When a friend of mine became aware of this proverb testing project he generously offered to me an old Chinese saying he had come across:
‘beat your wife every day, even if you don’t know why – she will’.
Much as I appreciate the gesture on his part, this shocking maxim poses several problems to a diligent tester, not least ethical (domestic violence is a serious, horrible issue) and practical (I am unmarried). So, imagine my joy when some days later I experienced a power cut and was granted the opportunity to test another saying I had read.
It was after eleven o’clock at night when darkness descended upon me. In the suddenly imposed silent gloam I stumbled about the flat, all electricity had gone. I was intending to get my bike’s front light and check the fusebox, but seeing an opportunity where others might see a crisis (more Chinese wisdom) I decided to test this proverb.
‘Bloody darkness!’ I said. Though I was slightly amused by this, I did feel that I should get a candle (having decided to adhere to the proverb as literally as possible). Nonetheless, acclimatising to both the shadow and the cursing, I ventured onward.
‘Twat!’ I exclaimed. It was quite enjoyable, and actually made the situation slightly fun. Feeling mischievous I wandered into the bedroom, where all was mute and black, ‘piss off you big Benny’ I shouted at the dark, walking forward and chuckling to myself.
And then I trod, barefoot as I was, on the upended, three pronged malice of my phone charger.
“Holy m*************g c***t!”, I screamed in surprised agony, clutching my foot and hopping about in the blackness. ‘f****** HELL!’
The pain was sharp and severe, and knocked all the fun out of me, I reeled about and banged into the wardrobe and then, feeling my way along the wall, fell onto the bed holding my foot and swearing like a sailor, a sailor who had accidentally stepped barefoot on Neptune’s trident.
When I had eventually calmed down, and the pain had subsided enough for me to think about things other than my foot, I carefully limped to the kitchen where I lit a candle and duly checked the trip switch of the fuse box. It was intact, indicating that there was an actual power cut, so I phoned the power company’s dedicated line with my mobile and went to bed, blowing the candle out only at the last possible moment .
As I lay in bed, thinking about writing up the results and with my foot still throbbing in complaint, I recalled the writing advice of Ernest Hemingway: ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts’. Drifting off to sleep I wondered whether he had ever considered writing a book titled ‘The old man and the three pronged plug’.
While it should be noted that the cursing was in some way therapeutic it should also be noted that had I lit a candle before wandering about, I would not have trodden on the phone charger. Therefore I conclude that this proverb is a wise and true one.
However, in this instance the figurative meaning that it is better to act positively than to just complain, is slightly redundant as the act of lighting a candle when one has trodden on a plug is not practical. Swearing loudly is the best, somewhat involuntary, course.
About the proverb
I came across it referred to as a Chinese proverb. Apparently it is also alluded to in Amnesty International’s logo of a candle surrounded by barbed wire.