Friday, March 14, 2008

Attention Adelaideans: back to the olden days

I can't remember when it was that we actually got onto the power grid, down on the farm in the old days. I was probably still quite a little kid but I do have clear memories of the days before that when power came from the generator in the shed, and if something went wrong with the generator then it was back to kerosene lamps and candles. (And, if it was winter, open fires in the bedrooms and hot-water bottles in the beds, though I think we had those anyway.) Traditionally when the generator went cattywumpus we all sat round the kitchen table in the soft lamplight and played board games.

Given that the farmhouse was three miles from the township and a mile from the next farmhouse, we were a little island of light in a sea of darkness, unless of course there was a moon, or someone drove up the road past our gate and we watched as the headlights approached and then receded. My folks could usually tell who the driver was by the sound of the engine, the direction the car was travelling in, and the time of night. And I now know from experience that you internalise that kind of early security and carry it with you for the rest of your life.

What is it that has me musing on these bygone idylls? Why, the fact that Adelaide broke two more heat records over the last 24 hours, including Hottest March Night On Record (it didn't get below 30 degrees last night) and the power supply is being tested to its limits. There was a stressed-looking woman on the teeve tonight (though everyone in Adelaide is stressed-looking at the moment, so perhaps that's not relevant) from ETSA saying she thought that although the power supplies have held up amazingly so far, sooner or later all the aircon being left on all night -- few Adelaide houses are currently habitable without doing this -- was going to blow up something important and the power outages would start.

So I hope my fellow Adelaideans all know where the torches and the candles are and can find them in the dark when the lights go out. Last time I lost power here I set up five or six candles at different heights on the lounge-room table and sat there reading by candlelight. It was eerie and beautiful, with its interlocking circles of soft silver-gilt light, and most of all it was astonishingly peaceful and restful. I'm almost looking forward to a power cut so I can sit in the candlelight again, think of my late lamented Ma, and feel as though I'm pushing back the dark.


Anonymous said...

""... and most of all it was astonishingly peaceful and restful."

Yes, but was it freaking hot?

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of fieldwork in a remote, hot part of SA, based in an old corrugated iron hut that was a Shrine to Botanists Past.

When the petrol generator was finally silent, light came from lovely antique chimney lanterns or, more brightly, from gas lamps.

The sound of the lamp, the smell & spectacle of kamikaze moths, anxious geckos crowding the window pane. In summer, ambient sweat and radiant heat, & in winter maybe a roast lamb in the wood stove.

Did I mention scorpions?

The Feral Abacus

Hilary said...

Apparently our power came from a generator when I was a child too. I can still remember the generator but not running. Now I have an unpowered cabin in the mountains where I read by candlelight. But I don't go there in hot weather. Are you mad?

Bernice said...

One of the many things I love about candlelight is how form & volume are so altered in the domestic environment. Moderne space renders itself as darkness, loss - while surfaces & objects may glow, hum, fabrics can resume a subtlety of form and texture, synthetic dyes dull, & oil & shellac finishes have an warmth very very lacking from the usual two pack urethanes.
But I would hate to have sew by candlelight.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Just the other day, I read this, in a book about the Bayeux tapestry:
The Paris Guild of Embroiderers and Embroideresses in 1303 banned anyone working by candlelight, 'for work done at night cannot be so well or skillfully done as that by day'.

But Pav, your post makes me think of the modern extreme green movement, which says we should all, pretty much, go to bed when it's dark...

... and not, as Melbourne is contemplating, moving one's Formula One race to an evening time. Quelle horreur!!

Anonymous said...

Been thinking about you trapped in the heat, pavlov. Though we in Melbourne and its distant outposts have been sharing much of it, we have had a few breaks under 30 to recover some semblance of humanity (though not today). I live now where the power is fickle, and the generator too much trouble unless the house is about to burn down or the freezer unfreeze, and the children love the candle and torch brigade. I'm sure you know that pearls went out of fashion once electric light was introduced - their sheen and glow was fostered by candlelight and gas, and lost in electric glare...

Anonymous said...

You kids had generators! For us on a farm out of Casino it was Tilly Lamps and a wood stove summer and winter. Perhaps a kerosene 'fridge but I don't think so. And hot? I remember the bitumen pavements in Lismore used to melt and stick to the soles of our shoes and when they cooled there were great abysses crazing the now hazardous walkways. To cool the house for the baby a wet (army) blanket was hung at each end of the central hallway and the breezes if any kept that the coolest area of the house. Fortunately during March I had relocated to the near south coast and we endured and read a lot of books.

Anonymous said...