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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Has Anyone Seen our Electricity?


This afternoon, I am writing to you from a power cut. I am able to do this because, my electronic typewriter was designed in California, built in China and has a small internal power plant made up from rare earth metals, which apparently are very common in Canada. 
The power has been off now for about an hour, fairly unusually for our neck of the woods but a frequent occurrence for those inhabiting the more central parts of the city. Of course the people we can blame for this are the Soviets, it is a soviet built electricity sub station that is causing central Odessa to have rolling blackouts, unfortunately nobody knows which way they are rolling, but usually you can time it down to ten seconds after I have ordered a double Latte with cinnamon topping in Kompot. 
Today however I am at home, so my Krupps expresso machine is currently lacking the electrons to even gently pressurize some ground Arabica, our air conditioner is sealed up tighter than a nun’s fanny and our flat screen TV resembles and oversized, black kitchen tile with about as much function. 
This of course is the problem, whilst the Soviets, were quite brilliant at producing 5 year plans for everything, crop production, Lada manufacturering and indeed electricity output, they were somewhere below useless at predicting the actual future. Two things that spring readily to mind that the Soviets failed to predict were the end of the Soviet Union and the ability of the comrades, freed from the need to queue for a bowl of cabbage soup, to buy, en mass, consumer electronics.
Here in Ukraine there are more stores selling white goods, black goods and touchscreen goods than there are working streetlights. That’s before you go online, where anything with a .com.ua prefix is likely to be hawking Samsung, LG, or Apple. The Ukrainians love consumer electronics and when they are flush they buy them. Look along the outside of any Soviet apartment block and 30-40% of the apartments will be air conditioned.  Scan for wifi and everyone has it, take a trip on a trolly or tram and everyone is listening to Ukrainian pop on a touchscreen phone. 
In Soviet times, the planners at the United Socialist Union of Electricity Supply Engineers, would sit down once every five years and work out how many extra 20 watt bulbs the proletariat would be using over the next 72 months, how many radio’s would be allocated to the party members and what time to switch off the street lights once everybody is at home listening to radios underneath their 20 watt bulbs. They would add this all up, build a nuclear power station out of Bakelite and bubblegum then crack open a bottle of vodka to celebrate completion of the five year plan. It is, of course this Soviet electrical infrastructure that powers, or not, Ukraine, with the notable exception of one nuclear power station in the north where the bubble gum dramatically burst in 1986. 
Now when the temperature rises above 30C, which is basically everyday from late April until early October, the people of Odessa switch their air-con on and pop to the kitchen to make an iced latte with their Krupps. This in turn causes the local sub station to have a hissy fit and shut down in disgust. 
Fortunately the rare earth minerals and lithium inside my designed in California aluminum box still have 86% power left, which means for the next five or so hours, I am will still be living in the 21st Century. After that, if engineers have not managed to placate big Betha and persuaded her to distribute electrons again, I will be sitting in a warm, dark room dreaming of a nice iced cappuccino whilst contemplating making a cabbage soup. On the gas cooker of course.