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Learning how to harness the power of the sun to save my eyes when reading during evening load shedding


Hans Mackenzie Main is a writer and columnist.

Load shedding presents a unique set of challenges for the voracious night-time reader.

As the days shorten and the rolling blackouts that plague our land become more frequent, I find myself reading after dark more and more often.

Growing up, I was told two things: never run flat-out when you have the flu; and never read in poor light. I rarely run flat-out when I’m in good health and will most certainly not attempt the feat when I’m sick. I have, however, begun to read in poor light.

The truly voracious night-time reader makes use of a lightweight clip-on rechargeable device with a flexible neck to direct the product’s rays onto the page. I use a candle.

Unable to bend, or concentrate its light, my candle bathes the entire room in a soft glow with only a fraction of that reaching the page. The result is, of course, that I read in poor light using this set-up and risk damaging my eyes.

I’ve subsequently harnessed the power of the sun to aid in saving my eyes when I try to read during load shedding. The solar panel I use is in the lid of a Consol glass jar.

By means of a scientific process I know little about, the panel seems to fill the jar with “sunlight light” during the day and then releases that at night. The problem is that this recycled light bursts forth from the jar in a weak white form, as if the glass has somehow bleached the rays. So, even with one unit of candlepower and a good helping of “jar light”, I still feel as if I’m engaging in dangerous behaviour in strong dusk.

I used a camper’s headlight for two nights with great success, only to watch it die a slow death as its tiny batteries ran down. Supermarkets only stock normal batteries and I’m yet to check if the TV remote contains the remarkable smaller inventions, although I’m hesitant to go down that road.

The other night, I came up with the genius plan to use my phone to read in the dark by pressing it into my breast bone with my chin while lying down on my back. Cellphones come standard with floodlights strong enough for a night-time manhunt. The intensity of the light may very well improve my sight as I burn through the chapters.

Guilt usually brings the session to a premature end, since I’m not sure the feature was designed to be used for hours on end and could, somehow, end up damaging the phone’s sensitive power unit.

So, the candle and the jar are my only options right now. Of course, I could go full Catholic and light five more candles, or hold a vigil (someone must be missing somewhere) and light 20 more. But who in their right mind has 20 candleholders?

The holder I use is a historical artefact in its own right. Made of heavy copper, it was used on navy ships in the 18th century. My wooden candleholders are either burned or chipped and the flimsy holders made of tin, although affordable and plentiful, never hold a candle in a fully upright position.

When load shedding ends, my house lights up like a Christmas tree as I never flip the switches off when the power goes down. The light from the candle and the jar is swallowed by the light provided by Eskom. The urge to watch Netflix usually comes on strong at this point, and I close the book and reach for my laptop.

It’s not the ideal end to the evening and, I believe, an opportunity lost to spend the entire evening reading. The stunning fact is that I read for most of the time the power is off, in poor light, with the help of only a jar light and a candle. And my eyesight is fine. DM168

This column first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.



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