On my hike down memory lane, I stumbled across this gem……….


With the power cuts we are experiencing in South Africa, I was asked what we did in the’ olden days’ on the farm before we had electricity.

Good question. I thought back to when I was a child. I remember the smell of burning paraffin coming from the Hurricane lamp hanging from a wooden beam above us. I  remember, the hiss of the Old Tilley lamp on the sideboard.

 Then there was the elegant Aladdin lamp in pride of place on the table.

 I remember the moths and other insects.  Fluttering in an ancient dance of death around the Aladdin lamp on the table, bumping into its glass funnel and frying themselves on its searing heat.  I remember too, how much It used to upset me.

Then, of course, there was the humble candle. It had its own little metal tray, or saucer, with a handle attached. Candles were great for a quick, natural light in the dark, but not so good if one had to walk anywhere with them.  Then, because we had moved, they would flicker and faint like some frail, frightened maiden. We would then have to stand stock still… waiting for them to recover. 

Shadows! I remember shadows. The lamps seemed to cast shadows that don’t exist with today’s electric lighting. Sometimes they were funny to watch. Like the black silhouette of my mother’s hands. As she sat knitting by the light of the lamp next to her.

The images cast on the wall would jerk and twitch, as her fingers hooked and curled the wool around the long, thin needles.

Dad used to entertain us by creating shapes and forms with his hands, making them move like a dove or a dog barking, and of course, our favourite, Bugs Bunny. 

That was the fun side of shadows. Then there was the other…

The other side of shadows on the walls was not as much fun. Terrifying images would wiggle and writhe on my walls at night when the moon shone through the trees outside. I spent many a night with my head under the blankets, working on the principle of’ If I can’t see it, it can’t see me’.

On another occasion, I lay transfixed for hours, paralysed with fear at the sight of my candlewick dressing gown. It was hanging on the handle of my bedroom door. It looked for all the world like a grizzled monster peering at me, with evil on its mind.

Then, of course, the monster under the bed. The sheer terror-stricken hours I spent lying rigid, my mouth dry, my heart pounding, wanting to call my mom, but not wanting horrible Harry under the bed to hear.

It would have been nice to have been able just to switch on an electric light those nights and chase away those bogeymen. 

So, I don’t know, in some ways, it was a  softer time, and kinder in many ways. Wrinkled faces would be soothed in the gentle light, burgeoning love would glow and grow in its romantic illumination, and sweet, secret fondling would be hidden in its shadows.

There were other things, too, that had their pros and cons, for instance, the old wood stoves.

Pro: they gave off tremendous heat and warmed us in the winter.

Con: they gave off tremendous heat, which fried us in the summer.

There were no battery-powered vacuum cleaners. Rugs and carpets had to be carried outside, hung on the wire washing line, and fiercely beaten with an iron tool. That was hard and dusty work.

Then, maybe the most mixed blessing of all, there was no television. Instead of mindlessly watching endless crap on the screen in front of us, we would chat to one another, or play games around the table, like Snap, a silly little card game for kids. Or Donkey, where the loser ended up having his nose blackened with charcoal.

We also used to play charades, or tell scary stories that made us shift closer to one another, but best of all, sit at my Dads feet, listening to him read us fairy tales or’ The Just So stories’ of Rudyard Kipling. And, of course, the tales of Mowgli, the little jungle boy, and Riki Tiki Tavi, the brave mongoose who saved his rescuer’s life, when he killed a deadly snake under the bath.

All in all, it’s a toss-up, a yin-yang kind of thing, a win some, lose some’ kind of thing.


Hell yes! Give me electricity any day.

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