Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Light in the dark

It’s the end of the year; only a few hours to go, and I’ve been reflecting on light. 

We’ve gone back in time recently, battered by a succession of storms that left us, for two days over Christmas, without electricity. No lights, no heating, no hot water, no oven, no internet, no telephone.

At first we thought, we’ve had unscheduled power cuts before and the longest has been a couple of hours. So we waited. We lit the log-burning stove. We made soup. We read books. After a while, as the light began to fade, we realised that the problem wasn’t going to be sorted that day, so we found candles, and a large pan in which to boil water for all sorts of things, on the hob - the hob for which, in the midst of the gale, we had gone out the day before to buy a new gas bottle. 

It’s an odd feeling, knowing that you are left in some strange historical place, at Christmas of all times. It’s one of those backward-looking seasons, and here we were, re-living some piece of our own history.   

Christmas Day was still powerless, so we adapted. We had an old gas cooker in the garage, which we heaved out. We bought it when we first moved in down south, and there was no kitchen except a sink. We used it for a couple of years, even though the oven has no thermostat; it has just a large gas ring like any other, under the floor, and the only way to turn down the temperature (it has two – over 400F or below 150F; in between, it either gets over-excited or sulks) is to open the door and fan a tea towel as though it were a maiden lady indulging in a fit of the vapours. This is not a device to which to confide your Christmas leg of lamb; we let it work on a cashew nut roast instead. Vegetarian for Christmas! Shock, horror! (Well, for He Who Does Everything Around Here anyway.) 

We went up to the beach for a walk in the sunshine, leaving all the blinds up and curtains well back, for maximum gain. (This is the one time when the solar water heater doesn’t work, even though it is precisely the time that we need it most; it needs electricity to pump the water round.) On the way there and back, I charged my mobile phone, and so was able to speak to our family and wish them Happy Christmas. 

In the evening, we were able to read, and navigate, by Kindle-light. 

The weekend before Christmas, we went to Poitiers, and watched the polychromies - a light show that puts the original colour back onto the front of the church of Notre Dame le Grande, as the people of the 14th century would have seen it.   

Modern technology brought us a representation of the past. Two days later, modern technology reminded us that we’re only a gust of wind away from that past; and while we survived, without too much aggravation, our 50 hours without electricity, that was because we had the alternatives available. 

So as the year ends, and we look forward to 2014, maybe it’s worth remembering that we aren’t masters of all we survey; we don’t own everything, and we can’t control everything. A little humility, a little acceptance of our limitations when faced with nature, and maybe a dollop of good old common sense, and 2014 could be the year we begin to appreciate what we in the West actually have, and what we’re wasting, beyond hope of replacing. 

Maybe this year, we’ll begin to see the light. Bonne fin d’année, bonne année.
© lms 2013


  1. What a lovely and timely reminder, Lorraine. We have a small calor gas camping thingy on standby in case of similar losses of power, and a multiplicity of candles, and two dozen bottles of wine.
    Happy 2014 - Felic Ano neuvo.

  2. I enjoyed this piece, Lorraine. We are subject to frequent power cuts here in rural England. We're not that far from civilisation but live beside a steep single track lane overhung with trees, on the side of a windy hill. It often feels like we're the 'last on the list' for re-connection - once the electricity company parked a generator at the top of the lane for a week and hooked us up to it - in desperation, I think. You're right - it does us no harm to be reminded of our small place in the grander scheme of things and I enjoy - up to a point - the sense of reconnection with our ancestors' experience.. I love the witty detail in your writing, Lorraine.

  3. Lizy, now that's preparation! Jenny, we usually only have short power cuts and not that often. The last one was due to a fire in the transformer that supplies us, and I think EDF are going to have to upgrade us. We drove past their HQ on the way to the beach, and there were numerous transformers parked there, in all sizes. It was like pressing our noses to the toyshop window!