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In which we have a power cut and I feel sad…

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Last night we had a temporary blackout. Just our block.

There is work going on down the road and the workmen must have accidentally cut the electric line. The workmen told us the power would be back on in 20 minutes. The husband typically got a bit panicky whereas I was content to sit in a candlelit flat. He told me tales of the great Northeast Blackout of ’03; how everyone calmly directed the traffic home and of the impromptu party he threw to get rid of all the food quickly defrosting in his freezer.

Then, on the 20 minute dot, the power came back on. The lights flickered, the phone chimed, the boiler roared, the printed whirred, the garden fountain restarted and every single alarm in the building went off (except ours but that’s another story). The constant hum of modern life resumed as gradually the alarms abated, all except one.

There was still one alarm screaming. At first it seemed as if it was coming from the closet in our hallway but it must have been in the closet in the flat directly above ours. Because of said other story, my husband knew how to disable the alarm. So he went upstairs and knocked politely on their door. No answer.

We tried to get to sleep but it was difficult. We put a fan on full power to drown out the alarm which just made the overall noise level higher. It went on all night. By noon today I was getting concerned. We tried the door again. No answer. No one from the flats adjacent seemed to have done anything (they allegedly haven’t had the same problems with noise and the constant smell of weed from our downstairs neighbours either). But surely they weren’t just ignoring it?

I rang the building maintenance company. ‘Sorry’, they said. ‘We don’t have the details for who owns that flat.’ That didn’t strike true. Even after I had a name to give them. They said the alarm was not their juristiction.

I rang the police. What if someone was in the flat and no one was bothering to check on them? They seemed shocked that the alarm had not worn out yet and said it didn’t seem worrying enough. I was passed around and finally to told to contact Environmental Health. At which point the alarm miraculously was silenced.

Still, in that moment I felt incredibly sad. That neighbours don’t check on each other anymore, that the police don’t check on people anymore, that everyone thinks problems are something for somebody else to deal with. We hardly ever talk to other people in the building. Sometimes, I’ve heard people run from the hallway to the front door so they don’t have to cross paths with anyone else. Sometimes our neighbours will return our ‘hellos’ and other times these same people walk on past us with a steely glint.

It just makes me sad, that’s all.


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