Thursday, October 31
Today is Halloween and Stephen and the girls say they are going to sit by the fire tonight and tell ghost stories. I think life is frightening enough at the moment, without trying to scare each other with silly tales, but it may do them good to have some amusement. With no prospect of power returning soon, their lives are in limbo, unable to work, study or meet friends, and in Jane’s case, a partner. Anna is a lovely girl and I can see that she and Stephen are well suited. I couldn’t wish for a nicer girl for him.
It was raining this morning, but much milder than yesterday, so I felt able to shed some clothes for a really thorough strip wash and also washed my hair. The girls were quite envious when they realised I had managed to clean myself from top to bottom, as it were, and decided they would follow suit, which I am quite happy for them to do if they fetched and boiled the water for themselves. It is hard work when water is no longer on tap, so we find ourselves thinking carefully about every drop and are no longer careless with our resources.
Last night’s meal did not go down well with Martin, though the others laughed and said it reminded them of happier times. I found some packs of Pot Noodles and Super Noodles lurking in the back of the larder. I think they had been there since Jane and her friends went to Glastonbury last summer. So I cooked some bacon and mushrooms in a wok with shredded cabbage, then threw in the softened noodles. I thought it worked very well and was quite tasty, but Martin grumbled so much that I was quite cross and told him we have to be thankful for anything we can get right now and that there must be people in desperate need who would be more grateful. But I don’t want him in a bad mood, especially now he and Stephen are working so hard, fetching heavy loads of wood and water. So I am going to try making pasta with the machine that he gave me for Christmas two years ago which has sat in the back of a cupboard ever since. I will need to use a few eggs, but the hens laid well again yesterday and I collected 5 eggs, so I think I can spare enough for the dough.
Wednesday, October 30
I feel quite pleased with myself. Last night’s meal was a great success and put us all in a good mood. I found a recipe in an old book for a steamed onion and leek pudding. It is so simple and so filling. You line a basin with a suet crust, then fill it with seasoned layers of onion and leek. To make it more satisfying I added some mushrooms and diced bacon, then steamed it for 3 hours. So it is not a quick dish to make, but it was very well received and well worth the effort. I would like to make steamed puddings more often, but the fat will be a problem. Not our fat, but the fat that mixes with the flour. I have another couple of boxes of shredded suet in the larder, but doubt I will be able to get more. Maybe I can try making a pastry with oil? After all, some cakes are made with oil, aren’t they and I can remember making a wonderful flourless chocolate cake with olive oil.
We woke this morning to the first frost. We have been lucky so far, but it will be much colder from now on. Our bedroom windows were misted on the inside and I expect they will be iced over this winter.
Anna and Jane have scooped out four pumpkins and were talking of giving the seeds to the hens, when I remembered that they could be dried for us to eat. We have no breakfast cereal, but I can make a kind of muesli with porridge oats, grated apple and seeds. I’m not sure how to dry the seeds to make them edible, so we’ll try toasting a few of them in a pan.
Martin was in a better mood today because he ate well yesterday, so I’m going to try hard to think how to feed us today.
Tuesday, October 29
Daphne called by with apples, saying she has far too many to use for just the two of them. She also had other good news for us, as she’d heard that a farm only a couple of miles from here was giving away cabbages, leeks, onions and pumpkins to local families. They normally grow produce for the supermarkets and the vegetables will go to waste now they can’t be delivered. We agreed that it would be worth using some of our precious petrol to go there and collect as much as we can, so in return for the apples we gave Daphne a lift with us, returning with huge boxes of lovely fresh veg. We decided not to take too many cabbages and leeks as they won’t keep well, but the onions and pumpkins will be very useful.
The people at the farm were very kind and said we could take as much as we liked, but we thought it was only right to take a reasonable amount. I was surprised to see two men loading boxes and boxes of veg into their van and asked them if they had a lot of people to feed. they just laughed and said they’d find a use for it alright. When I told Martin he said I was lucky to get away with just a laugh from them. He said they were probably going to sell it on the street and that there must be a black market developing all over the country.
Anna and Jane were excited by the pumpkins and decided they wanted to carve lanterns for Halloween. I really don’t like this tradition, but as it will amuse them I’ll let them get on with it, as long as every scrap of pumpkin is saved to be eaten. I am more excited by the leeks and onions as they add such a lot of flavour to food and we had completely run out. I’m trying hard to think how best to use the pumpkin as we can’t have pies and think I’ll use some for soup and may try making a sauce for pasta. Martin and Stephen say they are getting sick of soup, so I’m trying to think of something more substantial I can cook. But without an oven or more meat we don’t have much choice.
Monday, October 28th
Terrible wind and rain all last night. Martin joked this morning that it was the sort of weather we used to dread bringing on a power cut. Now the worst fear is running out of water and food. We checked the outside of the house once we were dressed, but there was no damage despite the awful noises we heard in the night. Then we went round the grounds to see how much the storm had brought down. Our fences are still standing, so the sheep won’t escape onto the lawns, nor can the deer penetrate the new vegetable garden. We found branches scattered everywhere and the large willow has two huge limbs dangling which we kept clear of while the wind was still blowing this morning. Willow is not very good for burning, but it can be cleared when the winds drop. A tree has been uprooted in a neighbouring field but there was no damage to the fence.
The acorns are still falling and are so plentiful that it’s like walking on a pebble beach in places. Anna and Jane have soaked and dried the ones they’ve gathered and have shelled a large number too. They are going to try grinding some today to make acorn flour, then they’ll roast others and grind them to make the acorn coffee. I have my doubts about both ideas, but as we shall run out of flour and coffee eventually it is worth trying.
After collecting more fallen kindling, I found a few more blackberries which are quite plump from a few days of mild weather and rain. And then I had my first row with Stephen because I came back inside the house and found him eating the berries straight from the basket. I told him they weren’t meant for him, they were for all of us, and they would go much further mixed with apple. He looked at me in amazement and said he’d only had two. But we can’t help ourselves to food whenever we feel like it now. We have to think about all of us as a group and we all have to stay healthy if we are to come through this difficult time. Then Stephen tried to make amends by digging over the hen run so the chickens could find more worms and I felt rather mean. He gave them weeds too and found 4 eggs.
Sunday, October 27th
There was more rain in the night, so we shan’t be short of clean water. It was breezy this morning and quite bright, so I hung out some washing and nearly managed to get it dry before it started to look grey just before lunch.
I woke with the first light, just as I thought I would, in spite of Martin changing the clocks. The hens don’t know we’ve changed the time either and were ready to be let out and fed at 7am. They are still laying well, but will soon go off as the days shorten. I collected four eggs again today and wondered if I could work out how to preserve eggs but I don’t think I can get hold of the right ingredients…..eisenglas, is it?
Our food is becoming somewhat dull I think, partly because of the lack of variety and partly because of the means of cooking available to us. If the weather is poor I have to cook over the fire inside and I haven’t yet worked out how to roast. Today we could have used the barbecue again but we have no meat, other than bacon so we had to have another thick soup, which is what we are having most days. It was quite filling though, because I served it with some little dumplings I’d simmered in the soup, flavoured with rosemary. And I also had an idea because of all the apples we’ve collected and decided to make apple fritters with a thin watery batter, made with cornflour, then dusted them with a little cinnamon and sugar. They were really quite good and we all enjoyed them.
Martin thinks he can probably bag us some pheasant with his air rifle, so maybe we’ll have meat again very soon. He is a good shot, but doesn’t think the pellets will be powerful enough to get one of the deer that we see regularly in the garden. I saw three in the courtyard first thing this morning, nibbling away at the roses and really wouldn’t mind if they got their comeuppance and ended up on our table.
Saturday, October 26
Tonight the clocks go back. We all had a debate about it this morning, trying to remember which way round it was until Anna said, “Fall back, Spring forward”, which settled it. But what it didn’t settle is whether we need bother. We are guided more by the daylight than clocks now, but Martin, who has always been a stickler for routine, says he will change all our clocks anyway, the windup ones that is, so we are in step with the rest of the country when the power returns.
I can’t see what difference it makes as we are woken by the light, not by alarm clocks now as none of us needs to be up early for work, deliveries or appointments. We used to be woken by the paper boy and the milkman, but that seems so long ago now.
But I do like to be the first up to coax the fires and set the water to boil. I still like my morning tea, though I am having to get used to drinking it without milk. We still have some longlife milk, but I want to save it for more important things than tea.
Today was very mild for the time of year and the wind was getting stronger. All the conkers have fallen now and Martin has collected them to throw on the fire when they are dry. It’s a boy thing, I suppose, enjoying the explosions they make as they burst. The wind is stripping the leaves from the trees and normally I would want to clear them from the lawns, but it’s too big a task without a petrol powered mower, so I’m only concerned with keeping the paths near the house clear, so we don’t slip and fall.
Joe left us today and we wished him well on the journey. We will have no way of knowing if he arrives safely, so could only send him with our prayers and thanks, along with a little bacon and hard-boiled eggs to eat on the way.
Four eggs today.
Friday, October 25th
Mild weather today, but much more windy. Martin noticed that it is a south-westerly and says that means more rain is on the way. So it was a good day for drying our washing and there is the likelihood that more dead wood will fall.
The wind will also bring more acorns, which may turn out to be a blessing. We’ve collected loads so far and the girls have been soaking them to remove the tannin. This will take several days and then they will have to shell them before roasting and grinding them to make coffee. Goodness knows how all this will taste and what it will do to us, but they are kept busy and more cheerful and I know we shall be grateful if they are successful when our present supplies run out. If this goes on for a long time, I feel sure we can be resourceful and manage for meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit, though limited in variety, but our stocks of flour, sugar, tea, coffee and milk cannot last. And although I still have some butter, dairy spread, cheese and cooking oil, I must use these sparingly as I have six of us to feed, including Joe, who is still with us. Bread thickly spread with butter now seems a luxury.
Our kindling stocks are falling rapidly, so we all gather sticks whenever we go outside as a matter of habit and stack them under cover when we return to the house. Jane was in a bit of dream this afternoon and wandered back empty handed, but Martin noticed and shouted “Firewood” at her and she laughed and ran off to collect her share.
Five eggs today.