Yesterday afternoon I was thrown out of the cinema. Friend and I had gone to see our favourite film before it went off. Quarter of an hour into the familiar dialogue, chuckling at the jokes we’d laughed at before, the film disappeared and a weak little light appeared at the top of the stairs. We waited for them to fix the tape, but instead a girl appeared and said it was a power cut. Great gnashing of teeth. I was thankful for the feeble light by the stairs, imagining what it would have been like to have been plunged into total darkness, and a stampede for the only exit at the bottom of the stairs.
Sitting around outside, they finally told us to go home. Couldn’t give us a refund, because the till wouldn’t open without electricity. So they gave us another ticket.
Before going home, I said I’d just get some tomatoes for my husband’s supper – cold – since I was going to Tai Chi. The grocery was in flat panic. Dark, with no lights, blinds down over the open chilled shelves. I asked to give them some money for the tomatoes, but they had to go to the back and find the key to manually open the till. Then they didn’t know how much they were, because the price would have come up on the till… so off they went to the office to find the list of stock prices, and finally I managed to buy the tomatoes. Thank heavens I didn’t need any petrol. The whole little town was buzzing in despair and panic, no-one could even go to the loo.
Back home, I thought about The Great Storm of four years ago. Most of the country had been blacked out, but power was restored over a few days. In our neck of the woods however, where concrete power poles had been crumbled all over the road like biscuit crumbs, and a tree had come down over the generator across the road from us, we were powerless for five days.
A different world opens up. We catch rainwater on the roof, store it in a huge tank, and pump it into the house. But no electricity equals no pump, equals no water. No water for drinking, washing, washing clothes, washing dishes, flushing the loo. No power meant no cooking, no lighting, and no TV or stereo. Luckily we could open our garage manually, but some friends had no other way of getting into their garages, and were marooned with their car behind the immoveable garage door.
So I boiled water on a camp fire and on the wood burning heater, fried eggs and bacon, and boiled soup. Didn’t dare open the deep freeze for fear of losing the still frozen contents, and resented opening the fridge for butter, milk and the like. The village store was in darkness, their fridges going on a generator, the garage was closed. No help at the fish and chip shop. Unwashed dishes piled up. Unwashed clothes accumulated. We had to get used to unwashed bodies. Some people cooked on their barbecues, some people had no form of heating except electricity, and froze.
After a couple of days we began to gingerly adjust. I drove to a nearby town which had the power on, and bought water and lots of extra pairs of underpants and panties. My husband thought of using buckets of water from the swimming pool next door – my daughter’s holiday home – to flush the loo. I never got used to not having my electric blanket, but at least we had a hot water bottle. Candles made the house look and feel beautiful, but the light wasn’t good enough to read by at night. Some neighbours used miners’ lamps, clipping them round their heads to go to bed and read. It worked apart from the large circle in the middle of their foreheads from the pressure.
I read today that the Blessed Bill Gates has offered a prize for a loo that works without water, electricity or a septic tank – all components of our system here – a loo that costs only five cents a day to run, preferably captures energy, and discharges no pollutants. A number of brilliant solutions have been invented. And the idea is to provide safe sanitation for the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have it.
I think we should all be able to buy these loos. Our over-crowded world desperately needs sustainable solutions like these for everything. We need alternatives to electricity, oil and coal … we need a dozen more Bill Gates’s to find solutions that involve the sun’s sustainable energy, the wind, the waves. For a few days, we in our village experienced a few temporary discomforts when power was unavailable, but were able to get outside help from places that did have power.
But there will surely come a time when there won’t be enough of anything. The world’s population is estimated to grow to between nine and ten billion within forty years – the lifetime of our grand-children. Two hundred years ago the population of England and Wales was eight million, compared with 56 million now, and it’s the same sort of increase all over the world. So we urgently need more solutions like Bill Gates’s loos.
This is not cause for despair, for all is not lost. Mankind is brilliant at creating marvellous inventions, and resolving problems when it wants to. I’m reading a book called ‘The Great Disruption’ by Paul Gilding about how you and I can do something to help resolve these problems. Watch this space – I’ll let you know!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Having had lunch with a friend in her bay window overlooking a long, white, empty beach nearby, and then afternoon tea with a couple of friends to swap books, I hadn’t really thought about what to feed us in the evening. Something quick was wanted, so I fell back on my old standby, my un-orthodox version of kedgeree, made with a tin of salmon – cheap too.
A cup of long grain rice on the boil, two eggs on the boil, half a cup each of sultanas and frozen peas soaking in boiling water, and I was ready to begin. After gently frying a chopped onion in oil until soft, I added a couple of cloves of garlic and a chopped up knob of fresh ginger (you can always use powdered, but fresh is nicer).
When the garlic is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of powdered cumin, turmeric and a bit less of coriander into the pan, and let them cook gently. I sometimes also use some made up curry powder as well, and vary the amounts of the spices depending on how hot I want it. Better to start with less, and increase it, than find it’s burning the roof off your mouth (I have been known to add some brown sugar to take the edge off a too hot curry).
Now open the tin of salmon and drain, and add it to the mix in the frying pan. Drain the peas and sultanas and stir them in. Add a knob of butter if it needs lubricating. Drain the rice, and add this, gently stirring with lots of chopped parsley. I always find that adding another generous knob of butter improves the taste. Pile onto the plates and chop a hardboiled egg over each helping. Usual caveat – serves two greedy people generously, and three to four well-behaved people – add an egg for each person.
Food for Thought
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
No, not the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, but a translation from the Upanishads by Satish Kumar Born 1937. Jain monk, nuclear disarmament campaigner, founder of Schumacher College, in Devon, England which teaches green values and sustainability, and present editor of Resurgence magazine