Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Taking things for granted

It's been a big day today for realising how easy it is to take things for granted. Today is normally going to London day but this week I have rearranged my diary so that I am home today and will be away on Thursday. I woke just before eight and padded through to the bathroom. After a couple of weeks when the mornings have been golden and full of sun, it was dark and gloomy. I went to turn on the light - nothing. Downstairs as well was dark and dead: a power cut. My first instinct was to go back to bed and as nowadays from time to time I can, unlike most of my life both as adult and child (see last blog!), I did.

Half an hour later I had another try. At the moment you can barely see in our kitchen because the not too large window is almost totally obscured by a tower of fittings for the new utlity, by the water tank, shower cubicle, pumps and boxes of fittings. A narrow strip of window shows palely above the pile. Without the light on it is like living in a cave. I grope about: I can't put the kettle on without finding the matches to light the gas; I can't have a piece of toast; I can't have a shower.

I trot back upstairs to get dressed to go into the cottage to retrieve the matches. I go to the loo and remember that, because our water is pumped up from the valley, when we have no power we have only the water in the tank in the loft. Once that is gone, no more water, so I don't flush. I dress, add another layer and dash out into the teeming rain.

When the water has boiled I make some tea, put my eggs in the remainder to boil for my breakfast and take a cup of tea out to the stonemason who is sheltering under the overhang from the workshop. He is a lovely man. Last week he brought us three oak trees which he has grown from acorns to plant in our field. We hold our cups of tea to warm our hands and look out at the rain, a shifting wall of water. He doesn't need to draw water from the tap he says, he can use the water in one of our many water butts. As I go back in I find a bucket to collect water myself for flushing the loos with.

Inside I am oddly wrongfooted by the absence of electricity. Put some washing on? Do some of the teetering pile of ironing growing in my study like a clean fungus? Move some money from my account? Check my work emails? Nope, nope, nope, nope.

I sort some papers out and do some filing. Despite how extraordinary this is, no fanfare sounds. Perhaps it needs the power to be on. I make some soup and some more tea in the murky depths of the kitchen and realise that if I want to read anything it would be best to go and sit in the greenhouse. Suddenly the life here before electricity is real to me. For more than three hundred years people lived here by candlelight and oil lamps. I wonder how long the house has had electricity - sixty or seventy years? So for more than three quarters of the time it has stood people have worked mostly outside and the women with work to do inside have followed the light from room to room. I already know by living here than my study is lighter than the kitchen, upstairs lighter than down but if I wanted to write or read or sew I would need to sit right in the window of the upstairs room furthest from the yew tree. I need glasses to read by now. If I were here now in the 1600s, or the next century or maybe even in Victorian times so far from money and citites, I would be living in an even darker grey blur this morning when my book or my sewing would never leap into life under my glasses.

The phone is still on so I can speak to my mother. How isolated it would be here without that. Although I suppose that a farmhouse like this, with its bakehouse and forge and dairy would be the centre of life for a number of people. It is only in the last hundred years or so that it has ceased to provide employment for perhaps half a dozen people.

Sometimes here I see from the corner of my eye a figure move across in front of the house going to the bakehouse. I am matter of fact to the point of being prosaic and I am not a feeler of atmospheres or a hearer of strange noises. I don't know what this is and it doesn't bother me at all. It is a friendly, busy presence. I half rationalise it to myself by wondering if somehow the house has the imprint of the years of bustle and coming and going. This morning would have been a fine time for such a half seen movement but nothing, just the rain easing and the builders working out by the yew tree. But when the light comes on again in a welcome golden hum in the afternoon I feel as if I am dropping back into my own time again.

How precious it is, light and warmth so easily. Let us look after it and water too. We are lucky beyong measure and we have lost the sense of how easy our lives are compared to our quite recent predecessors. I sit here at my computer and feel the women who have lived here before me lined up behind me, marvelling at a life with heat and light and running water, never mind blogging.

20 comments:

  1. What a beautiful and evocative blog - but what a pity you couldn't have been a work during the power cut... but then again we wouldn't have had the benefit of your thoughts on 'taking things for granted'. We get quite a few power cuts here but are on mains water. Phew!

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  2. Our neighborhood has been without power three times in the last year, for several hours each time, and once, all night. Our house is new and has big windows, so darkness isn't a problem during the day. But that night, out here away from the bright lights of the town, it was dark as can be. It was also the middle of an Oklahoma summer. Between the dark and the heat, I don't think any of us got a wink. I find it hard to believe we ever did without electricity.

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  3. we love power cuts up here. The candles are always ready, the pack of cards on the shelf with them.
    Loved your looking back at the women who were there before - the more you think about it the more fascinating it gets - then before you know it local history has taken over ...

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  4. How very true. We take so many 'conveniences' for granted.

    I love the silences of power cuts - the electrical hums and buzzes that are a backdrop to modern homes stop and we can hear the pin drop and the fire crackle.

    To sit in that silence by the fireside, faces lit by a candle's soft glow and to talk quietly amongst ourselves is a great pleasure.

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  5. Oh, I loved this Elizabeth, it reminds me of a very poignant line in Cider with Rosie about the coming to the end of a way of life that had existed for a thousand years with the coming of electricity and the motor car, and when I read it I wanted to cry for that old life of simplicity and haystacks and families gathered around coal fires. And I know it would have been hard and miserable for most, but there's a romantic notion of no mod cons, no technology, that rather appeals.

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  6. Hello! Just found your blog and it's delightful and thought-provoking. Your photos are wonderful. Thank you!

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  7. A lovely thoughtful blog. Our new build house (we downsized) has many advantages and some disadvantages, one being we have no fireplace. We had a series of power cuts earlier in the year when the electricity lines were highered and it got really really cold with no fireplace to light a cheery fire. We have since bought a small camping gas stove for future use to at least boil some hot water.

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  8. Ah, yes.....know that sense of displacement all so well. But how lovely too it is, away from the tyranny of the computer. On our hill I loved power cuts - we still had warmth and heat from the Aga and could boil a kettle and read by candlelight. Now i'm not so sure, we're so reliant on electricity.
    Love your kindly presence.......

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  9. Another beautifully thoughtful blog, Elizabeth. Things like the odd power cut do make you ponder the relative ease and convenience of our modern lives. 200 years ago, when our house was built, most people would have gone to bed quite soon after it got dark - I understand that candles were expensive and eked out for times of neccessity.

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  10. Oh I really loved this, so evocative and thought provoking - please forgive my lack of appreciative words - demented rushing - we’re off to Scotland for a week, to a conference then some walking. See you when we return...they say snow's expected!

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  11. What a lovely blog, as so many have said 'thought provoking'I too live in a very very old tiny Welsh cottage, and at quiet times, with just the fire crackling away, I can just catch - out of the corner of my eye - 'someone'passing the window, busy on an errand. But of course there is no one there!
    These old places must absorb the comings and goings of Ages, bit like a sponge, an now and then a drop squeezes out in todays time.
    x Vicky x

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  12. We all take today's technology for granted. The day before our family holiday in May, we had gale force winds and the power kept going off as I was trying to print off invoices and finish my outstanding work. I was in utter panic but thankfully managed to complete the task and was able to relax on hols. I dare not imagine what would have happened had the electricity gone off completely!

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  13. We're often without power in the winter - high winds take the poles down regularly. I've never read anything that captured, better than you have, that certain feeling I have of returning to 'now' when the power returns.

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  14. I appreciate this post.

    The lack of water would stump me.

    I think, perhaps, we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves though.

    Lack of power used to be part of the rhythm of life. Except in times of poverty or famine, people had the means on hand to make this kind of life 'work'. Admittedly, they had to put them there in the first place - but they knew what there wouldn't be tomorrow and would have made provision.

    I still know I would be thrown by the sudden loss of water though!

    Esther Montgomery
    ESTHER IN THE GARDEN

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  15. Don't we take it for granted Elizabeth? It's all very lovely lighting candles and sitting by a roaring fire, but I wonder how long it would hold its appeal if we had no other option?

    Don't quite know how I missed this blog! xx

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  16. We had a scheduled power cut last week, so I have to confess, we decided to take ourselves off to Brecon for a day out. Our old Welsh farmhouse is SO gloomy without overhead light. Even in the summer you need lights on in the kitchen - on a winter's day you can't see to the far side of the room without lights.

    How an unscheduled outage gives you freedom though. My children used to love it, as it meant candle light and board games sitting around the kitchen table, and the excitement of cooking meals on a primus, or latterly, on top of the woodburner which was hastily lit. Our water is pumped by electricity too, but it flows downhill to a holding tank so the ground floor has cold water.

    We have echoes here of the people who once farmed here, and I often wonder who the presence is in our back room (it is NOT our imagination for other people have mentioned it). Brooding would perhaps describe it best. We're not welcome to share the room . . . Sometimes I wish that I could open a door and step back in time, just like in Alison Utley's "A Prisoner in Time" - a wonderful children's book and one that is just as enjoyable in adulthood. The child steps back through a doorway into the time of the Babbington Plot. Imagine - opening a door and stepping back in time . . .

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  17. Sorry, that should read "A Traveller in Time" . . .

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  18. Lovely evocative post Elizabeth. There are good things about power cuts, not least the reminder of how lucky we are, yet it also reminds us of what we have lost.

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  19. what a wonderful atmospheric post, I had goose bumps at the end of it thinking of the generations of women passing before you.

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  20. This was lovely Elizabeth. As a child I remember all the power cuts in the early 70's recession. Like SBS-we are always prepared for them up here on the hill. Regularly get cut off here in the windy weather.

    I also find it fascinating to imagine the women who had been there before...

    xx

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