Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out was first conceived as a fictional daily blog on the Elstead Writers Group WordPress site. I challenged myself to write every day for nearly a year, as if I really was living through a nationwide long term power cut, reacting to the weather conditions in the real world and also the real power cuts of that winter.
Powerless is now available on Kindle and also in paperback on Amazon.
Here are the first entries:
Tuesday, October 8
The power’s been off for five days now. Everyone’s saying it’s like this all over the country and they don’t know when it will come back on again.
Some people are saying the national grid has been sabotaged and we’ll be without power for months. At first there were radio bulletins declaring a national state of emergency, telling everyone to stay calm. They also announced that the Government has been moved to Chequers and the Royal Family have been evacuated to Balmoral. But now we can’t get any more news on the radio, as apparently they were relying on backup generators which could not last forever. The village shop sold out of fresh bread and milk the day it happened. People were anxious but not panicking, though some were struggling to understand why they couldn’t pay with debit cards. Luckily, Martin had sold his record collection on E-Bay for cash only a week ago, so we actually had money in our pockets. We stocked up on dry goods and longlife milk and I’m now beginning to think about what else we will need if we are stuck without power for a long time. Being used to bad weather in the country I’ve always laid in a good stock of food for the winter, but I can’t rely on the freezer now and must think carefully how to use what we have. It is strange to live without TV and the papers, or any kind of diversion. So I’ve decided to keep this diary, partly to record what we learn in case we are in it for the long term and also in case, for whatever reason, I am no longer here. Life has suddenly become very different to the way it was before. There are no trains, no commuting to London, no television and no computers. We can still charge our mobile phones, but the transmitters must be down now and the landline is dead. We no longer know what it is happening in the world, let alone our own country.
Wednesday, October 9
Today we have finished a strange soup I made with the vegetables that are normally frozen. Peas, broad beans, sweetcorn and spinach all stewed together with the last of the tomatoes and diced bacon for protein. We have no bread left now, but we didn’t waste a single crumb, unlike before. The last crusts, hard though they were, tasted good softened in our freezer soup. I am annoyed with myself though for not making better use of the meat we had in the freezer. It was hard to believe that the power would not come on again in a day or two. So by the time we realised how hard things might be, we had already eaten some chicken pieces andsome of the minced beef. But once we began to get a clearer idea of our predicament I decided to preserve what could be kept. So I have a belly of pork and half a leg steeped in salt, which my oldest recipe book calls ‘dry cure’ and which I am praying will help the meat keep. I have made a big pot of stew with the shin of beef and the rest of the mince I made into meatballs with a little onion and stale breadcrumbs, then cooked them through. They keep for a few days in a cool place and aren’t too dry heated up in a little flavoured stock. I used to serve them Italian style in a tomato sauce, but I am holding back on my tinned tomatoes for now. I don’t know whether to think we are fortunate that the weather has turned colder or not. Cold means the foods normally kept in the fridge and freezer are still usable, but the drop in temperature, especially overnight, means we need to keep the fire going for warmth as well as cooking. I’ve never cooked in our inglenook fireplaces before, but Martin has rearranged the firedogs so we can hang pans and kettles over the heat. I wanted to keep both fires going in the house, but Martin says we should conserve our wood and use just the one room until we go to bed. I am trying not to worry about the children, they are adults, after all. But the country must be safer than the towns and cities. Stephen last rang us four days ago and Jane has not been able to call for five days. I must try not to worry. The hens laid four eggs today.
Thursday, October 10
We spent this morning collecting barrowloads of kindling from the surrounding hedgerows and fields. We have had another dry day and the wood will burn straight away. Once the weather changes and we have long periods of rain it will be difficult to dry the wood out. We are stacking it in the greenhouse, shed and garage, as well as filling baskets in the house. We still have a supply of firelighters for the moment, but cannot rely on being able to get any more. We also have a stack of old newspapers which we retrieved from the recycling bin as the rubbish collectors have not been on their normal rounds. This paper, together with dry twigs and the fir cones we’ve collected, will light our fires in the weeks to come. Martin has also been splitting logs from the seasoned wood which has been drying out over the last couple of years. We were sad when some mature trees, oak, apple and pine, fell in the last bad winter, but now we are very grateful for the firewood these have produced. It’s a good mix of hard and soft woods which burns well. It’s hard work gathering, splitting and stacking all this wood, but we know it’s essential if we are to stay warm and be able to cook and heat water. We are stacking the logs wherever we have a sheltered corner outside, in the porch, the lean-to and the old coal bunker. But I have drawn a line, so far, at letting Martin stack logs in the hall and drawing room. This is still a house, not a wood shed, I’ve said. We may be cold, but there are limits and filling the alcoves provided by the inglenooks is enough. 4 eggs
Friday, Oct 11A cold day. The weather changed last night. There was a bitter wind blowing this morning and although the sun shone for a bit it could not raise the temperature. It has made us realise just how cold we are all going to be this winter. Stephen arrived with Anna last night. Both were cold and very frightened. They were afraid to stay in Woking any longer. People have been looting the shops and taking goods they cannot possibly use. What is the point of stealing a flat screen TV in a power cut? A bag of flour has far greater value and I would gladly welcome it. I have six 1.5kg bags of flour, as well as pasta, rice and a large sack of potatoes, but I have not worked out just how long it will all last. Anna sensibly brought food with her to add to our stock and they also thought to bring their warmest clothes. And then we all sat by the fire and worried about Jane. We hope she is safe for the moment, as she said she would stay inside until there was further news. Martin wants to go and fetch her from her student flat in Bournemouth. The car has plenty of petrol as we had fortunately both filled up on separate journeys the day before the power went off. Martin had also filled up the four petrol cans we normally use for the garden machinery, so we at least have fuel for the time being. After talking it over we decided that Martin and Stephen will go together. And though none of us likes the idea, they will take Martin’s air rifle. If there is looting there may be other disturbances and a car with petrol will be a target. Martin will stick to the back roads and will drive through the night in the hope of meeting no one on the journey. Anna is concerned for her parents and sisters too, but they are too far to be reached, down in Cornwall. We are all trying to reassure her that as they live in a rural coastal area they will have food and the resources to keep well. Only 2 eggs today.