Thursday, 17 February 2011

Going Back To The Simple Life - Depends What You Mean . .

Two of my favourite bloggers, Robert, The Solitary Walker and George at Transit Notes have recently written beautifully about remembering what is really important in life, the joys and pleasures of living a simple life. Whilst I whole-heartedly agree with everything they say, I was reminded just the other day that 'The Simple Life' needs further definition.

We were without electricity for a day and night and the mere fact of knowing that we were powerless (no pun intended) to do anything about it threw us into a strange confusion.  When the lights went off at 11.30 at night Beloved was in the shower and I was reading. The sudden transition from what we take for granted, i.e. 'normal life' to pre-industrial age darkness is most discomposing. One really has to make a conscious effort to gather one's wits, before the hunt for torches and candles can begin. There is an immediate feeling of injury, after all, we are 'entitled' to the supply of electricity, 'how dare they cut us off'. Trying to find an explanation for this phenomenon comes next, in our case without success. We went to bed, hoping to wake up to an orderly world, plentiful hot water, light and warmth.

In vain, still no power.  Not even the landline telephone worked. Using a mobile phone to ring the power company causes problems, but these can be overcome. You are assured "Madame, we will do everything in our power to trace the fault". Luckily, the Aga works on gas and there is a fire in the sitting room. I can heat a pan of water for tea and kitchen and sitting room are warm, the rest of the house turns into a fridge.  Which reminds me, fridge and freezers have been warming up steadily overnight. My freezers are stuffed with garden fruit and vegetables and home-cooked, ready meals, as well as raw food.

"Madame, if you lose the contents of your freezers you will be entitled to compensation".
Compensation? What's the good of that? I do not want to lose the fruits of my labours, my delicious, home-cooked dishes, my garden produce.

The sense of dislocation, injustice and injury grows.

The day progresses, little gets done, we are engulfed by a strange sense of lethargy.  The men are digging a hole in the village square. "Sorry, Madame, we are as yet unable to locate the fault". Four other houses are involved. We commiserate with each other and stand around in the square, shivering in the drizzle, willing the men to find the cause of our misery.

When darkness falls, candles are lit. I adore candlelight. When candles are the only source of light,  that pleasure dims. Disconsolately, we sit in the sitting room, nursing a glass of wine and our grievance, paralysed, hopeless, keeping the dog from moving about in case he knocks over a candle and sets the house on fire.

You probably think 'what a pair of wimps', but when the TV stand-by click sounded we were suddenly electrified ourselves, jumped up, rushed to freezers and light switches all over the house, blew out the candles, re-set the boiler to get the hot water supply re-started and tested the radiators.

Civilisation restored, the relief is great.

The simple life is all very well, but as I said at the beginning: "It all depends on what you mean".


  1. Now, Friko, come on, you know you secretly enjoyed it. The wine! The candlelight! The romance of those flickering shadows! (And I'll bet you were thinking, somewhere at the back of your mind: here's a good subject for a blogpost! And so it proved to be.)

    Thanks for the link, and your kind words.

  2. friko - this is an intriguing post because the word "simple" so often connotes a return to something that was. on the face of things my laptop is simple (a complex machine) and while it's tasks are simple, the infrastructure that supports it is extremely complex - and vulnerable!!! my own wish for a simple life is predicated on the availability of forms of support and objects to allow for the apparent "simplicity" to have some colour and for me to continue to negotiate my presence on the terms to which i have chosen to become accustomed. steven

  3. I'm with Robert on this, Friko. Wine, candlelight, a still dog — followed by a wonderful and funny post with a terrific header photo. What could be better than that? In any event, I would never take simplicity to an extreme. Perhaps it is best to remember the advice I received from a surly judge when I was a young lawyer many years ago: "Sir, it is good to be simple, but not simplistic."

    Thanks for your reference to my blog, Friko. I really enjoyed this post, and, frankly, I think you and you beloved handle this entire affair with grace and aplomb.

  4. we are all so spoiled aren't we? we have a flashlight but no candles. maybe I should get some in.

  5. First of all, I surely enjoyed this post...enjoyed reading the posts that inspired this one as well.

    Secondly, it sounds like you handled your lack of power situation quite well. People that live without power on a regular basis are set up with alterntive ways of doing things. I too, would have been most concerned with all the food that I had toiled to put in that freezer and there is no compensation for home grown, home made food.
    I think sitting by candle light with a glass of wine sounds simply divine right now...I imagine the peace and quiet of sitting there while sipping on some good wine.

    I do think simple, simplicity or simplify are subject to each of our own interpetations. We live a pretty simple life here...even though I live in moments of chaos with the little's our lives are pretty laid in a small rural community surrounded by farm land, life moves slower...right now,in mid winter there is not a lot to do unless you have a snowmobile or other snow toys which we do not...we cook and bake everything we eat from scratch...from our own garden or someone else's..while there is simplicity in the way we eat, there really is nothing simple about all the work of preparing food like this....for me these things come simply because I have known this my whole life and since I do them on a regular basis it's simple to me...but to others, they do not see this way of life as simple at all. Every few months I try to go through parts of my house and get rid of things in an effort to simplify...having less stuff and clutter makes keeping it up more simple...

    I see our lives as simple because our lives are not complicated with a lot of committments to run back and forth to...our electronic devices are simple (and old :)and while our house is not fancy it is a home that serves us well.

    I hope your food was not spoiled and that life is back to your regular "simple" life.

  6. I'm with you. When we lose power out here, the simple life that presents itself is not a whole lot of fun. We have an emergency generator that can be hooked up to the well so that we get water, or to the freezer for an hour or two to save the freezer contents, or the septic system for long enough to clear it...but lights, computer, TV, showers etc are out of the question. The simple life, as we 21st century people like it, is supported by a whole lot of marvelous technology.

  7. It is quite jarring. But lovely of you and Beloved to sit back with wine and ride it out. We're in a bit of the same pickle as I sit here and type with cold fingers. Our furnace has been out for two days now, thankfully not during last week's cold snap, as we are in a bit of a "warm" couple of day, today will get up to 10C, so that's good, and we have the wood stove. The fellow replaced the ignitor yesterday, and we thought we got off well for $147. But still no heat and today he is back and tells me it will be more like $1000. Ouch. I hope getting your power back doesn't cost you a dime. :)

    Simple, yes, what does it mean?

  8. smiles...the differnce between simple and primitive...i actually lived outdoors for a year right out of college...cooked over was close to primitive...i think a simple life i enjoy even more...

  9. How much more difficult it is to embrace "simple" when it is forced upon us, rather than choosing it. I think it has to do with preparation, too. If you chose a simpler life without electricity you would not have a freezer full of delectables to worry about.
    Is life ever really simple? I think the mere fact of being human is complicated.

  10. This loss of power happens to us all to frequently in the Northwoods...the peace & quiet of our rural setting is what we want, but 21st century perks make each day so much easier...most of the time.

  11. Definitely something to ponder, Friko.
    If we are prepared to live for however-long-it-takes without electricity, it can be done. We, however, are not prepared for it.
    When I was a teenager, my father bought 6 acres on the back side of a mountain and said, "We're going to build a house." So we did. We lived for six months or more without electricity. We never did have running water before we sold the house and moved away. It was primitive, but far from simple.
    Perhaps 'living simply' means living a calm, contented life without complications, distractions, stress or worry. Perhaps it means being grateful for what we have, and not yearning for something different.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  12. Living simply is fine if you're prepared for it and can be enjoyed - for a short while. When my two eldest children were little we were without electricity for a while and I remember bathing them by candlelight. The novelty wore off after a couple of days, I admit, but it was quite charming at first.
    I'm fascinated by your lamp,Friko. Are all the figures unique? They certainly look so.

  13. Love your essay - the imagery is fantastic and I felt your anxiety and frustration the whole day and night. However, the day and 2 nights we were without electricity was one of our best ever. An ice storm had knocked power out over the entire city; no phone (BCP - before cell phones) no water, no electric. My husband was at his job salting roads until the ice began breaking trees and huge limbs down over the streets, and then his crew was kept busy with chain saws. So it was just the kids, my niece, and me at home. A huge tree came down in the front yard and missed the house by inches. A huge branch from another landed on the roof and scraped against my bedroom window - I was sure it would come crashing through at any moment. All through the night we heard the sounds of power transformers popping and trees creaking and falling to the ground. It was at once frightening and exciting. We lit candles, dug out the old kerosene heater and put it in my bedroom. It kept the bedroom and master bath cozy, but the rest of the house was a freezer. We played Monopoly and Old Maid and told funny stories and napped. We melted snow for water and opened the freezer long enough to take out steaks and broccoli. Put them and potatoes in the gas grill, and at the end, grilled thick slices of bread. When my husband finally got home after a 24 hour shift, he said it was the best meal he had ever had.

    To this day, every once in a while, one of my children will say, "Do ya'll remember the time the electricity went out...?"

  14. The simple life as lived two hundred years ago wasn't really noticeably simpler ,involving as it did , pumps that had to be primed , wood to chop and lamps to clean .But those proudly "modern" 19th century citizens would have been just as appalled by a return to the Stone Age as you were to their life .
    Lucky it didn't go on too long !

  15. Oh we do take what we have for granted. Your account of the event is so vivid.. I felt like I was right there alongside you. I nearly asked for an extra blanket. ;)

  16. I think when most people speak of the 'simple life', it's partly a yearning for less complication in their everyday existence. Since jumping off the hamster's wheel, almost 5 years ago, our lives have become simpler. Or, at least, the pace has slowed, which gives the illusion of simpler.

  17. Electricity, running water, sewerage, trash and recycling pick up, cell phones, Internet, TV, transportation, grocery delivery...these are a few of my favorite things. Thank goodness for the scientific revolution. No going back for me. I am not a Luddite for sure. Dianne

  18. Really interesting post! I suppose for me, simple is retaining an inner simplicity no matter how complicated life is.

  19. Friko - I do not think you are spoiled at all, because it is all what you get used to. We knew practically nothing of computers when I was a kid. My kids know nothing else.

    I too love candlelight, like you said, but if I were aware of the fact that that was the only light - I would have been quite discomfited too.

    Still - I love the way you told the tale, because I could imagine myself being there (and of course, was grateful for the otherwise.)

  20. Food for thought, Friko!
    My mother would say the simple life is living off the land: she has a summer garden and a winter one, a running stream if the well's power goes out, a horse to ride if need be, and she makes her own soap, candles, and stationery . . and she's 87!
    I myself love having a fire in the fireplace and candles when the power goes out (inconvenience though with no electricity to run the well or the stove...).
    Nice post for musing, Friko. . . Love, me

  21. I so liked the descrption of this deprivation..Most very hot summer days bring a blackout to the whole NY region, that can last a couple of days..I pace my apartment, read till dusk..Don't want to walk up and down 14 flights of stairs..but next summer....
    We do seem to be entitled to everything that crosses the threshold.

  22. A few years ago a snowstorm left us without electricity. It was charming . . . for the first 36 hours. The romance faded. I grew very tired of reading by holding a candle between my face and the book.

  23. Friko, I totally cannot live without electricity for more than a few days, at most. A wilderness experience, maybe for a short while, but... very thought provoking post! I really enjoyed it.

  24. I've been through that before .... for 6 days! It is not fun. I'm glad you are restored to normal.

    I think it does us good to have those experiences and thus appreciate the things we take for granted.

  25. It does seem like a miracle when at last the power is restored.

  26. Living without convenience is anything but simple!

    It does feel great when it all clicks back on.

    Aloha from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral


  27. Oh, no, not at all a pair of wimps. We are, like it or not, dependent on electricity, and it's not an adventure for very long to be without it. Last winter, in our area, some folks were without power for a week. Garden-full freezers, all lost, and, moreover, the wells are electric, so not even a toilet, in winter, for a week. I would like not to be so dependent on electricity, but not so easy to achieve. I'm glad your freezer-full was saved, and civilization restored.

  28. Ah, yes! This is much too familiar (minus the luxury of the Aga). Our power went out on Monday evening at the end of supper. The teenager could not do his homework assignment by candlelight, and darn if I could see well enough to clean the supper dishes. It was all saved for the next morning. Luckily the power returned during the night, I was able to turn on my sleep apnea machine to cease the loud snoring, and like you, the freezer contents were saved.
    It is a very different life we live now compared to 100 years ago.

  29. I started twitching just reading about your blackout. My favorite part was how quickly you two jumped up and got going when the power came back on.

  30. Yes, we use complex technology to make our lives simpler so that we have time to further complicate our lives. If we can manage to stop in the middle of that sentence I think we are better off.
    In any case cold showers might be invigorating, candlelight romantic but they are preferable if its possible to switch to warm water or brighter light if we want.

  31. Your post was great. But, and this is a "big but), your evening seems like a great opportunity. I was raised on a large farming community in the most northern boondocks part of our country. We had electricity (usually), water (most of the time, TV came to each home in the 80's and when I left in the early 90"s there was one communal telephone in the main building. No TV? means sitting on the grass, surrounded by our kids, sipping ice-cafe. Colder this season, let's get inside.
    Now that come close to simple.
    A few years ago I did a silent retreat alone in a tent in the woods for over a month. A gift.
    My husband and I just retired to Southern Florida and our finances seem to be taking their time flowing into the bank. So we are being very austere and though we have a TV & friends, it seems not to bother me that we pick and choose our groceries, where we used to spend enough on food each week to feed a family of six.
    I see lots of things I'd like to buy and realize "that I don't really need anything. Anyway, I am finding these past months a reminder of the wonderfully, simple life I was raised in. But, your post is true about us all in one way or another. Whenever someone from another country came to visit, I'd always ask them to bring rolls of soft toilet paper.

  32. I love the way you write.

    Candlelight is all very well when it's a mood-setter, but no hot water or heat is no fun at all. I'd be a lousy pioneer - as it is, I gave up camping a few years ago when the air mattress began to seem like a slab of concrete.
    I wish I had your Aga. I wish I had any Aga - the most (and only) romantic cooker, ever.

  33. heisst "simple life" nicht, dass man sich einfach mit dem, was man hat, wieder zufrieden gibt, es geniesst, sich dem Leben selbst wieder bewusster wird, sich des Lebens und der Natur erfreut, also einfach lebt, anstatt ständig sich mit den neuesten technischen Errungenschaften abzulenken? Und ist es nicht das, was Du sowieso schon immer tust :-)?!
    Dir einen recht schönen und sonnigen Tag!


  34. einfaches Leben ist gut wenn DU es wählen willst,
    nicht wenn du gezwungen wirst zu ertragen.
    Guter Beitrag.

  35. I don't have to do anything when our power goes out but lie down and enjoy the show. Within seconds the neighbors will be milling in the street, casting about, lost, all with cell phones to their ears. One August night the power went out. I lay there stripped all night (I am in Florida), not daring to move. When the ceiling fan started up early in the morning it was glorious.


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