The generator is on the blink or it’s out of diesel. It doesn’t help that the fuel gauge is broken. It registers empty when I know the tank is more than half full. This is fatal because it means even when you know you really ought to get some you start thinking “maybe there is a day or so left in the tank. I could just do such and such a thing first” and it slips down the to-do list and only becomes a priority when the lights go out. Like the other day, when I came back late, hungry kids in tow, to an welcoming house, cold and dark. If we had neighbours they would have heard me swear.
Our generator runs on red diesel, which is cheaper than standard diesel because you don’t pay the tax. It’s the same fuel tractors use because they’re not usually on the road, unless you’re late to pick the kids up from school and then they always are, just in front of you, chuntering along at an infuriating snail’s pace. It’s a 30 minute round trip to the farm where I’m lucky enough get diesel straight from the farmer’s enormous tank, making it a really good price. I usually take the farmer and his wife eggs as a thank you, because they are too busy farming sheep to keep hens but this time I forgot and arrived only with apologies for disturbing them so late.
On the way back, windscreen wipers thrashing against heavy rain, rabbits leaping in the headlights I’m startled by the carphone. It’s my 13-year-old son who has stayed home alone in the dark to light the fire. I don’t know how many 13-year-olds you could trust to do that, I suspect not many but in our house a fire needs to be lit most nights, even in the summer because that’s how we heat our hot water, and I’ve been letting him get on with the job even when I’m not home for a few years now. Today it’s not going well.
“We are out of coal,” he informs me. Or at least that’s what I think he said. He’s on his mobile, there’s no landline to the house as well as no mains electricity and today reception is patchy, which is lucky because he couldn’t hear me swear again in response. I mentally add house coal to the shopping list and tell my son to do the best he can, but its not good. We have, as usual by this point in the winter, run out of decent logs to burn so tonight’s fire will be just damp branches salvaged from the woods, which with expert coaching will burn but not generate much heat. My mood is not cheered by the prospect of a lukewarm bath tonight, and I start wondering if I can convince the dog that this car ride is her “walk”.
If you are a petrol head or a mechanic you may already know that a engine requires ‘bleeding’ after it has run dry. Not being either of these, I did not and had learnt the hard way. So, after hulking the three huge canisters of diesel from the car boot to the generator, balancing each one on the lip of the acoustic canopy that houses the engine and precariously tipping their contents through a funnel into the tank, I set about thumb pumping the fuel around the engine prior to attempting start up. Bleeding a tank is not as exciting as it sounds. Dark, except the neon patch from my head torch and with the rain dripping down my neck I mused how wonderful life in the sticks can be….
Back inside, lights blazing, dogs feed, kids pacified with crisps and cheese crackers, time to make tea. I had at least remembered to take two pheasant breasts out the freezer this morning, which I planned to stir fry with some ginger, garlic, spice and veg. Shot by a neighbour and plucked and gutted by me, its the kind of food we enjoy – until for the third time that evening it was time to swear. The gas bottle on the cooker had run out this morning leaving me only the Aga to cook on. Yes we have two cookers but when you’re off-grid and alone in the woods its astute to have a back up, for everything. The Aga is champion at slow cooking but it falls down at anything above a simmer. I had planned to use the gas.
Pheasant stir fry slowing turning into an unappetising but hopefully edible stew on the hot plate I went to the larder to hunt out wine, it had been that kind of day. Cue more swearing. The cupboard was bear. Surely the greatest disaster of the day.