Once, when I was a kid, the people running the one electricity company in Queensland at the time had a huge workers’ dispute. So huge that the electricity was shut off for a large amount of time.
Such worker’s action did highlight how necessary the employees were, but it also inconvenienced the people who had no voice: the public.
The politicians and the higher-ups could afford their own generators and weren’t effected by the blackouts. It may be one reason why they lasted for months. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make, here.
The point is, my poor, blue-collar household managed just fine without power. Because my mother was old enough to remember what it had been like in the bad old days.
We boiled water in an improvised copper, made out of a forty-four gallon drum. We did our washing in big buckets with broomsticks and plungers, and got most of the water out with an old mangle we still owned.
In this day and age, the above paragraph needs some translation. A copper is a sort of cauldron [they used to be made of copper, I guess] in which hot water was manufactured by boiling it over a fire. A mangle is a couple of cylinders hooked up to a crank. You carefully insert wet fabric, turn the crank, and it squeezes a majority of the water out. Beats the living crap out of wringing things dry by hand.
We still had kerosine lanterns. The stuff you’re lucky to find in antique shops or kitch decorators. And you’re even luckier if they still function. We had a primus, a camp stove, and candles. We had a battery-run radio so my mother could keep up with her news addiction.
It was sort of fun, in it’s way. Sure, it was hard work, and we got a bit sick of baked beans and other one-pot wonders. And my parents, to their detriment, taught me to be a rotten little capitalist at Monopoly. If I was older, I have no doubt they’d have also taught me to be a card shark as well.
The fun part was listening to the mundanes moan about how tough they had it without power. They couldn’t get their clothes clean. There was no way to stop the kids driving you mad in the dark. Everyone was moaning because there was no ice-cream.
I was possibly the only kid in my school who was a little disappointed when the power went back on. I still looked forward to summer thunderstorms and the inevitable power failures that came with them. I could fleece my parents in Monopoly and we’d swap stories in the light of the kero lamps.
Thirty-so years later, I own a primus camping stove, and make certain I have a stock of candles and a Monopoly set. I have a wind-up radio, so I don’t have to depend on batteries that rot. I want to share the fun of making do in the dark. The slightly unholy glee of knowing a bit more than the other guy.
It’s a pity the skills of the past are the fading hobbies of today. We need to keep them up.
Because sooner or later, the infrastructure we depend on may just fall over.
I tell my kids, jokingly, to be “prepared for the zombie apocalypse”. It’s not all knowing how to shoot them in the head. It’s knowing how to live without infrastructure. These are, not exactly essential skills, but necessary ones.
Even if you don’t want to do it the old-fashioned way, everyone should know how to do so. Just in case.