A Shocking Experience

When I was a small boy, my room light had a pendant switch – not a switch on the ceiling with a dangling string, but a switch in a plastic bulb on the end of a pair of dangling wires – just like the one in the picture. (Are they still legal? If so, Why?)

The top half of the bulb simply unscrewed – and I got a hell of a shock when curiosity got the better of me one evening. And the light went out, of course. I left it like that until early the next morning, when by daylight I VERY carefully put it all back together before my parents found out...they never did.*

It wasn’t easy putting it back together – the bits had sprung all over the place, and the thing was still live. From messing about with my electric train set I understood enough about electricity to realize that it was the metal bits that carried the electricity, and at this voltage I needed to avoid touching them with my bare hands.

Fuses? What are they? Even if I’d known about them, I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught fiddling with them.

Three lessons: in Electricity, Fiddly Assembly Work, and Clandestine Activity.

About 1958 I think, in which case I was about eight years old.

Another lesson, a fourth, learnt rather later: always check that the power is off on a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube, old fashioned television or monitor tube), that the discharge resistor isn’t open circuit, and leave it to discharge for at least several seconds before risking touching the tube or any part of the EHT (Extra High Tension) circuit. A 25kV electric shock bloody hurts when there’s that much charge at the back of it. I survived, but don’t risk it – surviving such an experience is not guaranteed. Nor for that matter is surviving a mains shock, and I’ve had a few of those. I don’t intend to have any more if I can possibly help it.

* Or if they did, they kept very quiet about it!

Static electricity can have even higher voltages, but the charge is very much smaller, and the shock is consequently extremely brief and localized, the voltage dropping to near zero before the charge has got very far into your body.