Twelfth Thing: An Epiphany

“Arise. Shine. For your light has come.”

I heard this at an Epiphany celebration last Sunday, which was, unusually, bang on 6th of January. Different counties have different customs and traditions for this day, which is also known as Three Kings’ Day (Netherlands), Women’s Christmas (Ireland), Star Day (Latvia) or The Day of the Lights (Greece). An appropriate day, then, to acquire a new desk lamp.

Is shopping a creative act? I can certainly enjoy shopping in the same way as I enjoy visiting an art museum (and sometimes the two collide): there is pleasure in looking at beautiful things, except that in the former, you sometimes get to take them home too.

However, for me, buying stuff is not always the main point, there’s a lot to be gained in ‘just browsing’. As a child, my mother was taken by my grandmother to walk around the department store Bainbridge’s, looking at things they couldn’t afford to buy, simply to ‘give her good taste’.

A friend once commented that shopping with me was easy as I moved from blue thing to blue thing, disregarding everything else, so I wasted less time. It can also be a highly economical approach: I’m less interested where something comes from, than its hue, and am equally happy looking around Wilkinsons homewares as I am in Heals so long as there are plenty of blue things to look at.

That said, everyone once in a while, I make the decision to buy a ‘design classic‘. The brand of object that redefines its genre, that features in stamps. This probably started when I bought an indigo iMac soon after they were launched, and continued with the purchase of the first generation of blue iPod mini, a blue Bodum kettle (at a time when all other kettles were white, black or silver) and a blue sparkly, dualit toaster. In all cases, there are cheaper options that probably functioned much the same, it was all about form over function.

My latest purchase in this vein is a powder blue Anglepoise task lamp. With all these creative projects undertaken in deep dark winter, I need some reliable, adjustable lighting on my desk.

The Anglepoise was invented in 1932 by British designer George Carwardine. A key feature of the Anglepoise design and patent is the placement of all springs near the base. I don’t know the physics of why it works so well (something to do with forces, no doubt), but it does, and imitations just don’t seem to hold their position in quite the same way.

Although many people think the Anglepoise is the inspiration for the famous Pixar animation, it is in fact, based on the Norwegian Luxo lamp. However, if you read the Luxo story, you’ll see that it began the company’s founder Jac Jacobsen receiving two (un-named) lamps with a shipment of sewing machines from England in 1936, which he then copied and ‘improved’.

And even the award-winning Luxo Jr (1986) was itself not entirely original. There’s an earlier, low-tech stop-frame animation, Wranglepoise (1977) by Peter Ryde, featuring two lamps with personality.

Back to my lovely new lamp, and I actually had to ‘assemble’ it myself (attaching the springs and using an Allen key to insert and tighten the screws) so I maybe it counts as ‘hand made’ after all.

Tools / special requirements: Everything supplied

Time taken: Time to find the one I wanted online: about an hour. Time to unpack and assemble when it arrived: about 10 minutes.

Things learned: Allen key are in fact hex keys, derived from the Allen brand name. W.G. Allen filed the first related patent in 1909 for hex-driven safety screws. Prior to this, the driving end of fasteners tended to protrude out from machinery and create a safety hazard.

Satisfaction (1-10): 9.5 (I wanted the on/off switch to be on the top of the shade, but these day it’s on the cable).

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