If my mother had warned us in advance that she had no water and low voltage electricity when she woke up on Christmas Eve, we would have flushed her out of her rural dwelling and dragged her off to spend Christmas somewhere else. Maybe this is why she kept very quiet!
Instead we approached late on in the afternoon of Christmas eve to find her village in near darkness. Inside the houses dim bulbs flickered as Mum held out an enticing glass of whisky. We soon discovered that the oven, the microwave and the heating did not work. The kettle would boil if it was given half an hour but there was no water coming out of the taps. Yet despite being 84, Mum had lit her wood burning stove and was keen to get the party started.
Well there seemed no harm in trying. At worst we would eat a cold meal, spend the night and then decamp if necessary in the morning. Not like the poor woman we met at the supermarket checkout buying bottled water ‘I run the kennels and I’ve got seventy cats and dogs to water, and all their owners are away for Christmas’ she said.
Over dinner we raised a glass to the woman of the hour, my sister-in-law Chris who had brought a delicious pasta supper that only needed warming up. As if she knew this would happen all along! It was heated atop the wood burning stove, now stoked to near-inferno status to provide all the heat as well as all the cooking facilities.
After eating, (and not washing up), the lack of power actually proved to be quite enjoyable. No-one was tempted away by the joys of television and faced by the possibility that we would not be able to recharge our phones until Boxing Day, we all switched them off to save battery power. We sang carols by candle light until it was time to stuff the stockings – then straight to bed to save candles.
Waking on Christmas morning it seemed that things were now slightly worse. The electricity was completely gone, even the flickering bulbs. Yet opening the stocking presents in the dim light of a cloudy morning was an unusually gentle start to Christmas day.
Next, what to do about the Christmas dinner. Suggestions that we should abandon it or eat cold food were dismissed. But what was the alternative? Answer: A fire-pit. Cooking a turkey in a fire pit is no mean task but dextrous, fire-loving friend Calvin Barden volunteered to take on this challenge. And if you’ve seen his Fire-pit Chicken video you’ll know that it’s all about building a very hot fire, one that’s able to heat enough bricks to line the underground oven.
Incidentally if you are thinking of trying this next Christmas, Calvin recommends that you cut the turkey in two down the middle. Also that you wrap each half in yards of tin foil to ensure that the outside is not burnt before the inside is cooked. Three other foil parcels contained the stuffing and the baked potatoes which would also be baked underground.
The Christmas pudding was set to boil on top of the wood-buring stove, an ideal slow cooker, and those who with free time went off for a 2 hour walk to build an appetite. It was turning out to be one of the least stressful Christmas days we could remember. And when the turkey came out of the ground after three hours cooking, it proved to be succulent and delicious, a testament to Calvin’s skill.
All the same, no one complained when the power came back an hour before lunch. Not only delicious turkey and all the trimmings but also much loved roast potatoes and later on …. Dr Who!
All photos by Jo Chitty