Just Like The Old Days

Yesterday the power went out for almost three hours. Nick had his friend over – a boy I like to refer to as the second son I never had – so dear is he.

Suddenly, everything went dead. It is amazing how that electrical hum fills the background of our days. We are so used to it we don’t even notice it until it’s gone.

The street was quiet except for the occasional car. What was funny though was that everyone rushed out into the street as if seeking reassurance they weren’t the only one without a fully functioning house.

When we realised we were all in it together the griping started –

bloody Energy Australia

I’ve got things to do

We pay enough in power bills, can’t they guarantee a supply?

Energy Australia couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery

But it wasn’t long until the laughs started –

One woman was half way through mixing up the ingredients for a cake.Ā  Her stove was electric. She decided to try and cook a chocolate cake on the barbecue.

Another girl had been blow drying and curling her hair with one of those fancy new curling wands. Only one side of her head was done. Her mother found an old set of rollers in her wardrobe and decided to curl her hair the old-fashioned way, sitting in the sun to let it dry.

People decided to finish writing reports for work by hand or calling people on the land line instead of emailing. Within half an hour, the kids in the street, dragged away from their computers and Playstations were out on their bikes, skateboards and rollerblades.

Nick and his friend played card games, action hero games with the old Star Wars light sabers that sit in the cupboard, and listened to my old AM radio.

There was an air of conviviality, of let’s-get-on-with-things. It was refreshing.

The only down side was that my fish, without a proper filtration system, were getting a little stressed, so I spent a good hour blowing oxygen into the water with straws.

I saw a family of currawongs in the stringybark tree looking quizzically at one another. They noticed the hum was gone too. Their carolling call was loud in its absence. They were taken aback by it.

It was odd to stand in the kitchen without the rolling ebb and flow of the fridge or the occasional ping of some nameless appliance. There was charm and a sense of liberation about boiling water on the stove (thank God for gas) for coffee, or grilling ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches.

The power, the alternating currents, the direct currents; they assist us with our day to day living; but they bind us too. We are enslaved by our time-saving devices.

How nice it was to drink coffee from the stove top, sitting in the sun and hearing nothing but the clear brush of the wind against my skin. Birds chattered to one another in stage whispers. A lone dog barked just once, experimenting with the silence. And then there was nothing but breathing and thinking.

When the power came back on it was an anticlimax. As if fearful that someone had missed it, people rushed back out into the street calling : ‘It’s on. It’s back on.’

A series of cars started up, hurriedly leaving as if people had been afraid to go anywhere in a world without power, as if the most important thing when the power goes off is to wait for it to come back on again.

And so we went about our business like nothing had ever happened. The fridge shuddered as if awaking from sleep. The answering machine went through its annoying start up sequence. The clock radio flashed the hour. And the cicadas, hiding in the shrubbery, quiet the whole time, began their heated droning as if powered by protons and electrons.

18 thoughts on “Just Like The Old Days

  1. Ha! Last time we had a power cut, I made some coffee when a neighbour came round, and wanted to know how I did it.

    Easy, I said. I used a cafetiere, instead of my usual coffee machine, and my old camping kettle instead of an electric jug to boil the water. And, we have a gas stove ….

    But, the igniters are electric, she said.

    Well. she did do the head-slapping bit when I said try a match.

    (This is the same woman who came around to borrow some frozen chips. I didn’t have any to spare, but said she could have some potatoes … she said, she couldn’t believe she did that and she had five pounds of potatoes in her kitchen)

    And, she’s not a blonde!


  2. What a fun experience, Selma! Maybe it would be nice if that happened briefly on a regular basis so that everyone could enjoy a bit of “unplugged” time… especially the kids who’ve forgotten what it means to go out and play. I love the quiet. Noise agitates me, even background noise. It’s amazing how many things our brains learn to filter out or filter thru that we aren’t even aware of until they stop. I’m glad your fishies survived the power down though, that’s not so fun.


  3. we are spoiled aren’t we?? but how nice it is when you bring to light how amazingly active life becomes when it is not automated… maybe a power outage a day is what we need to get our young people back playing kick ball in the streets…. and neighbors talking to each other…..


  4. Funny, I remember a similar experience a few years back when our power went out. Once we determined that every thing was ok, we sat on the stoop watching the world go by with our neighbours…

    The power did come back, but we stayed outside. Reconnect with real people — it was lovely and started a Friday evening tradition.


  5. it’s always weird when the power goes out without the push of a storm to do it.

    when the power goes out in the summer whether theres a storm or not, i really like it….especially early evening. it slows down the pace completely and pulls the family together.

    different scenario when its winter… many lost their power last week during the blizzard we had here. fortunately we didn’t. it gets bloody cold very fast…


  6. Isn’t it strange how the “interuptions” in life have a way of bringing us together? This was a great post to read. Makes me realise that it shouldnt take a power outage etc…to stop and just chat awhile, or do something the “old fashioned way” .

    Having said that, Im always glad when the fridge starts humming again. LOL šŸ˜‰ Great post, as usual. Thanks Sel.

    Hugs, G


    Oh, that is hilarious. Thanks for a good chuckle. šŸ˜†

    It is amazing how much background noise there is that is man-made. I think we have learned to tune it out. I agree, there should be regular ‘no power’ moments. What this experience has led me to realise is that we could go back to basics and survive if we had to (but I’d need to get a generator for the fish tanks!)

    That is what struck me the most. Without all of our gadgets we sought one another out. Perhaps we hide behind them more than we should.

    Now that is fantastic. It’s so nice to do that. I used to do that in my old street, but in my present street however, we have a few feuding neighbours so it just wouldn’t work. The reason for the feud? Selfish home renovations. One neighbour cut out all of the other’s sun with a second storey. I’ve been in the affected house – it is so dark. Why do people do these things???

    You’re right. In summer it’s really nice, but in winter it can be quite hazardous. I remember when I lived in the UK there was one winter in the 1970s where there were a lot of power cuts due to industrial action. I believe a few elderly people died as a result. I think it was one of the factors that prompted my parents to move to Australia.

    It really is funny what reminds us of our humanity. Usually it is some kind of interruption, as you say. I’m with you though – I do like a humming fridge. šŸ˜€


  8. Beautifully written as always. The birds noticing the lectrickery gone was a lovely touch and the whole thing has a real spirit and sense of place.


  9. PAUL:
    Cheers. Those birds really wondered what was up. I often ponder what they must make of this world we have built around them.


  10. Yanno thats almost sad it takes a power outage for all of us to appreciate the SIMPLE things in life! I think my son could use a fake power outage just to get him away from the video games for a day or two!


  11. I’m not trying to play any kind of one upsmanship game here, but when the power goes out around my neck of the woods at this time of the year (freezing cold) it gets real old, real fast.

    But your point about our gadgets is well taken. Since I never miss a chance to quote Kwai Chang Caine of Kung Fu, here it is – “We are owned by what we own”.


  12. I’ve always loved power outages for that reason – it simplifies everything. But, like the person that rushed out yelling “It’s back on!” – I don’t care for extended outages. In Idaho, it’s much more tolerable than in Texas, where people died of the heat. Then again, if we were to have an outage during the winter here, I’m sure it might be the same state of affairs. šŸ˜‰


  13. Love this essay, Selma. Reminds me to get “unplugged” now and then. Perhaps I’ll treat “Louie” (our lovable Golden Retreiver mix) to an early, early, early morning walk in just a few moments.
    I’m commenting at several of your posts today, and just commented about your references to fish(in the post on “walking at night”/divorce).Than I read this about the power off, and your fish-tank. Hope your “babies” are alright. What a good Mommy you are, blowing oxygen to them!


  14. Well guess what – over here in South India, we’re having a 30 minute power cut every day as the rains didn’t fall as expected last year. Power failures are a way of life. I just use a newspaper to swat away the mosquitoes and make coffee on the gas stove.


  15. MELEAH:
    Know exactly what you mean about the video games. I thought my son wasn’t going to cope but he ended up having a great time. It was good to see!!

    There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from ‘Kung Fu.’ We are owned by what we own, I think.

    Yeah, OK, you win. You guys would freeze to death in a power outage. I know. Yadda yadda yadda….. šŸ˜†

    In the cold it is quite dangerous. I remember reading about power cuts in Russia a while back in midwinter. That is plain dangerous. On a nice summer’s day though, it’s quite refreshing to do without the gadgets for a while!

    Louie sounds like a lovely dog. I bet you’re a great Mama. I love my little babies too, even though I can’t take them for walks!!

    That’s awful. I had no idea. It must be a real pain in the neck. I hope it doesn’t go on indefinitely.


  16. Such truth, and what a wonderful write! Your observations so precise – I felt like I was there – would have loved to join you for a cup of coffee šŸ™‚

    and I have no idea what these are, but I adore the sound of “currawongs in the stringybark” I think that sounds like a great title for a children’s book

    now off to Google to find out what they are!!


  17. KAYT:
    That means a lot to me. I guess that’s my style when it all comes down to it – conversation and whimsy.

    You’ve probably already done it but a currawong is an Aussie bird a bit like a magpie and a stringybark is a tree. Sometimes I forget that not everyone is Australian. Ooops!!


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