We nearly all had — or still have — one. Hidden in a cupboard or under the stairs. Its little wheels whirring round, counting out cubic feet, or kilowatt hours, or some other unknown and incomprehensible unit of measurement, day and night, night and day, to the last syllable of recorded time.
Every so often, you’d crawl into the darkness armed with a torch, and attempt to decipher the little numbers on each wheel. You’d write these down on a piece of paper, post them off the correct Board and, some time later, the Board would issue you with a bill for electricity or gas. Alternatively, you could feed the beast with florins and it would consent to dispense a little more heat and light.
The gas meter and the electricity meter as we knew them are disappearing. By 2020, the aim is to have replaced every traditional meter in Britain with a “smart” one. These meters are smart in the sense that they communicate directly with your energy company by telepathy (okay, mobile phone signals). Your energy company will know at any one time how many therms have threaded their way through your mystic supply and bill you accordingly.
To mark the momentous occasion of the arrival of the “smart” meter, our current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, is even now composing an elegy to the vanishing of these workhorse objects. The poem’s title is Meters, which will no doubt be metaphoric in some way. In passing, the Poet Laureate notes that the oncoming wave of smartness heralds the end of the meter reader, the “polite, peak-capped, alert for dogs” people who would occasionally come and visit your meter in person to ascertain that the figures you have been sending in for decades weren’t entirely fictional.
Mind you, Duffy is coming late to this artistic party. In November 2015, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed a piece of music played entirely on instruments made from old gas and electricity meters. You can listen to A Requiem For Meters, by Gary Tarn on YouTube.
Lovely as the Requiem is, we nevertheless feel that our national Poet Laureate is the ideal person to comment on the demise of the estimated bill.
As a nation, let us ponder for a moment on the significance of this shift in the rich tapestry of our island story:
THEY KNOW WHEN YOU HAVE HAD A SHOWER.
AND WHEN YOU HAVEN’T.