I go to sleep with the gentle sound of Vic Marks in my ear and wake up to nothing. There is only the plucking, howling sound of wind beating its way round the house.
The power is down. I have no way of knowing whether Australia suffered a sudden batting collapse at 3am. (I discover much later that dream did not come true.) I am momentarily confused, deprived of news, as if my sensory receptors are shocked at having nothing to receive. I take my bath by candlelight, which sounds marvellously romantic but is in fact maddening when you have horses to do and books to write and the pressing need to get on.
Down at the field, the door is off the feed shed and the roof felting is flapping in the gale like some crazed bird. The wind has entered the shed, removed items from it, and scattered them over a thirty foot radius. It is actually quite sinister. There are body brushes embedded in the mud as if a sociopath has hurled them there with the force of a thousand furies.
The gales, which I later discover are gusting at up to ninety miles an hour, blow visible sheets of rain in horizontal legions, as if they are marching to war. I look with trepidation at the Wellingtonias, which are rocking about like drunken old sailors on a binge. But I can have no Chicken Licken moment. I have Beloveds to see to.
I hear a distant whinny. Red has taken Autumn the Filly to the farthest corner of the field, the place most precisely distant from all trees and branches and gale hazards, and is standing guard over her. It is rather pitiful seeing her being responsible for only one horse now, when she looked after two with such care. She takes her job as lead mare very, very seriously.
The whinny is almost a question. Is it safe to come in?
I call to her, and she leads Autumn slowly along the long, winding path to the gate. Red rolls her eyes at me, as if to say: ‘You won’t believe the night I’ve had.’
‘I know, old girl,’ I say. ‘Not a wink of sleep, I shouldn’t think.’
Horses hate wind not just because of the obvious reasons – the rush and the noise. They hate it because they cannot hear. It muddles around with the hairs in their ears and screws up their detection systems. They are still prey animals at heart, and if they cannot hear the footfall of the mountain lion over the hill, they become nervy and unsure. The junior horse is fine, because it is not her job to be on the qui vive. The big mare is jumpy and unsettled, looking for reassurance. I give it to her, along with lots of hay and plenty of rations. My spectacles are covered in rain and I can no longer see where the falling trees are going to come from so I just get on with it and trust to luck.
The power cut lasts until lunch. I light candles and cover myself in blankets and read a book. That is all you can do when the electricity fails. Every time it happens, it further amazes me how reliant I am on that invisible spirit running through the wires. I cannot type my book, see the news, cook food, heat the house, or even boil a kettle. The day begins with no coffee. My creaky body cries out in protest.
I think always of how much time must have been spent on mere survival, on the taking care of logistics, in the age before electricity. The chopping of wood, the making of fires, the boiling of water – all would have taken hours of physical labour. Even the lighting of lamps would have been an event, as someone went round the house doing the candles and the lanterns. This does not take us back as far as the nineteenth century; it is not all Jane Austen, who is the one I tend to think of when I am plunged into a pre-technological age. You do not need to go nearly that far. A huge number of rural houses would have been off the grid until well in the 20th century. How did they function? I am filled with awe at their doughty resolve.
For a moment, I rather despise my modern softness. I’m afraid to admit that I panic when I do not have the internet. So much of my life is there. I resolve to grow more hardy, to get my mindset back to that tough, wood-chopping, water-carrying incarnation of my ancestors. I must teach myself not to wail if I miss the 12.40 at Wincanton. Butch up, I tell myself sternly, and remember your inner steel.
Are not awfully good. I managed to snap a few shots in the calm between the two storms:
Hard to believe only yesterday I was cantering up that far slope in vivid sunshine:
Red, on guard, while little Autumn peacefully gets on with her hay:
This is the red mare’s stoicism face. Even though she is so finely bred, she’s tough as old boots. She has a huge shelter but she rarely uses it. Even in weather like this, she prefers to be out in the air. I think it is her evolutionary past, singing in her delicate ears. Always be able to move your feet, those ancestral voices tell her. Do not let yourself be confined. What a trooper she is:
The hill, amazingly serene in the wild winds:
Ha. I’ve just come back in after writing that. It was tea-time for the horses and extra rations were required. Out came piles and piles of the best hay, placed tenderly in the sheltered spot; out came the extra water, in case the trough should freeze in the night; on went the protective necks which attach to the rugs and keep the girls from getting icicles on their manes. All this was performed in gales which have now dropped to a modest forty miles an hour, with the temperature at zero, and the snow looming over the hills. I am pretty soft, I can’t pretend otherwise. But for the hour of evening stables, when it comes to the wellbeing of my dear equines, it turns out I am like a tough, stompy old farmhand in a Thomas Hardy novel.
And talking of toughness, I take my hat off to the staunch engineer who went out in all that weather, and put the power lines back together again, so that I may be warm and connected again. That was quite a thing to do.