Real life

Is there such a thing as a human right to night?

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

The street lamp as bright as the Dog Star is back to its full glare outside my house.

I won a small victory earlier this year when I persuaded the council to fit a shield to one side of it after threatening to throw myself out the window because I couldn’t sleep.

But the other day, an engineer arrived in a van with a crane lift and took the shield away. I wasn’t there, a neighbour witnessed it, but when I got back home the street lamp was sporting a makeshift strip of black gaffa tape around the top, shielding only a tiny bit of light.

I contacted the council and a day later the contractors who fitted the original shield got back to me and admitted that the shield had been taken off after a neighbour rang up and demanded the light be restored to 50 million watts because it illuminates a footpath in front of my house.

As a point of fact, with the gaffa tape around the top, it does not. Whether it did light the path before the shield or the tape was fitted I cannot say, but I don’t recall the footpath ever being well lit. And why in the name of all that is holy should it be?

We live on a village green and step out of our front door on to the grass. There is no road, just an unmade track. That is why we, the residents in this small line of houses, came to live here, surely?

It seems hard to understand how anyone feels the need for a street lamp as bright as Sirius A. But even it were acceptable to put a street lamp wherever there are houses, the darn lamp does not light up anything useful.

It is sited in a very strange place, away from the footpath, towards the end of the line of houses, so that the only place it casts its intergalactic glare is directly on to my cottage and the one attached to it, and forwards of that on to the expanse of grass that makes up the village green.

Leaving aside all the idiots who now walk their dogs at midnight because they can’t control them — because the light does inadvertently serve their ridiculous needs — this is the most pigheadedly wrongly sited street lamp I have ever seen.

When the bulb was a soft yellow one I had no argument with it, but when I bought the house the thought did occur to me: one day they will change that cosy warm light to a bright white LED bulb, and then you are screwed…

The dreaded day came, a few years after I moved in, and I began campaigning to have the light shielded. Call me unadventurous, but I don’t think it does a human being any good to be permanently bathed in light.

Even with blackout curtains at the front bedroom window, I couldn’t get the glare of the Dog Star out of my house. The tiniest crack in the curtains and the blasted thing lit up my bed.

And even if I did get the drapes exactly right, I knew it was out there. I knew there was no darkness, no night. The thought of the lack of night-time haunted my sleep. And I worried for the little creatures trying to sleep out there, and I lay awake palpitating with fury at the taking away of the night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the night, I thought to myself, becoming ever more demented as I didn’t sleep.

Is there such a thing as a human right to night? And if there isn’t, can someone establish one, in a test case in the European Court of Human Rights, which we seem to still be linked to indefinitely?

And when we get going with that, can we establish an animal right to night too? Because these LED bulbs are stealing the darkness that every creature needs in order to maintain its natural body rhythms. The poor owls, bats, hedgehogs, foxes — they must all be so confused.

The emails between me and Surrey County Council are, of course, the stuff of nightmares. The gaffa tape they described as a compromise position until a permanent solution can be found.

‘We had the permanent solution,’ I pointed out, ‘but you took that away. Who is this neighbour who likes bright white light anyway?’ But the council wouldn’t say, because it’s data protection.

I’m going to have to jump this time, I thought.

‘Even if that street lamp did light the path,’ I told the contractor, ‘you’ve upheld someone’s right to get drunk and stagger home without a torch while sacrificing my right not to be subjected to night-time stress lighting like a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.’

‘It’s a difficult one,’ he said.

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