'Lights out’ for winter?

The prospect of ‘lights out’ for winter? Who can forget 1974, says Sam Taylor
Before moving up the coast to a wreck in East Sussex, we once had a more manageable, one-bedroom shack on the beach at Dungeness. Besides being sited on the largest area of shingle in the world outside of Cape Canaveral, these little wooden buildings hum with the noise from the nuclear power plant sited 500 metres away. My father (ever the card) would often joke that if the lights ever went out again we needn’t worry because our local fish supper would glow in the dark.

As someone who remembers the three-day week of 1974, I was less worried than I should have been by the recent prospect of another round of controlled power usage. At the time, I was a child of 11 and untouched by the realities. Growing up in London, it was a unique thrill to have actual pitch-blackness punctuated only by candle light. We still had a coal fire (the coalman still delivered, even in Islington) so we weren’t that cold except at school, which was partly-closed for fear of freezing the pupils. If you ignored the rubbish bag mountains (and the influx of rodents) as a child, what wasn’t to like?


This time, however, I would be approaching it with the other grown-ups – the anxiety of keeping the cupboards stocked with candles and tinned goods. Of avoiding the falls on winter ice and counting the costs to small businesses – last time only services deemed essential were exempt: hospitals, supermarkets, and newspapers (although they may well rethink this sector next time round).

From the perspective of a small seaside town, power cuts would be disastrous. Goodbye glaring fairground lights and dodgem-car cables. Bye-bye doughnut machines, kettles in your bed-and-breakfast rooms and cooked breakfasts. If it lasted as long as last time (three months) the tourism industry would struggle to recover. True, the fishing fleet will still be able to bring home the catch, the lights on the boats are battery operated, but the lack of reliable refrigeration would make most of their haul unsaleable.


For the moment, we have been asked to ‘step away’ from the panic buying. Despite experts warning that our reserves are at their lowest since 2006 and a cold winter will force us into negative supply, the National Grid has issued an assurance that all will be well. There’s little threat of a blackout they insist. Still, I for one, am keeping my wicks about me. 

Next week: Singing painters