Sitting at my desk late in the afternoon, trying to sort out why my printer was suddenly being quirky and not cooperating, when suddenly the lights went out. The lights were only on because I had the shades down on the verandah to keep out the last fragments of the sun and heat, which made it too dark inside to see the fine print in the instruction manual. I managed to persevere for a while with the battery power left in my laptop and by seeking solace in the online manual. But when I couldn’t get any further, I found the torch (flashlight), investigated the edible remnants of last week’s shopping that didn’t require electricity (chocolate), and headed for the back verandah to sit in the cool and read Shantaram from the Kindle App on my iPhone (thank God there was enough battery left).
While kicking back on my fabulously comfortable outdoor sofa, with the shades now up to let the breeze and last remaining light of day in, I read, while half-hearing conversations drifting around me as my neighbours sought comfort on their verandahs as well.
And it was in that half-hearing of conversations that a simple sentence, delivered me smack-bang into a time when I was eighteen years old and living in a very old flat on the south-west side of Brisbane. The line wouldn’t have meant much to the younger generation, but to anyone from my era, it would probably have evoked similar memories and a journey a long way from now.
A couple had walked down the path between two buildings nearby, and my friendly neighbour in closer proximity to them than me informed them that the power was off. The couple made a comment, and my neighbour suggested that they “might need to put a shilling in the meter“. That was all it took to transport me to the kitchen in that old flat, all those years ago. The ‘shilling’ by then was in the modern, decimalised form of a 10 cent coin, but it still had the power to remind me of how far we have come.
For the purpose of ensuring an ongoing supply of gas for cooking, ten-cent coins were scrounged and saved and stacked high on a shelf near the back door. While the culinary masterpiece was simmering nicely on the ancient gas stove, constant vigilance was needed to make sure the gas supply continued to provide the necessary heat to keep the meal progressing in a forward direction. More often than not, the gas flame would flicker, splutter, and then die. Then, with the speed of a marathon runner, you would sprint across the room, arm yourself with a handful of coins, dash out to the landing and deposit the coins into the hungry jaws of the gas-meter. And then you would reverse the sprint, back into the kitchen, find the lighter and re-ignite the spark that would hopefully see you through to the end of the cooking.
I am truly grateful for the progress we’ve made since then. Now I put everything into the Thermomix, set the timer and the temperature and get on with more important things, like writing, or reading the latest novel while my dinner cooks. No more vigilant monitoring of the little blue flame of gas, with coins at the ready to feed the hungry gas-meter.