Saturday, 7 February 2009

Living on the edge

Living on the edge ... something we all do every day it seems, whether we realise it or not.

We had a severe storm in SW France recently - high winds which did a lot of damage. Hundreds of thousands of homes were without (a) electricity and hence (b) water, since the pump stations could not function and (c) telephone, so no access to the god Google.

Everything stopped, and it made me wonder just how small the calamity would have to be to wipe much of mankind off the map.

How many days supply of food and water is there in a city like Paris? (Or London, New York or Calcutta). Two days? Three? Five? How long would it take for crazed millions to start pouring out of those cities and into the countryside?

And paradoxically, though I guess obviously, the less technology you have, the less you are affected.

For example, no electricity means no heat for most people, since the electronics and pumps in heating systems stop working. However, for us, heat means a wood-burning stove, so it was business as usual.

It's a bit limited, but we can use the top of the same stove as a cooking hob.

Water pressure started to drop almost immediately after the storm, as water towers began to empty. It wasn't long before we needed to collect and drink water from our "source", a spring that is in a cave directly under our house.

Therefore we were luckier than many. However, no running water means no flushing toilets, no baths and no showers, and it wasn't many days before I would have parted with a large denomination banknote in exchange for a soak and a hair-wash.

Anyway, services were restored in a few days, except for our comprehensively thrashed telephone line - got that back in 10 days. I like the pragmatism of the telephone engineers. There's about half a kilometer of line down (three or four separate trees came down on it), but they've repaired the break on the line as it lies there, forlornly, and will string it up later when they have more time.

So there you have it. Our predecessors, who have lived here since the 12th century, would have noticed little different after the storm, apart from a few trees down. For us modern types, life suddenly became a whole lot more challenging.

It does not bode well, methinks.

On a more cheerful note, no heat, light or computer = heading off to the Pyrenees for a few day's skiing. Nothing remarkable about that, except for the charming honesty of rural France. We stayed in a tiny hotel for two nights, car parked on the street outside with five pairs of skis on top (just held by those elastic things) and not a worry in the world that they might disappear.


Clare W said...

I agree - we have had four inches of snow and all the schools have shut, the nations road salt has run out and the economy has taken a further dive because of it. How ridiculous.
I like your cave though - the water looks so clear.
Your telephone problem immediately reminded me of Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther when he knocked on the door of the house with "I 'av come to fiiix your phun from ze ranging", but I'm sure your engineers didn't come in a clapped out Citroen 2CV van?

Clare W said...

PS I used to be Jolly Good Yarn Girl and now I have come clean as to my identity!

Dumdad said...

Interesting. Without power and supplies, Paris would turn into an anarchic hell-hole very quickly. Yes, we would leave the city but where to go? Especially in the winter. Food would be virtually impossible to find.

(Note to self: Remember to buy 400 tins of sardines next time in supermarket).

Ernest de Cugnac said...

Clare W - I have to tell you that I shall miss jollygood! And, no, not a 2CV but something clever with an elevating platform. Aah, nostalgia.

Dumdad - frightening isn't it? I'm sure a week's worth of water and dried food/cans would be a very good idea. Bar the door and sit behind it with a shotgun. The "end of civilisation" films seem OTT but may actually have got it about right.

Janelle said...

interesting post ernest. and very cheeky that you are already off ski-ing after only one post. funny enough we have sat out here in the bundus and spoken about precisely how long it would take for a city like london or paris or new york to crumble into utter mayhem with no power and no water....our conclusion, not long at all. LOVE LOVE the spring under your house. WOW! you must live in an amazing place. and whew all that snow. magical...lovely you are back in blogland...! hope the ski-ing was fun. x janelle

Ernest de Cugnac said...

janelle - "not long at all" at which point they'll be slitting each others' throats and eating human flesh. Electricity is the 'problem' in that it is so convenient and everything runs off it. Auxillary generators? Yes a few days, until we run out of diessel.

The spring under the house is absolutely ancient and very magical. The snow is about 4 hours drive away from here, and it was fun.

You are, as ever, a total sweetie pie.

Baino said...

I think I could do without the electricity for a while but water would be a problem. No nice spring below my house, just a festy creek! I do love the pics of your place though . . love the cat in the wood hob! Nope, I couldn't do without electricity for long, I need my internet too much! Can't ski but the terrain looks gorgeous while we swelter here in the wide brown land!

Jeannie said...

I give us all four days, then we'll be shambling around the place wailing, like the zombies out of, oh, pick a zombie film! We had a big rainstorm here and it knocked out my phone, internet and VOIP line; they were down for 10 days. I was able to check all my email etc at an internet cafe, and STILL felt totally cut off from the rest of the world. And despite having full electricity here at home, everytime I walked in the door it felt as though I were walking into a previous century - I am FAR too dependent on the WWW! I think I'd miss that instant connection more than I'd miss electricity... although not more than I'd miss water, obviously.

It's good to see you back in blogland - I must return too. It's been a good if stonkingly busy start to the year; after a word of mouth tip off two weeks ago, we are moving to Grahamstown! Will write about it...

Absolutely love your spring - it's crying out for candlelight and little offerings to long-forgotten gods...

Lehners in France said...

Hmm - I think it was during the dark times of the 'three day week' in the seventies that the best advice was to lay in a good supply of baked beans, kruger rands and a shotgun.

The truth is that even in the countryside food would soon run out - very few people (even in rural France) could be self-sufficient for more than a very short time - particularly in the winter.

I have not the slightest doubt that as a species we are doomed to extinction and our veneer of western civilisation makes us no less vulnerable.

Cheerful as ever ...have a nice day !


Lulu LaBonne said...

Like everyone else I want your spring - I had to run down to the lake with buckets when my water was off, I have a big enough fireplace to hang cauldrons to boil.

Ernest de Cugnac said...

baino - that cat (Cupidon) has his bum in butter, but he repays by being very sweet. It has been cold, could do with a little swelter!

jeannie - I was in Grahamstown, briefly, when I ingloriously failed my first year at uni there. So no very happy memories from me. Look forward to your post.

bob - how nice to hear from you, hope you are settling in, back in the UK. And yes, cheerful as ever, wouldn't be the same any other way.

lulu - I think it probably was the spring that was the clincher in buying this place. It is fabulous. If you are near Bergerac, mail me and come and see it in person.

Anonymous said...

I don't think London would last more than a weekend if the fuss over last week's snow is anything to go by!
Your cat has the right idea though.

tam said...

I wonder about this often. I count myself as very lucky to have learned basic self reliance early on. We had no electricity until I was about 12, heated our water in a woodboiler (before the solar heated black pipe experiment) and had no illusions about what happens to the waste we produce.

Now that I live in the city I'm always a bit nervous of these scenarios. I'm investigating a way of capturing methane from the compost heap and turning it into cooking gas.

I beleive you have more hectic storms headed your way.

Lulu LaBonne said...

Careful what you say Ernest - I'm getting on a train in the morning

Ernest de Cugnac said...

tam - keep your route out of the city a closely guarded secret.

lulu - be here by midday then.

i beati said...

9 days in the hurricanes I thought was pretty the kitty in the coal tray there..hahah

Ernest de Cugnac said...

ibeati - yup, that's his working day. I feed him on air, and he still puts on weight!

colleen said...

I think stuff like this all the time. Have you checked out the book "The World Without Us." I uplifts me to know that the world can heal, would revert back to its natural state and would be fine without us.

Ernest de Cugnac said...

colleen - I don't know the book, but I've had those thoughts too; indeed the world would not only be fine without us, but perhaps a *lot* better off.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

'when life gives you snow, go skiing' - I like your new twist on the phrase 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'

I adore the photo with your kitty by the fire.