From memory it was 2005. It started when I had to take a dead bullock up to a veterinary investigation centre north of Penrith. At the time I was driving a Ford Granada I’d inherited from my late father. A nice car, not a lot of acceleration but it was lovely to drive and once it got up to speed it would cruise without any apparent effort.
I was towing a cattle trailer with the dead bullock in it, and we went up the M6. This is where I started having problems. There was a gale blowing out of the south west and it was pushing me north. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of weight in the trailer and if I went much over 50mph the damn thing started to fishtail! So I was driving uphill with my foot more on the brake than the accelerator.
Anyway I dumped the carcass for inspection and drove back. It got worse. Now, with pedal to the metal, I struggled to reach 50mph. Not only that but the gale was bringing in driving rain as well. Water was flowing up out of the drains at the side of the motorway and was flowing over the surface of the road.
I did, briefly, contemplate leaving the motorway for a more sheltered route but that would probably be flooded so I stuck with the M6 for as long as I could. Eventually I got home, parked the trailer by an old lean-to building, put the car away and got on with getting livestock fed. OK so it was blowing a gale, but this is Cumbria, we’re on the Atlantic coast, we’re used to gales.
In the middle of the night things got really wild out there, so wild I went downstairs and looked out of the back kitchen door. It was as black as the ace of spades but there were a lot of things creaking and groaning in the wind. I shrugged; there wasn’t anything I could do so I shut the door again. At this point there was a lot of tearing and clanging and the lights went off. So I went back to bed.
Next morning I could see that the clanging had been the roof of the lean-to blowing off and landing on the roof of a building behind it. Well these things happen, but it had also landed on our electricity supply. It had pulled the cable out of its connection on the ‘live’ side. Now there was no way we could do anything with this stuff, it’s strictly a job for the utility company. So we phoned them.
Except that at the time, Carlisle was flooded and the RNLI and police were cruising the streets in inflatable dinghies rescuing people! Everybody was being rushed north to get them fixed. It seemed fair enough to be honest. So I kept working, stepping over this cable that was strung across our yard at knee height and twice a day I’d phone the utility people just to remind them we were still without electric.
We had a tractor generator but that powered the buildings (important for a dairy farm) and one socket in the house. From this socket extension leads snaked round the house to feed the freezers. At one end of the house we had an oil fired rayburn cooker and an open fire, so we could cook and had two warm rooms. Also because the rayburn heats our hot water; as it had to be kept turned up most of the time, you could have as many hot baths as you wanted, provided you had them in the dark.
Also the tractor was parked under our bedroom window, so if we wanted to sleep we had to switch the tractor off. But then I’m a big boy, I can sleep in the dark. Also once a day we unplugged a freezer and I switched the computer on for an hour and went on line. Back then we had dial-up but it gave us a chance to try and find out what was going on!
Like everybody else in Cumbria, when there’s an emergency, we listened to Radio Cumbria. To be fair to them, they rise to the occasion. Slowly it looked like order was being restored, and the Utility assured everybody they had installed special emergency helpdesks for those still without electricity. So I phoned the number given.
I was assured by the emergency call centre that actually I had electricity and did not have a problem. I explained I was stepping across the downed cable at regular intervals and we didn’t have electricity. So the person guaranteed us that this would be brought to the attention of the powers that be and we’d soon be sorted. This process continued for four days! Apparently the super help lines had a lot of people with school desks, telephones and note pads. They’d take a call, make a note, and walk to the front of the class where they’d hand their note to somebody in charge who would do something with it.
It was on the sixth day (days when round here it barely got light, and we lived in permanent gloom) that Radio Cumbria announced they were going to have a phone-in with the boss of the Utility. I phoned immediately was told I’d be second on the list to speak to him.
I sat in a room illuminated only by the glow from the fire and listened to the show start. Then the first lady came on. She was magnificent. She utterly flayed the Utility boss. She dissected him. She had passed through despair, anger and rage; she was firmly entrenched on that cold icy wasteland of utter contempt. Without raising her voice and without resorting to bad language, she filleted him. I was holding the telephone at the time waiting for my turn so I had to stop myself cheering her on.
Then it was my turn. I think the Utility boss was hoping for something less painful, but when I pointed out that we’d been off since it started and had talked to his help-line twice a day every day, he could hardly say we’d not told him our problems. Compared to the previous caller I was almost jovial, when she went for icy disdain, I went for self-deprecation and a bitter irony.
Next day, not one, but two teams arrived in our yard, and six and a half days after the lights went off, we had power again.
The perfect book for the person who wants to stay warm!
As one reviewer said, “Another great Tallis Steelyard tale.
I find the plots intriguing, the characters endearing (even the ‘bad/evil’ ones) and the storytelling style relaxing.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”