Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Monday, June 30 – Meat and bread
Such an annoying day. It started fine and sunny, so Jane and I did the washing outside, put it all through the mangle and hung it on the line. Then at lunchtime, just when we needed a rest, huge black clouds covered the sky and within minutes there was a downpour. We managed to bring in most of the clothes before they were thoroughly soaked, but now they have to finish drying indoors. And it has carried on raining, with light showers and thundery bursts all afternoon.
As it is cooler, I haven’t minded stoking the fire and the oven to cook. The bread oven is working out well, as long as I have really dry kindling to heat it, so Stephen is making a point of constantly bringing in more than we used to have just for the main fire.
I made the bread first, attempting a tin loaf, which has come out well with a good cracked crust. Then, as the oven was still hot, I’m roasting some of the lamb that Neil brought across this morning. He slaughtered one of the older ram lambs, before it became a nuisance, he said. I didn’t ask for more details, as I don’t want it to be one we gave a name to. I just want to think about it being a nice juicy hunk of fresh meat, which I’m cooking with rosemary and wild garlic. We’ll have it with mint sauce and some new potatoes. We’ve been getting longlife milk in the rations recently, so I think I’ll also make a custard tart, using our eggs, a little sugar and nutmeg. I’ll bake the pastry case blind, with a weight of baking beans, then add the filling. It’s not Martin’s favourite, but I like it and so do the girls. I’ve still got whole nutmeg in the pantry, to grate over the top.
Neil said he had to give up sorting the sheep, because of the heavy rain. But he says the next day or so should be good. I asked how he knew and he just tapped his nose and said, shepherd’s instinct. I think he’s full of old wives’ tales, or old shepherd’s tales, but he does seem to understand natural signs. And without the aid of weather forecasts on TV, radio, online or in newspapers, we are reliant on people with a feel for the countryside to guide us.

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Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Sunday, June 29 – Men and babies

When Martin and I came back from church today, Stephen said he was worried about Anna. He said she was feeling uncomfortable and he thought she was getting contractions. I went upstairs to see her and found she was making the bed, not lying down.
She said Stephen was fussing for nothing and she and I both think the Braxton Hicks contractions are just getting a little more noticeable and more regular now. I asked her what she had been doing while we were out and she laughed and said she’d been sweeping the floor, then felt the contractions and stopped suddenly, holding her stomach, just as Stephen came in with a pile of kindling for the fire. He’s just like his father, I said, getting worried for no reason. Best not to let him know next time, until the real thing.
Anna is looking and feeling really well, despite the sickness earlier in the week. I am very hopeful that she will have an easy birth, even though it is her first, and that the baby will be in good health. Then we sat and talked for a little while about the preparations we’ve made and how she feels about the forthcoming birth. She is sorry her own mother won’t be here, but she has said she wants me to be present, especially if the village midwife or doctor can’t attend.
Then we laughed a bit about how we saw the sheep getting on with lambing out in the open field this spring, without any assistance at all. It makes human beings seem like a load of weaklings, Anna said. Not only do the ewes give birth all alone, but their young are up and running about within a day.
This year’s lambs are also now quite large. The oldest is more than three months old and the first of the young rams have already developed curled horns. I expect when Neil rounds them up for his inspections, he will pick out one or two for slaughter, as they would normally be going off to the abattoir by now.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Saturday, June 28 – Raining cats and mice

Heavy showers of rain today and it’s also much colder, so I haven’t minded staying inside cooking with the bread oven. Martin and Stephen went into the village with Tony and came back with minced beef, onions and carrots, so I can make a batch of pasties for supper and tomorrow.
I’ve been concerned during this warmer weather about keeping food fresh. The pantry is the coolest place, but I don’t have a meat safe, like my granny used to have, so I feel I have to cook meat as soon as we get it. We’ve noticed more flies over the past week, so I hope Neil’s sheep are still safe. He hasn’t rounded them up today as the weather has changed. I expect he’ll do it in a day or so when it’s drier.
The cats have stayed indoors more today, which is a relief as they have been decimating the wild life around here for the past week. I heard a commotion in the hedge a few days ago and found Tickles had climbed up to a nest and was sitting beside it on a branch, eating the fledglings straight from the nest as if it was a dinner plate. It was a horrific sight and I shooed her out, but I knew she would return later to finish her meal. And yesterday, just after lunch, Tom rushed into the kitchen and dropped a headless mouse at my feet. I told him to take it away, but I think he’d had his fill, so I had to pick it up by the tail and throw it into the hedge. I know it’s in their nature and that we wanted the cats to keep the house mice away, but sometimes their murderous instincts are hard to stomach.
We’ve been able to collect more fresh water each time it rains, so we needn’t water the garden for a day or so. The bore holes Martin and Stephen dug have filled with muddy water, so they are hauling some of that out to save for drier weather.
And I’ve been able to fork up more worms to make the hens happy, though I wasn’t so happy to see one of them peck at a bold chick which tried to tackle one of the worms. So their mother shooed them out of trouble and found a worm for them herself.

Powerless – The Year The Lights Went Out

Friday, June 27 – Rained on

It rained yesterday, but not for long. We filtered the water we collected into empty bottles so we have fresh for when we need it. But at least the rain refreshed the garden and we haven’t needed to water again today, even though the sun has been shining all afternoon. Everything is growing quickly and we even have raspberries forming on the bushes.
Linda called in this morning and said Neil is going to do regular inspections of the sheep from now on, as the warm sun and rain create the humid conditions perfect for fly strike. I said I thought they would be ok since he treated them early last month, but Linda said the spray is not guaranteed protection and it’s now seven weeks since they were treated. He will have to round them up in the pen to check the whole flock properly, so I may go along to help. He would normally be shearing soon, but it’s going to be harder to do the job without electricity and it’s easier to shear if the fleece is dry.
Then I asked Linda if she’d like to try the bread rolls I made. She thought they were really good and is going to give me some of her flour ration so we can bake more in the bread oven. Rolls are the easiest thing to cook in it, but I might try a small loaf next. I also thought I could add some herbs and I think I may even have poppy and sesame seeds somewhere at the back of the pantry. I’ve also realised that once the oven is really hot, it holds the heat for some time, certainly long enough to slow cook other foods. Martin wants me to make apple pies, but I’ve said I’ll try pasties as I don’t yet have fruit. Or I could maybe bake an egg and bacon pie, like my great-aunt used to make when I was young.
The rain was good for the hens too, as it dampened the soil in the hen run and encouraged the worms. I dug them up with a fork when I went in this afternoon, creating great excitement amongst the hens. I collected four eggs and the mother hen was teaching her youngsters to scratch in the soil for food.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Thursday, June 26 – Boring and boiling

We are bruised and tired, but we are able to hold down food and drink again. I still have no idea why or how we became ill, but thank goodness we are no longer sick.
Martin thinks it was the bore holes that caused it. I think that’s ridiculous, because the holes are nowhere near any source of foul water. And in fact the so-called holes, were more like mud baths. Martin and Stephen dug down as far as they could, but they never managed to collect a decent amount of water. They collected mud on their knees and feet, their clothes and their faces, but they couldn’t seem to excavate enough mud to dip a bucket in a pool of water. They slung the wet mud over the veg patch, so at least it made a damp mulch for the plants and will have delivered a certain amount of moisture.
Stephen has been blaming himself for not properly boiling the water the last time he made tea for us all. He said he thought the water was hot enough, so I’ve stressed that all our water, even the rain water, has to be boiled. It is boring, I know, but it’s vital. And Jane thinks it’s all her fault because she didn’t wash the lettuce she picked the other day as it looked clean enough. It’s nobody’s fault, I said, but we all have to be more careful.
As we are all feeling rather delicate, we are only eating rice and scrambled eggs today. The hens are still laying well and I’ve collected four eggs. The chicks came out for a longer period with their mother and pecked at some greenstuff she clucked over, telling them it was good to eat. I’ve changed the hens’ water trough for a shallow plant saucer for now, as we once had a tiny chick drown in the drinking water. They stand on the edge, not knowing that a few inches of water is like a deep and dangerous swimming pool for a chick that’s only a couple of days old.
Then,at 5pm, the rain began, so I’ve set out every bowl and container I can find, to collect fresh, safe water.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

The story so far…. the UK has been suffering a long term power cut since October. Cities and larger towns are in chaos, but in the countryside families are coping relatively well, until now…..

Wednesday, June 25 – Ill tidings

All this time, ever since the power cut began, we’ve stayed healthy. Through the wet and cold of winter we had little more than coughs and colds, but now, suddenly, we are all sick. We are all being sick, every one of us.
We feel wretched and I cannot think where this has come from. The water we drink is boiled, even if it’s rainwater. I cook meat carefully and it’s always fresh. Could it have been the rabbit? I don’t think so as it was freshly caught and skinned. Maybe we picked up a bug with the sacraments in church on Sunday. But I don’t think that’s it either, as we’ve all fallen ill at the same time. It must be something we’ve eaten or drunk here.
I’m most concerned about Anna, who is also vomiting. She mustn’t become weak and dehydrated. So I’ve given her the bottled water we kept by for emergencies. There was none in the rations that were delivered yesterday and until now I hadn’t thought we’d ever need it. But now, she must recover quickly, just in case the baby comes early.
That’s all I can manage for today. I’ve fed the hens and they are all fine and the chicks have come outside then been herded back again by their very protective mother.

Update two

Chaos, but thanks to my friends I am free! Not out of danger yet, but free! I do not know if I am coming or going. I’m exhausted but I just want my readers to know what has happened.

First I should apologise for putting everyone to such trouble. If I had been more cautious I would not have walked into the trap. But I was so eager to meet other flightless birds that I dismissed any suspicions and went straight to the nearest place that I thought I would find them – Lake Manapouri. I told myself it would be interesting to see such a lake in any case.

And of course, two people lay in wait for me. Dr Candlewick and Ms Fosse. They were carrying a gun and they had a net. I had no chance. They seized me. The next thing I felt a small prick in my side and I blacked out.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, who knows how much later, I awoke with my head throbbing and a dry taste in my beak. My back ached and I shifted slightly to try to ease it.

“Quick Brian, he’s moving! He’s alive!” It was a woman’s voice. Ms Fosse’s I assumed, but I kept my eyes shut. I was not going to look at them.

“I told you he was!” a man’s voice replied with an unpleasant note of triumph.

“Yes, but you said you didn’t trust anything Professor Longbottom had invented.”

“No, I didn’t. Well OK I did, but if she’s right and this thing gets the bird’s DNA, well, I’m made!”

“What do you mean? You’re made?”

“Look any man who brings a dodo back with him is going to be famous. I’ll be asked to give talks, write books, I’ll go on a lecture tour…”

“Any man?”

“Er, or woman. But then, if I can use the DNA to create more dodos…I’ll have the world eating out of my hand.”

“Look here Brian! I need the bird for a major PR campaign. I’ve got a range of shampoos I’ve been struggling with, but with the bird to promote them I’m the one who is made.”
“But I captured him.”

“With my help!”

“It’s my DNA machine!”

“Which I carried through thorns and marshes and all manner of horrid things! Look, I even broke my nail!”

“You’re not made for life in the bush are you?” he sneered.

“I’m tougher than you are! I bet my DNA is better than yours!”

“Pah! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes I do! I bet you come from a line of useless no-gooders. Let’s see shall we! Let’s see!” She was screaming now.

“Put that thing down! Delilah, I’m warning you! Delilah!”

I opened my eyes. And I laughed. The two of them – he short and hairy, she tall and well-groomed – were tugging on either end of their gun. She was winning. Oh no, now he was. And now she seemed to have the upper hand and, oh, he was on his back in a bush. Ah, it was a prickly bush and he was soon yelling. Some of his language was a little coarse. I’m glad Mrs Desai was not there to hear it.

“Ow!” That was Candlewick as the gun shot a dart into him.

“Ow!” That was Fosse as the gun made her jump backwards and she landed, bottom first, on a log. It was rotten. She fell through.

It was, of course, my chance to get away, and I was determined. Determined but weak and a bit dopey. I struggled up and stared around. If I could just reach that bit of bush there I might get away. I took a step, then another and then…oh, of course and how humiliating. I was trussed up like some overgrown turkey ready for Christmas. I do beg your pardon, turkeys.

I pulled and pulled and I thought I was just getting somewhere when a sweet voice called out “Come on, good birdy!” It was the Fosse woman. I shut my eyes tight, but not before I saw a net sailing through the air towards me.

“Come on! It’s Ferdinand, isn’t it?” she continued. “Ferdinand, it’s so lovely to meet you at last! I’m so sorry about all that fuss.” (And in the background I could still hear Candlewick moaning about the prickles in his bottom). “Really, it was most unprofessional. Anyway, that’s all over now and I’m sure we can start again.”

I wriggled in the net and turned my head away from her. For a start, she smelled like she needed a shower. “Oh, of course, you are a little put out by the way we brought you here. I am sorry, I said to Brian it would, but he insisted. Now let’s just loosen this old net a bit, oh no, not too much, not yet anyway. Just let’s have a little chat first. Brian, keep that noise down you fool! Sorry about him dear Ferdinand. Where was I?

“Oh yes. Now that you are here, I am sure you will see the advantages of what we have to offer. Oh and dear Ferdinand, I expect you are thirsty.” I kept my eyes and beak tightly shut.

“Perhaps you’d like to rest darling. Come along, once you are out of this net I’ll take you to the lovely little tent I’ve got for you. Ever so comfy. And I’ll bring you a plate of ginger biscuits.”

I tell you, I am ashamed to admit it, I nearly weakened. Ginger biscuits! But I held my resolve. I did not even allow myself to be escorted into a tent though I could have done with sheltering from the biting flies. Yes, this part of New Zealand is full of little flies that nibble. The Maori people who live here believe that the gods put the flies here to keep out intruders. They had not kept out Dr Candlewick and Ms Fosse, though that did give me the rather immature pleasure of watching the two of them flapping their hands and slapping at their faces in an attempt to keep said flies away. Of course, every time one of them approached me I shut my eyes tightly and refused to acknowledge them. I did peek a couple of times and when I did I almost laughed; Dr Candlewick had donned a pair of sunglasses in an attempt to look severe. At least I think that is what he was hoping. He just looked ridiculous. I’ve done a little mock-up of it for the amusement of my dear readers.

 

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He was the one who tried to be severe while Ms Fosse pretended to be all kind – a sort of bad cop, good cop. So while she offered me ginger biscuits and all sorts of other inducements (including the promise of my own TV show) to co-operate, he made comments like: “We know you’re going to crack. You won’t be able to resist.” Or “Just wait until I’ve created a whole flock of you dodos. I can you know, I have your DNA. I can do it. Where will you be then, eh?” Living happily with a group of dodos would seem to be the answer, but I did not give him the satisfaction.

You may wonder why I did not try to escape again. They let me out of the net, but (and I can hardly bring myself to write this), I was tied up, tethered like a common criminal. But I would not give in to despair, not even when all seemed lost and I felt as if there was no-one in the entire universe who cared for me. No, like many prisoners before me, I plotted and I planned.

I thought that my chance had come when we moved camp. Ms Fosse and Dr Candlewick had decided that whatever they had in store for me could not be carried out in the depths of Ffjordland. As Ms Fosse pointed out “I cannot possibly launch a PR campaign from the middle of nowhere Brian. It may be all very well for you scientists to do your work with no mobile signal and no internet access not to mention no hot water and [here I heard her draw in her breath and shudder] nowhere to, you know, er use the bathroom.”

“There isn’t a bathroom.” Candlewick sounded puzzled and a touch irritated.

“I mean, nowhere to powder one’s nose.”

“You’ve got a little mirror in your handbag,” he replied. “You’re always looking at it. Can’t you use that to check your make-up.”

“I mean Brian,” and here she sounded exasperated, “no toilet!”

“Oh, of course, yes, well, use the bush like everyone else.”

Here she started to scream at him and to throw things. I felt compelled to open my eyes and enjoyed the sight of him dancing around as Ms Fosse showered him with tins of food, papers and her clothes. He looked particularly fetching with a blue bra nested in his black locks.

“All right! All right!” he yelled. “We’ll…ow…move on…ouch! I didn’t intend to stay here for ever anyway. I’m not exactly going to find fame and fortune here am I?”

“I don’t care about your fame and fortune! I’ve got a whole perfume and shampoo range to promote. And I want a shower, a toilet and toilet paper!”

They argued thus for a while longer and I rather hoped they would forget about me, but no, regrettably they recalled me and, once they had packed up their belongings (an amusing spectacle involving much muttering and moaning as Dr Candlewick tried to stuff his large tent into a small bag) they forced me to my feet and marched me off back through the bush.

This was the point that I thought I might be able to run off. Surely I was strong enough to pull away from my captives and make a run (waddle?) for it. But here I discovered the drawbacks of my hunger strike. I was so weak I could hardly walk, let alone overthrow my captors. So I allowed myself to be dragged along and I vowed that, in the future, I would eat all the ginger biscuits I was offered.

We set up camp again that evening, though there was still much anger on Ms Fosse’s part as we were not yet anywhere near a wi-fi signal.

“I don’t think you want to get back to civilization,” she moaned at him. “You’re afraid! You’re afraid of that Professor Longbottom. You’re afraid everyone will laugh at you!”

“No I’m not!” His voice was loud and full of hurt. “Everyone will fall at my feet now! I’ll get the recognition I deserve! Won’t I?” I wondered how certain he actually was. All that was certain was that I would not help him in any way.

 

I must rest now. It has been tiring.

COMMENTS

Tex-Mex says:

Someone give him some ginger biscuits, quickly! And Ferdy, we all care about you!

 

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