A Different World – The Same Old Darkness

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As I write this piece – in preparation for fallow days ahead – as usual some way ahead of publishing, we are living in a world punctuated by Postal Strikes, Rail Strikes and, slightly less problematically – particularly if you are wanting to post a letter – Barrister Strikes (Don’t panic!  I am talking of those who ply their trade in legal proceedings and not those who dyslexically concoct your daily fix of overpriced caffeine.  The world has not gone that mad.) and the threat of winter power cuts, precipitated not by industrial action, but by that nice Russian megalomaniac with a totally rational fear of personal freedom.  I find myself unusually sanguine about the prospect: I am 63 years of age, a veteran of The Three Day Week and I remember how we coped back then…

We lived, of course, in different times: we did not expect to be warm in the winter: we all wore our woollies, we all wore our string vests, we all had candles (some of us from the nose) and, perhaps more importantly matches, in a drawer, somewhere…  We ate a lot of toast back then, browned to a ‘T’ on a long fork in front of the gas fire which was lit by the coloured wooden spills kept in a little brass cylinder (a war time memento – the one that nearly got grandad) on the fireplace.  We cooked on a gas hob lit by those same spills.  Baked beans on toast in front of a roaring candle was a rota’d treat.  As a teenager, unable to do homework by the feeble flickering light, I could not wait for the blackness to fall.

Today we have an electric fire to accompany the electric hob, the electric oven, microwave and air-fryer.  We have a gas boiler, but it refuses to spark into life without electricity.  We dare not open the fridge for fear of letting the cold out.  We cannot open the freezer for a comforting ice cream as – one needs to keep perspective – it might melt the ice cubes.  We, in short, have little to make these hours of darkness bearable save a tartan Slanket and a mobile phone with a five minute battery life.  I will have to go into the attic to rescue the Pop-O-Matic.  I will have to bring down the chess set.  I will have to read the rules…  And of course we could try to read books, but I fear that the kind of megawattage required to make the printed word legible to our fading night-vision would mean a candle of such size it might well precipitate a nationwide wax shortage.

We do, of course, like everyone else have a number of ‘lanterns’ in our possession, each one of them with the batteries welded to the little spring thingies by a thick layer of immovable green goo, and a torch with a doody little button for sending morse code messages, providing you can send them in the five seconds before the bulb dies.  We are just as prepared as everybody else and equally aware that, nationwide, there are no matches, batteries or tea-lights to be had on supermarket shelves.  Camping stoves are in critically short supply.

I’m sure that, if it happens, I will attempt to embrace the excitement of it all – I love resetting clocks – I will regale the grandkids with stories of my own blacked out youth and, if I’m any judge, I will spend the hours of darkness confirming that drinking wine does not require any energy at all…