Yesterday evening, at about 6.20pm, much of London was plunged into chaos by power cuts. We had a little taster of the problems experienced a couple of weeks ago by people in eastern America and Canada. The blackout only lasted about fifteen minutes in my case, and power was restored within half an hour to all areas.
It came during the evening rush, and hundreds of thousands were trapped on trains, 250,000 underground. Some passengers spent more than an hour stuck on their trains. Although power was restored to the tube system within 30 minutes, it was not possible to switch the electricity back on because people were still in the tunnels after being evacuated from their stalled trains.
It is too early to say what went wrong, but it appears that transformers failed at three south London substations. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has called the blackout 'a disgrace' and has called for a public enquiry.
I was lucky. I had arrived back home from work a few minutes earlier and had just settled down to catching up with the news using Nick Bradbury's FeedDemon. I walked outside to the street to check that it was a general power cut and not just my house that was affected. Half a dozen burglar alarms were going off, which was a good indication that the blackout was general. When I got up this morning one burglar alarm was still sounding, over twelve hours after power was restored. Luckily, the offending alarm is to the back of my house, and can't be heard from the front, where my living room and bedroom are situated. I pity the poor people living next door to the house with the alarm, though.
I was forcibly reminded of our nation's dependence on electricity by having to do without it for a quarter of an hour. Obviously, the computer wouldn't work, nor would the TV. I don't have a battery-powered radio, and the fridge and freezer were both off. It was a grey, gloomy day yesterday, and it was beginning to get dark; although the sun wasn't due to set for another hour, normally I would have had the lights on. Luckily, I had boiled the (electric) kettle a few moments before the power cut, so I had access to the Englishman's staple in times of crisis, a cup of tea.