesan from Lidl and supplemented by a salad of tender shoots, grown by Bio Woman from Martel market, washed, spun, chopped and dressed by my good self.
Afterwards, the three of us – still at table, still lit by flickering candles – played three games of Chinese Chequers. Dismiss this simple traditional board game at your peril. Our daughter explained some exciting new variations on the standard leaping manoeuvre that a friend had taught her: variations which opened up whole new worlds of pattern-making. It was fun, even without the background music that provides the soundtrack for our lives here.
The hour went so quickly that, before we knew it, it was ten minutes past the moment when everyone puts their power back on and creates such a surge in demand that we are plunged back into darkness. But that didn’t happen because we Sampsons were a little late. There was plenty of time before we needed to turn on the telly for a 90-minute Arena documentary on the extraordinary life of Dr. Jonathon Miller.
So Earth Evening went out on a high with a fascinating profile of this modern-day Renaissance Man. I knew that he can heal people and make them laugh, I knew that he presents TV documentaries, writes books and directs plays and operas, but I didn’t know – curse him – that he also creates rather good original art. The extraordinary thing is that, as he nears the end of his rich and diverse life, he still regrets sometimes that he didn’t stick to being a doctor.
It’s a terrible thing to live with regrets. I try not to do it myself, but it isn’t always easy. It’s one of the reasons why we choose to observe Earth Hour. No matter how toothless the gesture proves, I would forever regret it if we did nothing to try to halt the inevitable. And I think now that I might also regret it if I didn’t find time regularly to play Chinese Chequers with my wife and daughter.