“Once upon a time”, declaimed Izzy, “there was a little girl called Cinderella and she was very very sad.” She paused, thought hard, and then remembered: “So the fairy godmother said ‘You shall go to the football’.”
The three of us were sitting in a candlelit sitting room, Jo and I dressed rather ludicrously in black tie and finery. We should have been at a glamorous ball ourselves, but the wicked wind had other ideas. We’d been invited to a friend’s 40th birthday party, but an hour before we had been due to leave the storm, even wilder than predicted, had blown away all our power. I was in the bath when the lights went out.
I lay soaking in the darkness until I realised it was no short term outage, then stumbled out, stubbed my toe on the dresser and slowly dripped to the bedroom door. Outside in the corridor I heard Izzy’s voice, then saw a glimmer of candle. “We’re coming to rescue you, Daddy”, she squeaked with excitement.
We couldn’t have left the new babysitter alone with Izzy: the house is a barn of a place even in daylight, but in the pitch black, with just a few candles and a torch for company, she’d have been petrified. Anyway the baby monitor wasn’t working, so we paid the girl off, opened a bottle of good wine, and decided to live as they did in the olden days. No lights, central heating or telephones; and certainly no television.
“I want Peppa Pig”, said Izzy. Clearly it was time for her first science lesson. I don’t know if you’ve tried to teach the concept of electricity to a two-year-old: it’s well nigh impossible.
“Electricity makes the television and lights go on, and the wind has blown down the wire that brings it from the…” My voice trailed as her eyes glazed over. “It died”, suggested Jo. Still no response.
So I tried: “the TV and lights need new batteries” and Izzy’s face it up. “Silly Daddy, put some more in straight away”, she commanded, and pulled me towards the battery drawer. I love the simplicity of a child’s logic. “We haven’t any: the wind blew them all away” seemed to satisfy her. That and a chocolate biscuit.
For a short while Jo and I sipped wine and stared at the blank TV. In some distant land a group of wannabes were trying to win the X-Factor. Later on, there’d be Match of the Day, which I’d set to record on Sky Plus. But the room, shimmering with a dozen candles, looked enchanting. Our house is 350 years old, and for most of its life, this was how its residents must have spent every evening. I threw another log on the fire.
“Let’s sing,” suggested Jo. So we did. And we told stories. Cinderella went to the football more than a dozen times and we acted all the parts in Goldilocks. Finally Izzy put her dolly to bed, gently explaining why it was dark: “Silly old Daddy ran out of batteries, so you have to go to sleep with a torch”. Meanwhile Jo and I cracked open the Boggle.
We have never enjoyed an evening as much. We picnicked on sandwiches, wine and chocolate milk and laughed together as a family. After two hours the 21st century pinged back. “Hurray,” shouted Izzy, “new batteries”.
Jo and I looked at each other. Some vacuous fake blonde was screaching on the X-Factor and the bright light exposed the crumbs on the sofa. So I switched everything off again. “Much better”, said Jo.
There are times when it’s good to step back. We spend so much of our harassed lives rushing along with whatever new technology brings us; sometimes it’s calming to escape to the past with just our loved ones for company. I hope we have more storms this winter.
Mind you, I confess I did eventually go to the football. Well, I saw the highlights on Match of the Day, anyway. After all, it’s not every day Newcastle draws with Manchester United. I’m sure it was a fairy godmother dressed as a linesman who gifted us that penalty, but we all love a happy ending, don’t we?