This year Christmas roared into our village, chased into being by the 85mph winds that first visited Kent on the afternoon of 23rd December, and keep revisiting rhythmically ever since.
At 9pm on 23rd, the lights and TV flickered, buzzed out, then fought back to life. This happened twice more before all electrical appliances finally conceded defeat and crept into a corner to lick their wounds. For over 16 hours. Of course, it’s quite funny at first, an adventure to be lived not endured – ‘remember the Christmas when…?’ – even on 23rd December. After all, you don’t expect power to be gone for very long. Candles were unearthed (fortunately, it being Christmas, there were a few already lurking around the place); we grabbed all our camping lighting, and sat in semi-darkness checking Facebook for updates from others in the village and surrounding areas (turned out it was only us, in the immediate vicinity, who had lost power); until of course we realised that without electricity we couldn’t charge our mobiles, so then social networking was out of the question.
At 9.30, it seemed like a good idea to go to bed. We had my inlaws staying with us so extra duvets were donated and everyone assumed that light – and therefore heat – would return to us in the morning. It didn’t. By this point, proper cold was creeping in. I found battery life on my tablet and learned that freezers stay frozen for around 16 hours, as long as you don’t open them, so ours was kept resolutely shut. The turkey was placed by the badly-sealed garage door for that refrigerator-style environment (it was freezing in the garage – and not only freezing, but, well, something else as well – that’s coming up…). The ‘old-fashioned’ phone – the one that doesn’t need electricity to function – became star of the show, and my dad and stepmother mobilised as emergency Christmas hosts – if required; while we begged an audience with my mother for showers and a giant cool bag for aforementioned turkey.
All this seemed eminently practical in terms of decisions, I mean, who needs electricity, that sort of thing – until we realised that the entire extension – garage and office and utility room (the latter two are actually the same place, divided by usage rather than building techniques) were leaking. The garage had channeled its leaks into five or six places, rhythmically dripping through various ingress points under which we rapidly placed all the buckets and largish receptacles we could find. The office / utility room, however, had a roof that had simply given up the ghost altogether, and the entire wall was awash (if this is possible), the floor an ice-rink, a skating party which we were most definitely not equipped for.
I’m renowned for often insane levels of optimism (think the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “It’s just a flesh wound!”) but at this point, even for me, it was a struggle to look on the bright side (another Python link excuse, oh why not). Water water everywhere and obviously no time for the roofer – who came out on Christmas Eve, which was incredibly kind – to fix it before New Year; an insurance company who said ‘Flat roof eh, that’ll be general wear and tear, we’re not likely to cover that’ (there has been a better outcome than expected, however, we’re very fortunate – or alternatively, since insurance should actually insure one against events like this, it should simply be the case that this outcome is the fair one…); and no, still no electricity (I tried to dry the utility room from the heat of my anger at the insurers – merry Christmas, join us on hold for 90 minutes – but remarkably my inner fury didn’t appear to externalise into anything to evaporate the lake). It was looking like a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons.
There was a happy ending, and we were incredibly lucky. Power came back on about 2pm Christmas Eve. The heating kicked in; the lights came back; and the turkey’s position near the draughty garage door clearly did the trick since it didn’t poison anyone on Christmas Day. The water’s still coming in, and some extra leaky parts have arrived to say ‘hello’; but we’ve not had the wind / rain combination as viciously as 23rd, so it hasn’t been as drastic and I’m faster on the draw with the buckets, anyway, which helps. I cannot imagine what it would have been like had we come to 6pm Christmas Eve and realised that that was that till after the Bank Holiday. I know we would have coped; it would have been an adventure for the Ls; and family would have pulled together to make sure Christmas happened and no-one got too cold or wet; but it would have been difficult, and it might even have been awful. My heart goes out to those in Tonbridge, Maidstone and other places so close to here where the story was very different. Our sixteen hours in the darkness – actually and metaphorically – made me realise how utterly dependent I am on the background conveniences of our lifestyle; and how fortunate I am that these exist in the first place.