Last week the power failed twice in St Margarets. The first time was just before noon on Wednesday, 26th October. The radio fell silent, the fridge stopped humming and the computer rolled over and died. After a few of minutes of confused scrabbling around on the phone I finally found a nice pre-recorded woman who told me that Twickenham, Brentford and Isleworth were experiencing “a power outage” and not to worry too much about the food in the freezer. “Normal service will be resumed in two to three hours”, she said – and it was. It was announced later that the “outage” was caused by equipment failure.
The second power failure, cause as yet unknown, happened on Monday, 1st November about 6.30pm. The lights in the kitchen flickered a bit and then went out leaving me with darkness and a half cooked shepherd’s pie. This time it wasn’t just the street that had lost its juice but the entire community. The only noise I could hear were neighbours bumping into each other outside in the street and asking, “Have your lights gone off too?” There was also considerable anxiety about food in freezers and what Clive Horrobin might get up to on “The Archers.”
The first blackout had prepared me for the second. Torches were standing by, candles and matches were to hand and in the event that I would have to do something really dramatic like deliver a baby or defuse an unexploded WW2 bomb I had a Tilley Pressure Lamp ready to go – just like in those black and white movies they show on Film4 where the hero shouts “Boil some water! Lots of it!” Fortunately no babies needed delivering, no unexploded bombs revealed themselves and the lights came back on after about 30 minutes.
Power cuts remind us of just how reliant we are upon electricity and all the gadgets and gizmos that go with it. Lighting probably comes first but hard on its heels are essentials like cooking and heating, then the fridge, the freezer and the washing machine then the equally important but less essential items like the radio and TV, the computer and the charger for the mobile telephone and the laptop.
We take electrical power for granted. Without it we revert in seconds from normal human beings to Neanderthals, living in a cave, scared of the dark and wary of the horrors that lay outside. That’s why to reassure themselves people often make lists of “Fun Things to Do When the Lights Go Out”. Here are some suggestions gathered from around the world.
Ten Things to do During a Power Cut
- Go to bed early. (Once in bed you can do what you like – make love, catch up on sleep, read a book by candle light or listen to a battery radio.)
- Take up astronomy. Try to identify constellations or find the Pole Star. (With lights out, the night sky will be less cluttered with light pollution and more visible to the naked eye.)
- Do Yoga in the dark, listening to the sounds of the night.
- Using blankets build a tent under a table and pretend to be members of a pioneer family. Characters from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ are always good ones to use.
- Finally get round to developing that old film that has been inside your camera for years. Get it done before the lights come back on again.
- Sing or play the guitar (or any other musical instrument that is to hand.)
- Take the opportunity to change all your old light bulbs for compact energy saving ones.
- Scare yourself rigid by playing ‘Hide and Seek’ in the dark.
- Play old fashioned games by candlelight – e.g. chess, ludo, snakes and ladders, happy families – or for the more, …ehem ……romantically inclined, strip poker or “Naked Twister” (See Suggestion 1, part 1)
- Write a poem about what you see, hear and feel. Lots of others have…
POWER CUT Dumped into darkness -- Lids on open eyes. Matches Splinter into water; Candles Collapse to honey. A golem swallows the moon.
By Hugh Cook
What to do When the Lights Go Out
To find out why the power has failed and how long it will be before it is reconnected do not contact your supplier, e.g. SEEBOARD Energy, npower, E-on, Sainsbury’s Energy etc . They will only refer you to the people who run the power network in your area. In our case this is Southern Electric Power Distribution who operate networks in the north of Scotland, the south coast of England and surprisingly – St Margarets. To contact them for information about power cuts or other electrical emergencies ring 0800 072 7282
YouTube – Katie Melua singing “If the Lights Go Out”
— from Martyn Day