Sunday, December 18, 2011

tempests and their waves

There are a good many cardinal rules about living in isolated, or fairly isolated, rural areas – such as always knowing at least two mechanics or roof tilers – but amongst the most important concern water and electricity. Rule one: never (if possible) live at the end of a water supply line ; rule two: never (if possible) live at the end of a an electricity supply line. We have transgressed both(remember my over-pressurised water tank?)

Last week we suffered from being at the end of an electricity line. In the beginning of that week, way up towards the Channel, starting in Brittany and raging across northern France in the general direction of Germany, a tempest called 'Joachim' was wreaking havoc. It drove a cargo boat, the TK Bremen, sailing under the Maltese flag as the newspapers quickly pointed out (sub-text not respectable), onto the beach of Kerminihy, with consequent (smallish) release of oil and diesel. More importantly a large number of households lost their electricity supply, numbers started at 400,000 and dwindled to 70,000 as the week went on. It also, as the respected French daily Le Monde pointed out, drew a 'wave' of journalists to the area.

The fringes of this tempest did disturb the Dordogne with unusually high winds but no so high that any local person recalled the tempest/hurricane/ at the turn of the century. But in the early hours of the morning the electricity supply wobbled; it went off, it came on, it went off for a longer period of time and I got cross. Partly I was cross with myself because I had not made my usual preparations for winter – that is get in a large supply of candles, make sure I had enough fuel for the petrol lamps and that the camping gas lamps were somewhere where I could find them easily, along with a spare set of gas mantles.

This may seem exaggerated. Winds such as those on the fringe of Joachim can affect contact points along those lines, hence the on/off supply. And, as an electricity board technician told me: remember that in hunting season which often coincides with tempest season, hunters shoot pigeons. But they can only shoot pigeons that are perched on branches – or electricity lines. And shot is not good for the insulation of electricity lines, it makes for a wear point.

So, last Friday, saw us trying to pack with an on/off electricity supply. I found the candles, the gas camping lamps, even the three petrol lamps which I really must clean. After about an hour the electricity supply settled down. However Joachim was still sufficiently active for my son-in-law to joke (I thought) that he was taking his chain-saw to work. (Every real man in the Dordogne has his own chain saw.) How right he was. As we set off for town, we saw two pines across the road, which he duly cut up and neatly stacked on the roadside.

Electricite de France seems to have enormously improved its reaction time to such wind-driven catastrophes. At the time of the millenium hurricane we were without power for weeks. In our early years the problem was so frequent that I learned how to light part of a room sufficiently with a petrol lamp to read. In fact, I read the greater part of Walter Scott's works in the same circumstances that he probably wrote them – by candlelight and petrol lamp.

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