Lately, the mellow January sunshine is struggling to reveal itself from behind thick wintery clouds. And just like this sun, Roger and I have been busy and lazy in equal measure. In addition to our daily projects, both new and old, we’ve added a twice weekly trip to the local pool for swimming. Aches and pains be damned! The first time we went, I realised I will never be able to better my time or endurance from when I was a kid. At that time of my life, I never wanted to leave the water, sometimes holding my breath as long as I could for the shear joy of it! I would swim fast and hard, challenging myself to go further while racing a friend. Times have changed, and now my goal is to elongate my stroke, measure my breathing, and finish the number of laps I’ve set out for myself within a reasonable amount of time. Oh, and not drown.
In addition to fitness, swimming is helping to change up our routine and add some relaxation into our lives. In light of recent events, this is a good thing. We are off the grid for electricity. Our generator, inverter and battery bank run all our essential electoral loads. We store the energy from our generator into two large battery packs, which can keep our lights and the water pump working for 3-4 days if the generator fails.
Imagine our surprise while watching a movie, all of the electricity went out. “Surely, that’s not a good thing.” I remarked to Roger. Calmly and in complete agreement Roger said, “No it’s not.” We sat in total darkness for a few moments, coming to grips with the absence of any electricity or the chug-chug-chug sound of our Lister generator. Like swimmers barely making a wave, we were calm and elegant in our response. Either that, or we were in a state of shock as this could spell curtains if we don’t have a functioning generator. A slow sinking to the bottom.
Over the nearly five years at Crockern, we’ve become more sanguine about these sorts of challenges, and it’s not just because we’ve returned to the swimming pool. We’ve grown used to unanticipated obstacles and adjusting our plans. Living at Crockern has taught us both to be flexible, determined and patient. We know we aren’t finished with our improvements and renovations. And when we are, we will still be engaged with daily maintenance. That’s just the deal of living in an old house. This week, the weather turned decidedly colder on Dartmoor, but unlike our first winter, we aren’t cold and wet inside the house. Our interventions of insulation, new roof and windows, and a new boiler have made a difference. We’ve simplified electric and water systems and made our lives less stressful as a result. With this healthy dose of perspective, the generator not turning over at 10 p.m. at night, in effect shutting everything down in the house, is just another problem to solve.
It’s cold outside and, except for the glow of the moon, completely dark. Roger takes his head torch and heads out to investigate the generator. I dash outside and bring in a few filled watering cans in case we need them for the toilets. Next, I fumble around by the glow of the wood burner, locate candles and set about lighting a few. Instantly, I’m struck that candle light is lovely, but not bright enough to read a book. How did they do it in medieval times? Cross stitching those tapestries must have been murder on the eyes.
I’m still deep in my thoughts comparing the frugal method of medieval rush lighting, tallow candles or the more exotic bees wax candles used by nobility, when Roger enters the house with a blast of cold air following. He stretches his shoulder and washes the oil off his hands. While I’m cozied up under a blanket and making a mental note to purchase more candles, Roger is down to a t-shirt and not feeling the cold as he has spent the past thirty minutes and a good deal of effort to manually crank over the generator. I can’t do this, as it requires a good amount of strength. Perhaps after I double my number of laps at the pool, but at this stage, it is not a possibility. Particularly in the dark.
With electricity back in order for the time being, I abandon my plans to make and stockpile my own rushes. But, just in case, I leave the watering cans where they are for the time being. The generator is happily chugging along to power up the batteries and we resume watching the movie. Before we call it a night, I let the dogs out for their last constitutional. We drift off to sleep, Sam and Millie chasing rabbits or eating butterflies, while Roger and I have equally busy brains calculating the cost and headaches as we consider replacing our generator.
And Hip Hip Hurrah for Roger! He’s a hero! Within no time the next day he has managed to determine the principle problem with the generator. Our reliable old lister is still motoring along and instead the two small batteries, which are relatively new, have gone flat, probably because of the cold. Then again, it may be the alternator, so we are still investigating. Either way, we need to improve the space where the generator is housed. The roof is falling down. The walls need to be shored up. And with that, we can always add some insulation which will benefit those fussy batteries. The project list for this spring is growing longer, but is very clear. We will continue our swimming, charging our own personal batteries, as we move forward on this rather large, and not so exciting, project.