In March our local area was plunged into almost total darkness as the result of an electrical outage. Cue a lot of stumbling round the house tripping over things, cursing our woeful lack of gas canisters for the camping stove/spare batteries for the torches/emergency planning in general.
Small One, very much a child of the 21st Century, was lying in bed when the lights went out and began emitting a single note wail, reminiscent of a wolf howling, until someone headed up stairs to assure her that despite the fact that her CD of Disney Classics had abruptly and unexpectedly stopped playing in the middle of ‘A Whole New World’ the apocalypse had not in fact occurred. Beloved, in the manner of an APR Warden during the Blitz, headed out into the eerily dark street, armed with a man-sized torch, to check general civilian defences and also the neighbours. The outage occurred at 9.30 in the evening so by that time many of our most elderly neighbours had already been in bed for an hour and three quarters, and remained blissfully unawares that anything had actually happened. To her glee, Small One had been allowed to come downstairs and was busily assisting with the distribution of lanterns and candle holders. She had stopped wailing and, realising that something of an adventure was afoot, started sharing all the facts she had recently learned during the World War II topic she had been covering in school: “Maybe there’ll be rationing again Mum.”
I have always enjoyed an electrical outage. Due to a problem at a local substation it was a frequent occurrence during my childhood. The house would be cosy and candlelit and we would sit around the fire and play board games while Dad toasted bread on the poker. It was like a camping holiday but indoors and on a school night.
Thus I was enjoying the sudden plunging of Thompson Towers into inky blackness. None of the devices would work which always makes me delighted. Every corner was lit by the flickering glow of candles (I just knew those 5000 Ikea tea-lights for £1.50 would come in handy eventually). Small One was peacefully settled back in bed enjoying her cosy candlelit bedroom. Beloved had returned from his reconnaissance mission and all was present and correct. I was just settling down to squint at a good book in the half-light when disappointingly the electric came back on. The restful back-to-basics atmosphere was immediately banished by the glare of electric lights which seemed invasive and overly bright in comparison.
Once more the howling of a wolf pup could be heard upstairs. This time, out of disappointment that the lights had come back on. I went upstairs to blow out the candles and she was sitting up in bed indignantly. “I’m not finished pretending it is wartime mum.” I assured her that we can turn all the lights off and pretend it’s wartime any time she wants. I can curtail access to the fridge, force her to wear itchy tights made out of recycled wool, replace the toilet paper with wire wool and wash her face with a scrubbing brush just to increase the sense of realism.
No sooner it seemed we had packed the candles away, however, than daylight saving was upon us with Easter not far behind and it was time to pack the things of winter and proverbial darkness away for another year. Easter, in 2019, turned out to be, almost, but not quite, the latest it can be in the Gregorian calendar. You might be wondering how Easter can vary by such a degree each year. Well, in the immortal words of Father Ted: “That would be an ecumenical matter.” For it was the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church who decided how Easter should be calculated in AD 325 at the Council of Nicaea. They concluded that Easter Sunday should be the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
This year Easter Sunday fell on April 21st. The latest possible date is April 25th which apparently we will celebrate in 2038. The untidiness of this pleases me enormously. This is the age of the Fitbit. We are slaves to our Apple Watches. Or some omnipresent woman named Alexa who gives us inaccurate information in an untimely fashion, reliably bungling many simple household tasks which we are quite capable of performing ourselves with 100% accuracy, while we bellow at her from the adjoining room. We live in a delusional sense of universal mastery despite being rendered almost completely impotent the very instant the internet goes down.
In the midst of this grand technological experiment, dreamt up by some crackpots during their gap year in India in 1974, the moon continues to quietly orbit the earth. Entirely unconcerned by Black Friday, blithely untroubled by the rise and fall of the Bitcoin, unencumbered by an Instagram account, it continues on its way. And yet, anyone who wants to know when the spring bank holidays are going to be, must still adhere to its immutable ways at least once a year.
Schemes to regulate this situation have inevitably been dreamt up in the intervening sixteen centuries. They have always failed. No doubt it is only a matter of time, however, before Amazon decides that the bank holiday is proving too hard to manage. Celebrating Easter on a Sunday is inconvenient. Instead we will have Purple Wednesday™, where on the final Wednesday of March each year we will all parade through the streets waving inflatable rabbits whilst dousing ourselves in melted Diary Milk. There will be a corresponding sale on small electrical goods for which people will start queuing in the early hours of Lilac Tuesday.
But it hasn’t happened yet. So this year, the ancient ecumenicals had their way once more. Easter was laughably, inconveniently, late. And by the time we had recovered from Lindt-poisoning it was May and summer was nearly upon us.
Unfortunately the milder air and increased light doesn’t just coax the contents of the greenhouse into life. The weeds love it too. So over the last several weeks I have been making my way around the borders weeding, pruning and moving plants. This has led to a sore back and sunburned neck. Not to mention frequently exchanging pleasantries with callers while they look as fresh as a daisy and I look like a perspiring wreck with my hair plastered to my face and with muck in every crevice.
Small One chose to inform me several days after the event that during a recent interchange with the postman I was sporting so much dirt on my face it looked like a moustache. She found this hilarious. He was too polite to mention it at the time, though I did think he looked mildly amused about life in general that day.
During these proceedings, bent at ungainly angles and with posterior poking out from between the shrubs in a very unflattering fashion, I frequently meet my nemeses, the Dandelion. I found out that the name derives from the French Dent de Lion. So now I have taken to muttering this, in the manner of Inspector Clouseau, every time I find one. I know that the bees love them, and while I have nothing against them in meadows or in roadside verges, I just can’t enjoy their sneaky little faces appearing in the lawn. I prefer to feed the bees with plants who are not intent on world domination.
I pull them out of the borders in the morning. By lunchtime a brand new plant has appeared from nowhere and is already flowering. By mid-afternoon they've set seed and before I've gone to bed there's a whole new crop of seedlings coming along nicely. Zut Alors! Sometimes I see a flower from the kitchen window and have to rush outside to eradicate it before it turns to those feathery little seeds so easily carried by the breeze to every corner of the garden. Every dandelion clock blown by a little child in innocent enjoyment causes, at a conservative estimate, at least another eleventy-bazillion new dandelion plants to burst into existence. No clock-blowing at Thompson Towers I can assure you. Small One has to go to the park for that. I haven’t spent every waking hour since early March in the garden so people can have fun in it.
This war of attrition, however, did give rise to some recent confusion. On morning I rose creakily from yet another dent-de-lion muttering session amongst the shrubs running along our front wall, only to come face-to-face with my neighbour. She was holding a parcel.
“This was delivered to us when you were out,” she helpfully explained.
“I saw you working in the border and thought I’d bring it over, but didn’t want to disturb you while you were on the phone.”
I inwardly cringed but responded airily, “I hope I didn't keep you waiting long?”
“No, not long at all,” she responded.
“Though I can’t believe they’re making sales calls in French now. All the way from Lyons!” I laughed my agreement in relief.
She walked away. Phew. A close shave indeed. She almost found out what a complete space-cadet she lives beside. But the relief was short-lived as she called casually over her retreating shoulder with some amusement, “You missed one.”
“Ah well,” I thought, with a sigh. She was bound to find out sooner or later.
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