When we got back from our walk about 4:30 this afternoon, we found the house in darkness and none of the switches would turn on a light. Our daughter was sitting bathed in the eery light of her laptop display. "Power cut", she said.
It's been a while since we had a proper power cut. This is, after all and despite appearances, one of the world's most advanced economies. I did oversleep a couple of weeks ago because we'd had one during the night, and my antiquated bedside radio alarm cannot reset itself, but that's the only one I can recall in the past year or two.
What you rediscover at such moments is how deeply you take things like electric light for granted. Turn off the power, and the darkness returns, instantly. Silence, too. The electric kettle won't work, the fridge is off, the radio is off, the computers are down, the central heating pump has stopped, there's nothing except the annoying tick of a battery-operated wall clock. It's quite fun, really, until you trip over your own carelessly-dropped backpack in the hall, going to fetch candles.
It didn't take long to return ourselves to something like 19th century conditions. We put candles and nightlights in strategic spots, and had a pan of water heating on the gas stove. We know where we keep the torches and the batteries. But once you try to actually do something more complicated than admiring your partner's hair in the candlelight you realise how difficult life must have been at night, before electricity.
Just making a pot of tea is quite tricky. Pouring boiling water in semi-darkness is not very sensible, to start with. You simply can't see inside the teapot, so it's hard to judge -- other than by weight -- when enough water has been poured in. In fact, it's hard to judge whether the water is going in the teapot at all. So the prospect of preparing a meal by candlelight was not enticing. Unless you were wearing chain-mail fire-proof gauntlets, you'd probably want to leave that until daylight.
Reading? Forget about it -- I can't imagine how anyone coped with any sort of close work, especially in the days before the widespread availability of spectacles. Evenings, for the elderly and short-sighted, must have been fraught with hazards. No wonder everything always had its allotted place, preferably inside a cupboard or drawer: you were less likely to trip over stuff or walk into it. I guess you'd probably have hunkered down by the fire with a simple meal and got to bed very early indeed. No wonder families were so large.
But, as I walked down to the corner shop to get some more matches, the streetlights suddenly came back on, and we were restored to the 21st century. You could hear muffled cheers coming from inside houses all down the street and a few chirping smoke alarms, presumably triggered by all the candle-smoke. It was a little trial run, I suppose, of how things could be going in the future.