Who needs reality TV if you have Eskom? With one fell swoop we're all back in the Middle Ages.
The power's out. Again. And it always happens at inappropriate moments: just as I am starting to dry my hair, my shirt is half-ironed, I am halfway through writing an e-mail, or the chicken in the oven has just started sizzling.
The first thing I notice is the silence. The distant droning of the neighbour's angle grinder stops, the TV suddenly goes dead, even the fridge stops purring. At work the aircon dies and an unusual quietness descends on the open office. Then people start chatting.
The centre of power
We have built our lives around electricity. Microwaves, irons, computers, geysers, computer games, freezers, radios and DVD players. It is almost inconceivable how people lived without these things for thousands of years, as we just take them for granted. Until all the lights go out, that is.
I remember childhood holidays spent in rustic seaside shacks that had no electricity or running water and one of those scary outside toilets with spiders and bats living in it. It was fun. Yes, really. Candles, oil lamps, outside fires, a paraffin fridge, and wash stands. Oh yes, then there was the outside 'shower'. A large metal bucket with a shower head in the base. You filled the bucket with water and hoisted it over a tree branch, tied the rope to a nail, and there was your shower.
For many people this is still a reality, and I am sure the romance of it disappears after a while.
Left in the dark
So there you are, in your suburban townhouse in the dark, and you have nothing to do. No soapies, no computer games, no vacuuming. The only things that work are the taps (cold), the toilet, and the telephone. That doesn't leave you with many entertainment possibilities. So what now?
If one can look past the inconvenience and the cost to farmers and industry, the power cuts have had a few interesting effects. People say they have started reading again (all you need is a little oil lamp), playing cards, hauling out their board games, and eating their cold food around the dinner table together. And a braai on an arbitrary Wednesday evening suddenly looks like a feasible idea.
Modern conveniences seem to be set on destroying family life. Dinner in front of the TV and kids holed up with PlayStation do not make for interesting family get-togethers. When last did you have a family discussion on something other than domestic arrangements?
The threat of silence
We have become a nation unable to deal with silence. In many homes the TVs are never switched off, or radios blare 24/7 or the DVD player never gets a rest. And that's not where it stops. Restaurants, shopping centres, social get-togethers – everywhere there is the blast of loud music, or the chatter of hysterical DJs. Why is it that we fear silence? Or have we become unable to fill the silence with our own thoughts?
Maybe the power cuts will teach us to live without constant background noise as our ancestors all had to do. But right now I'm off to go and deal with slowly rotting food in the freezer, underwear that needs to be handwashed, and trying to think of some new and interesting way in which I can dish up salad for supper tonight. Anyone got a light?
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, January 2008)