Beware of what they might think of next!

(© 1998 Quentin Bristow)

For many years my electricity meter was in the basement along with the water meter. I was the only one who ever went near them, because the meter readers only came when we were at work and left little cards in the door to be filled in with the readings. This actually worked quite well, I would visit the lonely little meters once a month and they would tell me in a rush of digits what their status was and then I would dutifully fill out the card and phone in the readings. Occasionally a meter reader would come by appointment to verify the readings. At first I was incensed that they would think me such a bumbling idiot that I couldn't read a meter and get it right, but I consoled myself with the theory that they were actually afraid I might be clever enough to generate a consistent and convincing pattern of under-recordings month after month, something that surely only opportunists like white collar criminals or lawyers would be likely to do.

At some point I had the electric service upgraded and the Hydro forced me to have the meter removed from its dark corner in the basement and installed on an outside wall of the house. The rationale was not to make life more pleasant for the meter, but to allow a meter reader access to it at any time. The water company had the same problem, but putting the meter on the outside wall was not an option for them, because that would result in zero water consumption between about the end of November and early April for obvious reasons. Interestingly their solution was to install new meters with an electrical device connected to the little wheels that show the cubic miles (or whatever) of water consumption. A wire leading to a socket on the outside wall of the house provides access for their meter reader. Now why didn't Hydro, which employs more electrical engineers per square foot than practically any other industry, think of that?

For a while it was disconcerting to see men occasionally lurking in the bushes around the house, but we soon got to recognise the peak caps and clipboards and relaxed. Shortly thereafter I was advised that owing to the high cost of meter readers, my electricity bill would be based on an estimate, with the expensive meter-reader visiting occasionally, whenever Hydro could afford it. I had thus been forced to pay an arm and a leg to have an outside meter installed whose main function now would be to uglify my house, while some far-away bureaucrat took a guess at the reading. (Uglify you say? Well why not, an awful lot of it goes on these days. The abstract noun is uglification, the process by which a pretty little town or village is smothered by glaring white concrete and glass retail/office complexes and warehouse stores surrounded by acres of jet-black asphalt, like missile silos).

Well guess what; under the threat of privatisation Hydro have suddenly discovered that people don't like having their bills based on guess-work and in a recent flyer they have announced that from now on all bills will be based on actual readings and that this is due to: ‘advances in meter reading technology'. Don't tell me they have rediscovered meter readers, or do they have something more nefarious in mind? I understand that a new kind of data line with the acronym ‘ISDN' is now being wired into residences which they say stands for ‘Integrated Services Digital Network'. Sounds innocent enough, apparently it is supposed to allow all sorts of two-way communication which might include meter-reading. I am inherently suspicious of any wires coming into my house which allow information to go out of it and I wouldn't mind betting that what ISDN really stands for is ‘Intramural Surveillance Download Node'. So watch out, it may be more than your meter that gets read with the new ‘advances in meter reading technology'.