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.