The Light Fandango


Oh how I do miss the days of olde. Remember when all we had to do was choose a lampshade of vaguely the right colour and a pleasing shape? And maybe a nice base to go with it. For some of us that was a challenge enough. But once you’d selected your ceiling pendant, wall light or table lamp the job was pretty much done. There was only one significant decision left to make at that point: would it be a 40W bulb, 60 or 100?

Nowadays you need a degree on the subject of lighting to get anywhere. It isn’t enough, it seems, that the colour and style of light fittings available has grown exponentially. No, sadly, that is now just the start of it. How about a downlighter instead of a pendant? Recess or surface mounted, tilting or fixed? Will the lamp inside it be an integral LED or a GU10? And why limit your thinking to light shining down from the ceiling when you could have an uplighter, wallwashers, step lights or even, as we did in the bathroom, a pee light (that’s officially a floorwasher but don’t let’s go there).

And of course it doesn’t stop there because your LED will need a driver (dimmable or non-dimmable?). Which will itself need a home to be found for it, somewhere out of sight. Light output in lumens must be another important consideration (initial, engine and luminaire lumens), not to mention the width of the beam issuing from the lamp. And shall we go for warm light, 2700-3000 Kelvins or, to borrow from Procol Harum once more, a whiter shade of pale? For that you’ll need 4000 Kelvins. Plus. You can see where all this is going. And we haven’t even broached lux levels, CRI or R9 yet.. mostly because I don’t know what they are. Perhaps they’ll feature in the postgraduate course. I hate lighting.



It started off harmlessly enough. Given that there are two wall lights there was an extended discussion between me and the electrician as to their height (matching) off the floor. The trouble is that in the sitting room both the floor and the ceiling slope. And then there are the ceiling beams which are deeper at one end than the other further adding to the perception that the room is more wedge shaped than square. So it isn’t as simple as just extending a tape rule up from the floor and measuring off. Even after we’d checked our calculations (twice) it still looked all wrong. In an old house it’s sometimes better to go by eye.



The reading lights turned out to be a triumph. As the years go by it becomes harder and harder to read in poor light. They needed to be bright and they are. Positioning wasn’t entirely straightforward here either because to give maximum impact the light needs to shine down from directly above the sofas. And not just anywhere above the sofas either but specifically above the places we each habitually sit. Except that by the time we got around to considering this point both sofas were nestled at the bottom of a crate 10 miles away in the storage company warehouse. Ahh.

Fortunately I did have the computer aided plan of the sitting room. And some fingers and toes to cross. You have to get lucky once in a while.

So all is well so far, yes? Yes.. until it came time to turn off the lights after the electrician had gone home. The reading light above my bit of the virtual sofa wouldn’t turn off. It mattered not how many times we pushed the light switch or fiddled with the dimmer, the light remained resolutely on. Mike had a go at re-wiring it. No change. In the end he had to remove the wires at the switch or it would have stayed on all night. Then he had a brainwave. (A light bulb moment?) By some miracle both the reading lights and the wall lights ran on the same GU10 lamps. Mike simply switched them around. And blow me, it worked.



Along the bookcase wall (the bookcase is the next thing to be re-installed), five integral LED mini downlights. The recess space above the ceiling here is quite limited, meaning that we were restricted to a very small range of light fittings from which to choose. Smaller fitting equals lower light output.

The builder said: “Oh, they’re soft..”

The electrician said: “Only 2W see..”

I said: “Oh dear.” Or words to that effect.

2W in new money is different to 2W in old money. Quelle surprise. But even so.

 Our problem went further than merely a dull bookcase. At electrics first fix the wiring for this string of downlights fell though a gap. It was forgotten, basically. By the time the omission came to light (sorry) it was too late to easily fix it. To avoid ripping down a newly plastered ceiling and channelling into a newly plastered wall we decided to do away with the centre ceiling light that had been included in the original plan, purloined its wiring and connected up the downlights instead, not realising at the time quite how dim those downlights would turn out to be. Result: a big black hole in the centre of the room with little if any illumination. Did I ever mention I hate lighting?

Somehow we would need to get some central light back in. But how, without wrecking the plastering after all? Fishing, that’s how.

Allow me to introduce the concept of ‘fishing’..



The trick is to take up as few of the bedroom floorboards as possible. Especially as some of them go underneath the fitted wardrobes and would therefore need to be sawn. Fishing rods for electrics work on the same principle as chimney sweeping rods in that individual sections screw together to make as long a length as you need. The extendable rod can then be passed though the cut out holes made for the lights in the sitting room ceiling, finding a route between the ceiling and the underside of the floorboards above, dragging an electrical wire in its wake.

There is much shoving and cussing because, as you might have come to expect by now, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. And of course someone has to be stationed upstairs, her arm wedged painfully underneath the floorboards, stretched and bent into hitherto impossible contortions to ensure that the rods hit their mark. Frequent instructions are issued from down below. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear clearly what has been said, with the ceiling being fairly solid now after all the new coats of plaster. Tempers can fray.



I bought two more of the fittings used for the reading lights and we fixed the second pair in a mirror image of the first thus creating a loose grid across the ceiling, on two separate circuits.

Can I convince you it was always meant to be like that?