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.