Seven. The number of days in a week before it seemed much longer, with fewer exciting things in it.
It’s the number that conjures the Wonders of the World, David Fincher’s 1985 film, the quest for knowledge in numerology, and Seven Bride for Seven Brothers for some, from a time to which we can no longer relate. It’s the number of basic chakras, the apparent days it took for the universe to be created, and for others it’s the age a man stays for his entire life when he’s given back (or something like that). Add ten to it, and it’s the age Janis Ian learned the truth about beauty queens and cheating at solitary card games.
For others, seven is the number of seas, or the minutes their teen self had in heaven – which, if it actually is a cramped cupboard or a musty wardrobe, offers no reason whatsoever to want to leave this earthly plane.
Unfortunately people and children and babies do, when losing respect for electricity results in not unavoidable tragedy. To say they were ‘not unavoidable’ is not to diminish the horror and the heartbreak that reverberates way beyond immediate family and generation, or to add weight to an already crushing burden. Simply saying they were ‘unavoidable’ suggests the happenstance of an unlucky lucky dip of a badly timed series of unfortunate events, mind-numbing bad luck and the sheer disbelief of it all concluding that the departed’s number must’ve been up.
This is, of course, with the exception of any involvement by Mother Nature, in which case all the above applies. If it includes holding an umbrella while playing golf in a storm, not so much.
We are so surrounded by, reliant upon and blasé about electricity that we rarely give the risks a fleeting thought. Except during a blackout. And then it’s mostly swearing. The circuit breaker in the power board will protect us. Safety switches in the fuse box will do exactly what it says they will. Running a couple of double adapters and another power board from the same outlet doesn’t matter … does it?
Yes. It does.
Particularly, it seems, if they’re all of dubious quality. Why spend more, when they do the job; and surely they’ve passed some kind of standards test?
The state of Victoria has banned the use of them in businesses and building sites. New South Wales and Queensland don’t agree to that, and instead highly recommend they not be used. Which is like giving people the choice to climb Uluru and befoul Mutitjulu waterhole, or extend cultural respect to the Anangu traditional owners, and eventually closing it anyway because invariably, people make bad choices.
Especially the thirty-seven people who died, doing something that was absolutely not unavoidable. Given the equivalent choice of climbing a 95-story building with a bottle of water, a hat and a thousand flies, most would find the absurdity contemptible, but when ego and bravado start cheerleading, sane people do insane things.
Since any double adapter poses a major electrical risk, quality really, is a moot point. Like there’s a difference between a live bullet and a dummy one when you’re playing Russian roulette. Author Mikhail Lermontov wrote of fictional Tsar’s army officers betting whether fate is predetermined, or under people’s control. The term was coined in 1937 by American adventure writer George Sudez who is of little note other than naming the game, and dying at the age of 49.
… Seven sevens. Which could mean something … or nothing at all.
Without overload protection and adapters often being sloped, plugs easily and regularly dislodge and expose the pins – which, by the way, are live. Touch it, or anything in contact with it and the choice between electrocution and a blown circuit isn’t be yours.
With the general disregard we have for the once-lauded DA, plug holes are often chipped slightly or misaligned; and ones with cracks are as common as those with a bit of sticky or some gaffa holding them together like a worn out veteran who won’t be discharged.
As they become more difficult to plug into, we just keep shovin’ ‘em in there..!
Having multiple appliances plugged into a single outlet means more power is drawn, and adapters can quickly get hot. And there’s no guarantee it’ll even be noticed; often it’s either rather inaccessible like behind the fridge, or under the bed with all the dust bunnies. This lack of protection from overload, and overheating is one way electrical fires start.
The more adapters, the more risk and opportunity for surges, fire, and shock.
Edison personally wired J.D Rockefeller’s NYC house; one of the first in the world to be converted. In those days the method used was known as ‘knob and tube’ – heat and ground were separated by 30cm of space inside the wall, with wiring wrapped around glass insulators and insulated with tar-covered cloth. Over time it became brittle and exposes many wires that may have been separated by distance, but they were, and still are often gnawed on by rats which can create fires in the same way faulty switches, or wires actually touching does.
Even in 2022 it’s nowhere near exceptional to find this type of wiring still in old houses and units. Even if the perishing state of it is suspected or known, people sometimes don’t know how much they should care. Others don’t know anything about it and although their landlord might, too frequently they don’t much care.
That 1500-watt hair dryers and frayed extension cords jam into double adapters to draw power from 100-year-old knob and tube wiring should scare the crap out of people. It doesn’t.
But neither does using Round Up.
Both are done every day, all over the world.
When it comes to the actual safety rules of electricity, whatever the number is, it’s irrelevant. Like unsafe or unwilling sex, it only has to happen one time to change your life.
Or end it.
Disregard one safety rule – say, by continuing to use faulty equipment – and you’re to likely dismiss others. The rest of won’t matter if you or your child are already be fried.
Children under six are most at risk of electrocution: those three slots just beg the have something poked in them. And the on-off switch makes a lovely clicky sound. It’s cute when a toddler wants to be lifted every night to use the light switch, but they’re usually exactly the same as a power point, and they’re closer to the ground.
Teething babies have died from chewing power cords. Others from pressing their mouth against an outlet or spilling drink over exposed or worn wiring. Curious and incredibly clever 4-year-olds, with astounding mechanical ability have been severely injured or killed by attempting to dismantle an outlet or an electrical item.
Kids should be taught to never, ever deal with outlets, cords and switches. At least until the age of seven, when a healthy respect for how dangerous electricity can be has already been drilled into them. With that already understood, they have the capacity to understand that safety rules are unbreakable, and have the all curiosity, attention, and good impulse control that requires.
They’ll ask questions so you’d better know how to answer them. “Fairies” as the answer to everything won’t work anymore. Chocolate rewards are unnecessary. This is about life and preserving the happiness of it, not diabetes.
On Boxing Day, 1979 my best friend’s dad was building a deck on the above-ground pool, his 14-year-old happily swimming in the pool on gloriously hot Aussie day, his wife and other daughter off to visit a relative in the afterglow of Christmas Day. A neighbour had just returned his drill, choosing to not say anything about having damaged it. It killed him in front of his youngest daughter at age 49.
The church overflowed and the family never recovered.
If there’s a number theme here maybe seven is important. Maybe it holds a clue to the answer of Lermontov’s question of fate, or fatal, fallible, human judgment.
Which doesn’t have a great track record, whichever way you look. The microcosm of course is considering how mindful you are (or not) of your behaviour with electricity, and electrical equipment. Particularly in front of kids. Do you hold your phone with your shoulder while you connect four old extension cords together for the outdoor heater out the back? Use wet hands on power points and lightbulbs? Do you overload outlets, and have mat camouflaged trip-hazard extension cords running across rooms? (NB: We know they’re there.) Do you actually know what an overloaded outlet means, and why you should roll and store extension cords properly, not like agonised snakes?
It’s hard to know what you don’t even know. Maybe that’s the elephant in the room.
Only it’s not in a room, it’s Coney Island. The elephant’s name is Topsy – after the slave child in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a fiction for the author to share her pro-abolitionist views and slavery’s injustice.
It’s January 4th, 1903.
Twenty-six years earlier, and 20-odd years after Stowe’s controversial publication, Topsy had been smuggled into America after being poached as a calf from South East Asia. She was to be advertised as the first baby elephant born in the US, at a time when the circuses of P.T Barnum & Co, and The Great Forepaugh And Sells Brothers were in competition over which of them had the largest, and the most elephants.
It’s 1877; elephants are a big deal. Big elephants an even bigger one.
Forepaugh and Sells boasts it has “the only baby elephant ever born on American soil” – a deception of which Barnum was informed by the trader who supplied Topsy, and also sold to Barnum. Barnum publically expose the hoax so the Brothers instead advertise that she was the first elephant born outside a tropical zone.
Big deal, really; unless you are the poor elephant stolen from your herd, shackled and transported over months by sea and rail alone but for the men who ill-treated you. Never treated like people of course; some peoples weren’t treated like people at exactly the same time. They too are highly intelligent with complex emotions, memory and compassion.
You can buy a painting by one. Suda. Or Tunwa. They’re beautiful and funny. From creatures that have ceremonies, and ceremonial places for their dead.
To quote from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.”
In 2006, The Wildlife Conservation Society conducted a study of three female Asian elephants’ self-awareness, at the New York Bronx Zoo. Exposed to a 2.5m2 mirror their investigative responses and behaviour were scrutinised. Both visible and invisible marks were applied to the elephants’ heads to test what is known as the MSR test and basically a technique to measure physiological and cognitive self-awareness. One of the elephants showed mark-directed behavior, though the other two did not; and quite frankly, nobody bothered to find out if it was because the marks were offensive or they were bored.
Could have had a painting in mind.
All three elephants inspected behind the mirror, and viewed other perspectives of themselves. They brought food to it and ate it. One elephant named ‘Happy’ repeatedly touched the X painted on her head with her trunk – a mark that could only be seen in the mirror.
Happy happily ignored a colorless paint mark that ensured she wasn’t simply reacting to a smell or an irritant. The study concluded that, “These parallels between humans and elephants suggest a convergent cognitive evolution, possibly related to a complex society of cooperation, and a gestation period of 22 months; the longest of any mammal.”
Topsy, a traumatised commodity, killed James Fielding Blount by hoisting him into the air, hurling him to the ground and crushing him.
Nobody seemed to care it was because the drunkard had entered the tent of quietly tethered elephants and teased and taunted them in turn with his stinking bottle of whisky. He threw sand in Topsy’s face and cruelly burned the sensitive tip of her trunk with his cigar.
It was May 27th, 1902.
June the same year, while being unloaded from a train by a stick-weilding handler, she picked him up and threw him to the ground too. Saved by a workmate, poor Topsy was once again removed from her herd, and after being deemed too difficult, was sold to Coney Island Sea Lion Park.
Ultimately, after other dreadful drunken treatment, she was to become the spectator sport of January 4th, 1903 via electrocution. Apparently the ASPC had stepped in because the initial decision to hang her was “a needlessly cruel means of killing” according to its President, John Peter Haines. Thompson and Dundy, the organisers and advertisers of this debacle were also told they could not conduct a public spectacle and charge admission. The three of them then discussed alternative methods to euthanise elephants, including poisoning. (This is the ASPC, folks!)
There was a botched attempt two years earlier on a no-doubt jaded jumbo named Jumbo II. Strangulation by steam-powered winched ropes with large ropes was part of this negotiation, with the tied winner of the cruelty stakes poison prior to execution by electrocution.
Not the usual request for a last meal.
The whole tragic truth is a horror snapshot of the absolute power of power. Not fit for children, but a lesson so invaluable for them, in terms of the physical and metaphysical outcomes of misused and dangerous energy, based on incomplete and ignored information from a self-appointed position of superiority.
A terrible truth certainly not confined to elephants; all still walk the bridge that never forgets.
The animation series Bob’s Burgers parodied the shocking event as a musical. It’s hilarious if you don’t know it’s true. Sticky-taped toilet roll elephant trunks should be part of every kid’s existence.
It’s not unavoidable. Just treat electricity with the respect and reverence normally reserved for an amazing, co-operative and powerful elephant. Understand it, and maintain it like an exotic animal. Love and appreciate what it does for you by not squandering it. Learn what you need to know to be confident with what to do with your frightened friend in a flood or bushfire – including how to deal with your car’s electric windows.
It could all come in handy quicker than you think.
If it’s fate, Topsy the elephant lived the mirrored life of her namesake, an abused slave child Topsy, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. If it’s under people’s control, Topsy the elephant lived the mirrored life of an abused slave child.
There are lessons to teach yourself and your kids about electricity, and there are electric and eclectic lessons to teach your kids about a powerfully powerful world. The importance of self-awareness, respect and the maintenance of those connections is what they get to learn before they’re old enough to flick a switch.
Tell them a story about an elephant.
With a happy ending. About the not unavoidable, happy elephant ‘Happy’ who helps people properly dispose of their double adapters with her sensitive trunk and view of the world.