Living without electricity


At twenty past eleven last night, while boiling the kettle for tea, the lights suddenly went out, the vague background hum of electrical devices one hardly notices gave way to silence. The electricity had all drained away, I've been quite absorbed in a few things of late and had forgotten to charge my key-meter (I buy my electricity £5 at a time). This has happened to me before. My first reaction is to look out the window to see if everyone else's lights are on, and in the street. Yep, just me that's without it. So I light the candles and transfer the nearly boiled water to a saucepan and finish it off on the gas-stove, which I have to light with a match rather than the electronic spark. I wonder for a moment, could there be a slim chance one Indian shop that has a key-charger is still open, but then I forget it, no way. I'm in for the duration. And because I've had a nap all evening on cushions in the lounge I'm just not tired, I'm like a cat who's stretched and licked his fur and is now looking at the inviting moon out of the window. I don't normally go to bed until just before dawn anyway. I was thinking of checking my email for the umpteenth time today and looking at a few websites. No longer an option. So I think to myself, okay settle into it. Shift mental gear.

I'm writing this on the floor in candlelight. Quite pleasant. Thinking of running out of electricity more often. I used to be annoyed with myself when I forgot to buy a bit more electricity and the lights went out too late to get to the shop, and would often feel forced to bed early. This time I just thought to myself take it for what it is and see what comes. I was in the mood for no electricity. I've been getting fed up of electricity anyway.

So while clumps of ice hugging the walls of the freezing compartment of the fridge are collapsing like the polar ice cap in miniature, I am kneading dough made with white flour, cold mashed potato, and a little water at three in the morning by the light of two candles. I flatten it out with my floured hands listening to my wind-up radio. I take it over chapatti-style to the hot dry frying pan (Le Crueset or other cast iron pan is best for this, or an Indian tava). I press down kala jeera and fennel seeds into the dough along with chilli flakes while the side to the pan's surface is baking over. Then I flip it, pour a little olive oil around the edge and fry on both sides. It's my own recipe for a cross between a potato scone and an aloo paratha, good with chutneys. I wouldn't normally consider doing all of this in near darkness, but I found a couple of candles was quite sufficient and made the whole thing a completely different experience, something I paid attention to and was totally absorbed in.

My eyes adjusted to the dark and when I went out to look at the stars I was surprised how many more I could see, an exceptional sky, one of the clearest I've ever seen in London. Could make out Alcyone in the Pleiades, and most of the rest of the stars in the cluster were quite distinct. Spent some time connecting up the sky, Orion at a pleasing angle, raising my head from Rigel up to Betelgeuse and on up to Castor and Pollux, round to Auriga, the dimmer stars in Gemini perfectly visible, Aldebaran looking confident in Taurus, in fact I had never realised Aldebaran provides another way to locate Polaris, by drawing a line through Capella in Auriga. Maybe it just happened to be an extremely clear night, but I couldn't help thinking it was because my eyes hadn't been flooded by electric light and a computer screen for hours on end.

There's other unexpected and interesting discoveries to be made as well. I look up from my cushion on the floor to see what time it is as I've done a million times before and there's no time there. No red LED numbers on my clock-radio, just a dark corner. And I thought, 'great, this is like being set adrift'. Why did I want to know what time it was anyway? Just habit. It's dark, it's the middle of the night, and if I really want it any more exact then Procyon is just above the houses. Doesn't that sound lot better than a quarter past four? Procyon, in Canis Minor, means 'before the dog', so-named because it rises before the Dog star, Sirius.