27 Minutes in the 18th Century

Tonight in Beetley, even without the need for a time machine, we were cast back into another age. To a time when electricity and gas power were both unknown, when candles were the only illumination, and night meant dark.

I had just finished preparing our evening meal. It was a traditional Sunday repast, of roasted meat and vegetables, in this case, a plump chicken, with all the trimmings. As we prefer to eat in the evenings, it was around 7.25pm when I called Julie to the dining table. We seasoned our meal, and both pronounced how appetising it looked. Ollie was lying quietly in the living room, as he is not allowed around us, when we are eating. No sooner had I plunged fork into potato, and our time travel began. The lights went out.

A quick check outside confirmed that it was not just us. The whole of the street was in darkness. As there are no street lights anyway, that means proper darkness. Luckily, it wasn’t too long past sunset, so not inky dark, but it was certainly night-time, and too dark to see our meal, which was fast growing cold. Julie quickly found some large scented candles, bought for completely different occasions, and not intended for power cuts. They did the job though, and illuminated our table, just enough for us to be able to tell parsnip from carrot. It struck me then, that all meals were once taken in this half-light, which when you are trying to eat a long-awaited feast, is far from romantic in feel.

As we struggled with our dinner, we wondered how long it might continue. No TV later, no hard drive recorder, and no Internet. Even the walk-about phones will not work, as they are dependent on power. With appalling signal and service on our mobiles, chatting on the phone was ruled out also. With no gas, a hot drink was not possible, and it was lucky that we had both had baths, as hot water would not be available, with no electric pump in operation. The washing up would have to be left until Monday, and any clothes we wanted to wear, would have to be put on without the benefit of ironing. We would have to retire to the sofa, and read a book. It would have to be a real one, as the electronic ones would soon lose charge, though it could be a magazine, or sales catalogue perhaps. I doubted that there would be enough light to write letters by, and wondered how the great writers of the 1700’s managed, with flickering candles of spitting tallow. I also realised that my failing eyesight, requiring spectacles for reading, was undoubtedly unable to cope with candle illumination. Perhaps I would just spend the rest of the evening thinking. Even the tradition of a family singing around the piano was not possible, as we have no piano, and neither of us can play one if we did. OK, we had the advantages of running water, and a flush toilet, but it still felt very primitive in the gloom.

I speculated further about life in the evenings of darkness. They must have used an enormous amount of candles, in order to live even a half-decent existence. But they probably went to bed a lot earlier as well, to cut down on boredom, or sleep off the tiredness of a day labouring in factory or field. Unlike us, they could not have decided to drive somewhere away from this localised power cut, in order to avail ourselves of light, and entertainment, should the need arise. Their life was always like this, ruled by the elements that we have since conquered. At least until tonight.

Twenty-seven minutes later, as I had almost finished eating, the lights came back on. Timers were flashing, electric clocks showing the wrong time, and Ollie walked into the dining room, confused at the comings and goings of darkness and light. We snuffed out the candles, seamlessly returning to the 21st century, without another thought. Moving through to the living room, we sat in front of the TV that had just come back on, and decided what to watch. I said that I would put the kettle on, during the adverts.

How lucky we are, and how seldom we realise it.

16 thoughts on “27 Minutes in the 18th Century

  1. Great post, Pete… it’s very odd to be left in the dark without the need of one hundred candles to illuminate your way around the house. I’ve since bought those press lights that run off batteries for all of the washrooms here too, and check on the batteries every month of so to see if they are still working… Always keep a stock pile of batteries in the largest package available to man as well..

    Take care, Laura


  2. Wonderful departure from the sensibilities of today to the realities of a bygone era. I wonder what would have happened if the 27 minutes turned into 27 hours. I enjoy these experimentations; they can teach us a lot about ourselves and the human condition in general. But I would have preferred to defer the experiment until after dinner. 😉

    I enjoy these anecdotes and windows into your life so much, dear friend. Hugs from your ever obliged and most affectionate reader, Atreyu xx


    1. Ah, 27 hours! We would have to have become resourceful, something quite alien to our modern sensibilities. Better to let others provide those resources, at my age!
      Your comments are much appreciated, perhaps more that you know.
      Best wishes from Beetley, to you. XX


  3. Since when was the flushing toilet progress?!
    Cooking tonight’s meal over a wood burning range; pesto made with walnut’s from the orchard and basil and garlic from the garden (I must get a spaghetti tree) , whilst heating the water for the bath and heating the air around us. The sun goes down about 7.30 here at the moment and I’d guess we will be in bed by then watching s film as we huddle together for warmth! Admittedly the computer is powered by the mains, some things you just can’t do without 🙂


    1. You could always scratch your comments on a bit of wood, and post them to me Eddy! I only put the bit about the flushing toilet in for you anyway.
      The last time I went to bed at 7.30 was when I was sent there by my parents, for being naughty.
      Enjoy that huddle with Gosia though…Regards as always, Pete.
      ( By the way, I reckon it should be Pine Nuts in pesto…Walnuts!…)


  4. We’ve had the odd power cut here too, but fortunately we do have a gas hob and gas fire, though I’m guessing that wouldn’t work as the ignition is probably electric. Where I taught (in Hampshire) the power was always going off when there was a storm – particularly annoying as I taught IT!! I can still hear the collective groans from the kids who hadn’t saved their work 😉


  5. Your story takes me back to the time of Ted Heath’s government and the three day week. We had regular power cuts then lasting for hours, It was during the winter so the heating went off as well as the lights. Candles sold out in the shops and you had to use them sparingly. I can remember getting up for work in the cold and dark with no hot water to wash in and no hot drink before leaving the house. You’re right, Pete, we certainly do have things easy these days. My mother used to have a Lancashire expression for this; she’d say, ‘we don’t know we’re born’.


    1. Thanks Sue. We were actually talking about the 1970’s over dinner, and having similar recollections.
      It’s not just Lancashire, my Mum always used to say ‘you don’t know you’re born’ too, illustrating how lucky we were, to have missed the War. Must be a generational thing.
      Regards as always, Pete.


  6. I agree with Gretchen that a power outage can be bit like a vacation from all the stuff we fill our lives with! Although we live right in the city and hardly ever have the power go out, I still like to live as though our condo were a cabin in the woods, especially in the evenings. It’s so calming to read a book in candlelight (don’t tell that to my eye doctor though ☺). But you’re right; life would be quite hard without electricity. I’m sure the romance of the dark would wash away as soon as I’d have start doing all of the laundry by hand!


    1. Indeed Mari, it is the things we don’t always think about, like washing machines, and fridges, that make life so much easier. I don’t even want to consider using a wood fuel stove to cook food on! Small wonder they nearly always had stew…
      Regards as always, Pete.


  7. Isn’t it amazing how a power outage abruptly changes our plans and the direction of our thinking! In my town we had an outage a few years ago where the power was out for 3 1/2 days — at the end of October during an unexpectedly early blizzard. In some ways, it was frightening and in other ways, like a vacation. As elated as I felt when the power came back on, I also missed the peace and quiet of days and days of basic survival with hours to spend reading books by kerosene light, writing letters, playing solitaire with real cards & 8-10 hours sleep every night of the outage. It’s good to be reminded how lucky we truly are, although sometimes a difficult lesson.


    1. 3 1/2 days in a blizzard Gretchen! I doubt we would be ready for that here. It is nice to have to do without things sometimes though, just to realise that there is more to life than electronic amusement. At least we have the stove fire here, in case it happens when it is cold.
      Regards from Norfolk, as always. Pete.


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