Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Friday, January 31 – Let there be light

We have been experimenting with ways to light the house. Martin favours using a bottle or jar with a metal screw cap. He has cut a slot in the cap and fed through a length of wick material  which dips into the heating oil, leaving an inch or so protruding. We’re trying twisted lengths of cotton string and have realised we have to let the wick soak up the oil first. This works quite well and will last a long time because of the reservoir of oil.

However I’m a little worried about moving containers of flammable oil around the house and am not sure these will be the safest lights for carrying upstairs at night. Then Anna said she remembered reading about a kind of homemade lamp using a saucer, fabric and an old button in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. She said it was called a button lamp and it appeared in a story about the family being snowed in one long hard winter.

Jane raided my button box and found a couple of old saucers in the kitchen, then cut some cotton into squares. Anna put the button in the centre of the square and pulled the cloth around the button. She then tied some thread tight around the corners so they stood upright in a stiff bunch. We then set the button in a little pool of kerosene in the saucer and let the material soak up the oil. When the wick was charged we lit it and it burned steadily and safely, without the risk of spillage.

We have decided that the button lamps will be used in the bedrooms and the bottle and jar lamps will be safest on the table where we eat and prepare food. Martin agreed with me that we can’t risk causing a fire in the house, now that we can’t call the fire brigade.

Still not much luck with the hens. Only one egg today.


Bok One: Yii Chapter Four (continued)

No sooner were they clear of the gates, than quite suddenly Aunt Caroline heaved a sigh, a huge sigh, as of relief. Then, to Sarah’s utter amazement, she burst into great peals of laugher, an uninhibited outburst of untrammelled laughter.
Sarah could hardly believe her eyes and ears: ‘Aunt Caroline…?’ she started, wondering what had come over her aunt. But Aunt Caroline drew breath, and held up her hand.
‘Oh dear!’ she gasped. ‘Oh dear! What a dreadful woman.’ She was still laughing, ‘I can hardly believe such people exist. She’s like someone in a Dickens novel. You must be so relieved to be out of that place. Awful school. Awful! Can’t think what your parents were doing letting you go there in the first place. You poor thing, you must have been so miserable.’
And she put her arms round Sarah, who was so moved and so relieved that she came as near to tears as she had ever done.
‘Oh Aunt Caroline,’ she said, ‘thank you so much for getting me out of there. It was really awful, and I don’t think I could have lasted much longer.’ She shuddered at the memory. Aunt Caroline held her tightly.
‘There, it’s all right now,’ she said. ‘Let’s put that behind us; I’m sure we can manage a happier future. Just now we’ve got a bit of a journey in front of us, and I don’t suppose you had any breakfast did you?’
‘No aunt, they only gave me bread and water yesterday, and nothing at all this morning.’
‘Right,’ said Aunt Caroline, ‘there’s an Inn a mile or two up the road – I stayed there overnight as it was too late to come to the school. We’ll stop there and fortify ourselves with whatever they can produce for two hungry people.’

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Thursday, January 30 – Delicious smells

More rain again today, but I made myself go up to the copse to see if the foxes had discovered their meal yet. Martin wouldn’t come and look for himself, but he kept asking if I would check. I didn’t go too close, only a couple of yards away from the body, but there was no sign yet that they had found their dinner. I suppose with this cold wet weather it simply doesn’t whet their appetites. If it was drier and warmer they would pick up the scent in no time, I’m sure.

One year an adult deer was lying in long grass on the edge of the big lawn. I became aware of it because of the awful smell – a composite of rotting cabbage and ripe Stilton – but it attracted the foxes who tore the carcass apart over a period of days until there was nothing left but a dainty hoof and some gingery tufts of hair.

It’s often struck me that we could have our own Midsomer Murders here, with the foxes as enthusiastic accomplices. A body of any kind would quickly disappear if laid out in overgrown areas where nobody goes. Whenever the hens died I used to throw them in the field for the foxes as well, but now, if the hen looked fairly healthy we wouldn’t waste it on them but would cook it and eat it ourselves. I shall tell the hens that if they don’t start being good layers soon. They aren’t earning their keep.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Wednesday, January 29 – Leaks and lights

It is colder and wetter today and every time any of us comes in from outside, we head straight for the fire to warm our hands and faces. It is only a soft rain, but it still won’t help to dry out our waterlogged grounds and fields.

Stephen has been complaining that his boots have started to leak and his feet are very cold and wet. As a temporary measure he using old plastic carrier bags to line the boots, but he plans to cycle to the garden centre soon for new ones. I think if they still have stock he should get pairs for Anna and Martin as they are vital to all of us in these wet conditions.

We are also almost out of candles and night lights. The fires give us some light at night, but not enough to see us to bed. We had a good stock at the beginning of this power cut and I doubt that we shall find any supplies nearby. It would have been a darned sight more useful if the emergency supplies that were left in the village the other week had included candles instead of bottled water.

Jane very sweetly found two scented candles that were decorating her bedroom and said we could use them. I think they’ve been gathering dust, unlit for at least five years. And Martin said he’s sure we can find a way to use the kerosene. We’ve been using some in an old hurricane lamp for a while, but one lamp can’t light every room in the house, so more lights of some kind would be welcome.

The hens weren’t very productive today. There was only one brown egg in the nest. I think the rain is depressing them too.

I Don’t Like To Be Beside the Seaside

I see I have a problem. I thought I was on a bus to the airport. Wrong, from I have just Advice3identified the large grey and white bird that has just flown over me as a seagull. And that noise there is not the sound of an airplane taking off, it’s a boat engine. Ah, that has spoiled my plans a little. Perhaps that nice dog who saved me on the bus might be able to advise me where I should go.

Wrong! I hope Dr Candlewick has no spies around here. That barking must have drawn attention to me. I’m just going to hide behind that ticket office for a while and consider my next move.Advice4


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Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Tuesday, January 28 – Martin and the Moles

Today I insisted that everyone helped me collect dry kindling. Martin and Stephen had been bringing in unseasoned twigs salvaged from their tree cutting, which though they burn eventually on a hot fire, do little to really get a fire blazing. I suppose because I am the one who starts the day earlier than everyone else and gets the fires going again, I have become a connoisseur of good kindling and am very choosy about what I use to start my fires.

Since the storms brought down many dead and rotten branches, there is masses of good material around the grounds and in the fields. And the fronds of pine trees will work well once they are dry too. So we went outside in between showers to collect as much as we could. Not only will it help to keep us warm but it is making the gardens look tidier again too.

The wind was cold, but the sun came out a couple of times. The snowdrops are really bursting out in great clusters now and most of the hellebores are in bud as well. But I was annoyed to see that the mole which Martin has been trying to catch has invaded a second flower bed. This wet weather has driven them onto higher ground this year and this particular mole is proving hard to catch. We used to be able to phone or text for the mole catcher, but he lives the other side of Chiddingfold so we can’t reach him without driving all the way there. Martin had always tried to work out how to set the traps but is not having any success so far. And if he does succeed, he won’t lift the trap himself but will send me out to check whether it has caught the culprit. I think anyone capable of shooting birds ought to be able to deal with smaller creatures too, but he says they are too like rats for him to handle them. I don’t think they are ratlike at all, with their black velvet coats and spade-like paws. But I don’t like them, all the same, if they dig up my flowerbeds.

And So It Begins

CorgimobilesChapter Seven

Part Two

At first light Boz was up, clip board in hand, dishing out orders.

“Ferdy, you will take off as soon as you are ready.   Follow a bearing for Edinburgh and when you’re over the castle turn due north.

“Bert, you go with Strawberry in the second skidoo.   Strawberry, if you insist on driving you must lend Bert your atlas so he can navigate, but don’t go off on your own, follow us.

“Phoebles, Ginsbergbear and I will lead ‘cos we have the compass.”   He proudly produced his prized Dan Dare Club Junior Space Cadet’s compass in its red and yellow plastic case.   “We must get off the sea-ice as soon as possible.   North Shields should be pretty well due west from here.   Once we are on shore we will make straight for Strathbogie.”

He strolled over to what the sailors insisted on calling The Shack, a bell tent close to the base of the tall radio mast.   Within, shouting above the throbbing noise of a diesel generator, he addressed the Wireless Operator.   “WHEN WE ARE CLOSE TO OUR DESTINATION WE WILL RING WICK RADIO ON GINSBERGBEAR’S I-PHONE, SO LISTEN OUT TO THEM!”   Back in the open air he conveyed their plans to the CPO whose party was detailed to maintain the base.

It would be a while yet before the skidoos had steam up so the adventurers lined the runway to wave Ferdinand off.   He emerged from his tent in flying helmet and goggles, sheepskin flying jacket and boots.   He gave them a casual wave as he scrambled into the rear cockpit and could be seen adjusting the heading on the gimballed compass.   The forward cockpit was stuffed with supplies.   One of the ordinary seamen spun the propeller and the Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major five-cylinder, air-cooled, radial engine sputtered into life.   The craft gathered speed down the runway, the rotor blades began to turn and she lifted skywards.   Ferdy circled the camp once and then receded towards the NNW.   Phoebles found he was still waving as the tiny red dot disappeared.

The group split, returning to their duties as the overland party.   Strawberry mounted one of the snowmobiles with Bert Wold perched on top of the sledge’s cargo, wielding the atlas.   With the exception of Strawberry in his orange furs they were all but indistinguishable in matching reindeer hide parkas with faux fur lined hoods obtained from Harrods’ Explorer Dept (3rd Floor).   Bert however wore a Harris Tweed bespoke overcoat over his red flannelette shirt, his best Keir Hardy flat cap held down by a hand knitted muffler secured under his chin.    Boris, in Red October black fur hat with Soviet Navy officer’s cap badge took the second vehicle with Phoebles behind him on the sledge, wearing a khaki budionovka pixie hat with large red star.   Ginsbergbear, in a rainbow Peruvian woolly bobble hat, made himself comfortable amongst the luggage and called up the GPS app on his i-Phone.   With a twist of the throttles, a wave to the Naval detail, in a cloud of steam, they were on their way.

The Brockhouse Corgis whispered chuffs, belched thick, oily smoke, the ice beneath the runners shushed and scraped.   The dark uniformed cluster of Russians sang a baritone lament:

            Cold, hard, empty.

            Light that has left me,

            How could I know that you would die?

            …Let us go; the sea is waiting for us.

            The vastness of the sea is calling us – and the tides!

            …Sail on fearlessly,

            Pride of the Northern Seas.

            Hope of the Revolution…*

As the sleighs bounced over the uneven ground and the haunting notes faded on the chill, biting wind, ice chips flew from the tracks, looming seracs groaned as they thrust skywards and flexing skids screeched their protests.   Our heroes were tossed, toppled and jarred as the sledges pitched from hummock to drift.

*Russian translation by Herman Sinitzen