Blackout

Turning on to my road last night, I began to feel a little uneasy. After the first street-light, all the others were dark – as if extinguished by Dumbledore’s putter-outter, or immediately preceding an attack by Dementors. In my head, I began composing a rant to Camden Council regarding their inability to keep our streets safe, until I reached sight of the end of the road (and my flat) and saw a small digger, a lot of men in hard-hats, and a small cluster of concerned people outside the now dark pub.

Frederick Street had suffered a massive power cut some hours previously, knocking out probably 30 or 40 homes and businesses. It was 6.30pm, I’d just walked all the way home from South Kensington (5 miles), and had a full-on evening of tasks planned – this was not helpful. My flatmates were found in darkness brightened by a couple of nightlights (one was buried under her duvet in an attempt to stay warm), but they had a dinner date, so at least had hot food forthcoming.

My plans for the evening seemed truly scuppered. Eating cottage pie; frosting two different sets of cupcakes; blogging; photo-editing; and watching a movie all required electricity. But, thankfully, our vicar’s wife came to my rescue! A kitchen was handed over, along with a load of icing paraphenalia and some willing (if over enthusiastic) children. Cups of tea were made and crime dramas watched. To paraphrase Phoebe Buffay’s fabulous Blackout song:

“Frederick Street has no power, and the milk is getting sour.
But for me it is not scary, because I’m hanging in the Rectory.”
Not going to lie, I was quite proud of that tweet. If you don’t appreciate the Friends reference, watch this

I returned home a few hours later, delighted to see that the street lights were shining brightly again. However, it turned out ours was the only building still dark – because no one had been in to speak to the electricians. Men in hard-hats faffed around for a couple of hours, eventually restoring power at 1am – for which we were exceedingly grateful. Who knows what caused it, or how long there’ll be a massive hole outside our front door, but at least we can see…

As is the way with such situations, I learnt some valuable lessons:

  • Hoarding candles and nightlight holders is actually a good thing – you never know when you might suddenly need two dozen candles.
  • Bathrooms can look rather pretty/romantic when lit with candlelight. 
  • There is an excellent argument against all those who think it’s acceptable to put used matches back into the matchbox – you can’t spot them when in a blackout, which is highly annoying. 
  • Watching crime dramas about serial killers who turn the power off immediately before they attack is not terribly reassuring TV viewing immediately before heading back to a home suffering from a power cut. (I have the vicar to thank for that one. But otherwise, Whitechapel on ITV1 is a good watch.) 
  • It’s good to have friends who live nearby.

Ashes to ashes…

Day five of the volcanic ash crisis…and perhaps the end is in sight (for Europe at least, Canada may be next).

Britain has yet again been reminded that it is most definitely an island nation – or rather, a nation comprised of several islands. For some reason we only realise this at moments of severe weather (freezing fog or extreme cold) or when all planes are grounded thanks to an Icelandic volcano. Despite the fact that we’ve always been surrounded by water, every time we lose our tenuous links with the mainland it comes as a surprise.

Many are saying that we’ve become too dependent upon fast, cheap air-travel, both for travel and for freight. Currently 400,000 Britons are stranded somewhere in the world (and this is after many have made it back from across the Channel) because they were on a short Easter holiday in the sun or a long-haul business trip. Supermarkets have no fresh Kenyan roses or packaged fruit salad. Should we really be relying upon overseas imports of flowers and unseasonal fruit and view regular flights to nice places as normality?

It struck me today that until I was 17, my experience of flying had been very limited. True, there was my inaugural 24 hour flight aged 6months when I returned from the tropics, but I didn’t set foot on another plane  until I was 10, and not again until I was 17 – that’s 3 trips in 17 years. In the last 10 I’ve been on 17. Admittedly, at least 7(ish) of those are thanks to the parents moving to Belfast and the fact that I’m lucky enough to have had some pretty interesting travelling opportunities, but I definitely take it for granted. I plan my Clinique purchases around my family’s flight schedules and have a well-defined Gatwick routine.

But, even with half the family in Ireland, it doesn’t have to come down to flying. There are ferries, which we’ve used, especially at Christmas, though the 8hour Belfast – Liverpool crossing is a tough test of endurance. When my Dad was a student in Dublin 30 years ago, flying there wasn’t even considered. The journey took a day and you accepted it. Thus, he was fairly non-plussed to find himself stranded in Manchester on Thursday morning. He discovered he could buy a train ticket to Dublin that included the ferry (a bargain at £27 – worth knowing) and got home late the same night.

My sister was stranded in Germany and had a little bit of a rawer deal as she was in the company of 20 choristers. (She has very entertaining holidays…) But, partly thanks to it being a school trip they were safely on a coach back to the UK hours before their original flight was due to depart. Yes, she had 20 hours in a confined space with young boys high on sugar, but at least she got home. Twenty years ago [I’ve actually just shocked myself by writing that…how am I this old?!?] our family went on its first holiday to Bavaria and we drove all the way – it took two days, but that’s what we did. [Random recollection from that drive: For a considerable amount of time I thought all German roads led to a town called ‘Ausgang’…turns out that was just the sign for an exit off the autobahn.] All three holidays that took place outside the UK during my childhood were reached by car, there was never any hint at flying somewhere.

Yes, lots of people are in unenviable situations, but (so far) this ‘disaster’ hasn’t killed anyone. As a bonus, the skies have been quiet – no noise or any other form of pollution being issued from the flying tin cans.

Perhaps we just need to slow down and take time over our journeys. Time is a luxury, but so is our planet and reckless (or even unthinking) flying is damaging it.

Should we really being relying upon planes to import fruit & veg just because we want to be able to eat it all year round?

Lots of questions, but few practical answers. Give it a week or so and things will go back to normal and we’ll have forgotten all about it. I’m not a Green – in all likelihood flight will continue to be my transport of choice to Ireland because I don’t have the time to spend a day getting there and back. My feet itch for destinations beyond the confines of Europe on a regular basis and while I can afford to, I’ll scratch that itch as often as I’m able. [Apologies, not an attractive metaphor.] But I do care for this planet and don’t want to act in a careless or reckless way.

Still, something to ponder, surely?

PS – If anyone’s in need of/interested in good quality, regularly updated information about volcanic travel, check out the Guardian’s live blog. Truly excellent and endlessly diverting.