Sunday, 1 November 2009

Powercut . . .

Only during a lengthy powercut on a dark torrentially-raining late Autumn morning do you have any idea of what life was like here in the days before electricity, which never arrived here until the 1950s or thereabouts. About the same time as the phone in fact.

The kitchen is so dark that I can barely see the far wall. Only the light of 4 candles illuminating the immediate area surrounding my notebook allows me to see what I am writing. The candles throw a little echo of light onto the copper pans on the Hergom stove and highlight any uneven-ness on the copper frying pan hanging on the wall above the bressamer beam, giving it a lopsided grinning face.

(Above photo taken in normal daylight plus electric lights, but without a flash on the camera.)

The room is silent, bar the purring of cats, who are glad to be inside on such a beastly day, and the incessant heavy rain falling like stair-rods outside, pounding on the outhouse roof and dripping without pause from the winter-flowering clematis which seeks to extend its range across the kitchen window.

I was lucky enough to get my early morning cup of Earl Grey before the power went, finally, after a couple of hiccoughing warnings. Now it is too dark to see anything. The hand that automatically reached to turn on Radio 4 for company has beenstilled. Breakfast has been eaten. Dishes left to drain overnight put away. One of the two candle-lamps in the hall has been lit so we can see to phone the electricity company.

How on earth were chores managed pre-electricity in such a gloomy house? You cannot see to clean, to dust and laying a fire in the sitting room would be done by touch, as if blindfolded. A washing tub and a posser would while away an hour or so, but the eventual cleanliness would be an act of faith. Breadmaking would be possible and anything in the sink, which now has a window over it, but only for the past 30 years. The range, once lit, would brighten up the inglenook, but cobwebs in corners would never have seen light of day except on the brightest summer afternoon.

I can only assume that there were many many oil lamps, some of them overhead ones, and many candles employed because without them you can barely see your hand in front of your face!

A wee bitty wet outside - and flooding locally. We couldn't get out down the hill as the river was across the road . . .


  1. Glad you have your power back now, was it caused by the rain and flooding? I hope you all stay safe. x

  2. Yes, we have had rain here too - although no power cut thanks goodness. As I cook with oil we could still have had our Sunday lunch, but it would have been in a dim light. Now at 3pm it is very sunny and very windy - an improvement I think.

  3. Beautiful photo of the stove!
    We lose power here regularly during the winter months. I like the feeling of time standing still that come with an outage - out come the lamps and the Scrabble game; the fire is lit and we get cosy.

  4. Your kitchen looks cosy by candlelit but I can see that the romance might wear thin :-) I'm pleased your power has been restored quickly. I often think about how people, especially mums, managed years ago without washing machines etc! And how did they sew with such poor light!

  5. Hullo BB,

    Seems like me you live most of your life in the kitchen! Nice to see it feature so much on the blog. The range looks braw. Wouldn't fit in my 20 something year old house though. We have always wanted an old, preferably stone built house but have always felt that - old house = old problems = lots of cash - we could never afford to have one. We did have a very close escape a few years ago because we asked for a particularly thorough survey done conditionally to a buying offer which showed horrendous problems needing to be tackled. A proper reality check it was and resulted in the move to where we are now.

    Despite living a couple of miles away from a nuclear power station we too suffer from {too} frequent power cuts especially through the winter and have learned to have alternative arrangements to hand in easy to find in the dark places.

    All part of the fun????


  6. Al - yup, we live in the kitchen. When we move, the kitchen HAS to be big enough for us to do the same in again. It is such a happy room in this house . . .

    As for old house = big problems = lotsa dosh. Yup, been down that route here alright - I lived in a building site on and off for 16 years!

    Chris - I was struggling by candlelight this morning - as I get older I find that I need a good light to work by, especially with my needlework, so I have an anglepoise with a daylight simulation bulb. In the past, I think needlewomen had a piece of mirror behind the candle?

    Pondside - our children always loved the magic of a power cut, when we could travel back in time almost, get the board games out and cook on the camping stove, and there would be sad sighs when the power returned!

    Weaver - the Hergom runs on oil, but it has an electric wotsername to start it . . .

    Yarrow - think it was the gale tearing at a line which caused the power cut. Just us and the farm next door affected anyway. I'm about to post some pics of the river today - you won't believe your pretty little spot where you and the children played . . .

  7. Always catches me off guard to realize during a daytime power outage that the sewing machine is out, likewise the PC, all appliances.
    We lived for several months years ago in a tiny primitive cabin that J. put up on his parent's farm. We lugged wood and water, trekked down the log road to his folks to use the washing machine and other conveniences.
    Oddly, I didn't feel frightened at being alone "in the woods" all day with two babies. It was a time of extreme frugality and while financial prosperity has always been a bit elusive, we've never had to return to such a bare bones experiment.
    That said,it is an irony that the conveniences which we take for granted become so utterly useless without electricity. Our grandparents knew how to revert to simpler ways: take down the oil lamps from the top shelf, stoke the wood stove, sweep the cobwebs out of the outhouse!