Last Saturday it rained heavily but no one really noticed at first - it rains up here that’s normal. The station closed but that is not unusual either. We put our waterproof layers on, did battle with our umbrellas and carried on. Rumours began that the bus station was flooded but for those of us in warmth of our homes that evening selfishly even that did not register i.e. if the bus station was flooded there was severe problems for pubs and businesses at the bottom of town. It was when our electricity sub-station was flooded and the lights went out that we finally noticed. For a few days everything changed in Lancaster. Here are some of the things we learnt:
1.When the power goes off at 10pm on a Saturday evening even teenagers go bed.
2.It is good to have a supply of candles in the house. The few shops that opened on Sunday sold out of candles very quickly. People queued for batteries too, and suddenly battery powered radios were the must-have item.
3.Having a gas hob is the way forward.Those of us that owned such a precious item found ourselves cooking food and heating hot water for lots of guests. One student house which possessed this luxury lost count of the number of students who passed through their kitchen. But a house with a real fireplace or a wood burning stove is the place to be and teenagers will gather and play monopoly for hours in front of it.
4.When there is no electricity anywhere during the day everyone goes for a walk. Students wandered around, and couples strolled down the streets.There were a lot of bemused faces and people talked to strangers “do you know what is going on?”. The streets filled with people talking to each other. Having no power made us all more sociable. We needed to talk face to face to find out what was happening. We needed to use each others homes to share food and heating and lighting (it is very dark this time of year).
5.We all learnt the value of local radio. Our plucky local station The Bay was flooded out but by late Sunday morning broadcast from a makeshift studio providing essential information and updates including news of school closures much to the delight of many children who felt Christmas had come early.
6.The good, the bad and the ugly were all displayed. Some people are capable of great generosity; pubs gave beds for the night to stranded travellers and Electricity North West provided burger vans which gave out free food and hot drinks. Some people are opportunists and doubled their prices for takeaways. Sadly some people looted flooded shops and businesses.
7.Church can go ahead without electricity. Church is God’s people gathering together to encourage one another and listen to his word. We sang and prayed and listened - we even managed bacon and sausage buns fried up on a gas hob.
8.Life without technology is our greatest challenge. Having no power cut us off from the internet. It was the loss of phone signals, and WiFi which left us struggling. We could cook, light and heat our homes with candles and camping fires which for a few days was quite fun but we couldn’t text, we couldn’t message, we couldn’t phone to check if someone was ok. We couldn’t get news of the outside world. It was this that made us feel cut off and isolated. Students held up hitch-hiking signs trying to escape the city. One small group that we picked up to go 28 miles to the nearest operational rail station were leaving to find internet and were incredulous that we intended to return to the communication blackout zone that was Lancaster. When The Bay radio station played Barry Manilow’s ‘We made it through the rain’ we knew it was all over. Electricity North West had succeeded in setting up emergency generators through the city, schools re-opened and my teenage son told me what this experience had taught him: “ Not having the internet has made me realise something…” What insight has he gained I wondered - an appreciation of the riches of life without technology? No he is a child of his time. This was his conclusion: “the internet is brilliant and I shall use it more and more”.
Sadly as I write this it is not all over for many - there are more flood alerts across the region and people are coping with the long term impact of severe flooding of homes and businesses. If you want to know how to help have a look at Carlisle Baptist Church’s flood appeal (https://my.give.net/CBCFloodAppeal