The 1972 Miners’ Strike introduced me, along with the rest of the UK populous of that time, to the joys of power cuts. Not to mention more frequent use of the query “Has anyone seen that box of matches?!”
January and February’s frequent electricity shortages, caused by the Central Electricity Generating Board’s fuel saving strategy, hit domestic residences hard. My childhood home in Low Fell, Gateshead, included.
Always a pragmatist, my undemonstrative dad Malcolm treated this live event in the manner he always exhibited when confronted by problems – He philosophically shrugged his shoulders and, if it was an issue that could lead to loss of his liberty, resort to bribery.
Incidentally, the above sentence was a joke. I’m unaware of dad coming anywhere close to behaviour that would’ve deprived him of his liberty. Unless a law prohibiting socializing in the Gateshead Fell Cricket Club bar on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday nights had been introduced, his incarceration in Durham gaol was highly unlikely.
These 1972 electricity savings meant, like all Brits, we were forced to mitigate against the Strachan home being plunged into literal darkness. Consequently, during times of domestic power loss we followed what any self-respecting person who didn’t want to keep banging into things would do, seek illumination by candlelight.
These were plain white wax, scentless items, not the fancy scented things you can purchase in contemporary times. There was no heavily fragranced candles back then, meaning no opportunity to make your front room smell like wild mint, cinnamon or Ainsley Harriot’s airing cupboard.
Being somewhat cautious, my parents sensibly barred my younger brother Ian and I from utilising the contents of the matchbox to light the candles. An edict that was proved to be prudent when our kid, on getting hold of matches, inadvertently spent 10 minutes attempting to light a Toffee Crisp bar.
In the early months of 1972, our three bedroom semi-detached house in Dorchester Gardens had a coal-fuelled fire***. Consequently, during the miner’s strike, availability of fuel to counter against the north-east of England’s bitingly cold winters was of a premium. Meaning self-discipline and frugality was required with regards coal usage.
*** – It wasn’t until the following year that my dad converted our home’s source of heat to North Sea Gas….. And a further four years until he converted to Sikhism.
During the power cuts my family huddled around the fire with a candle, attempting to gain warmth from the frugal few pieces of coal (or coke to be more accurate) we’d secured to provide some semblance of heat.
Attempting to raise our spirits, which were understandably low in the candlelight and chilling temperatures, one dark winters evening mum suggested a sing-song to cheer ourselves up….. It didn’t!!!
It’s lack of success not only due to the cold, but additionally mum’s singing was so out of key I started to wish she’d have been powered by electricity!
Mother’s intentions all very well-meaning, but you need more than a few verses from The Sound of Music songs to raise your spirits and body temperatures. If nothing else, though, the experience taught me that Fräulein Maria (Julie Andrews’ character) was lying when advocating that singing about your favourite things perked you a bit. With all other entertainment channels being reliant upon electricity, occupying your mind to distract from being bereft of power and warmth wasn’t easy.
Members of my family made many suggestions to try relieve the boredom and lowering of existential enjoyment during the power cuts of 1972. Some of which bore fruit, others less successful.
Among the less helpful were our kid’s suggestion we’d warm back up by rubbing our hands together at great speed on blowing on your palms, like they do on the telly. I produced the equally harebrained suggestion we passed the time with a game of I-Spy – An idiotic notion when you take into account the environment was so dark you could hardly see past the end of your nose. Subsequently, if we’d have played it’d have been a remarkably short game. One that finished after:-
Me – “I spy with my little eye. Something beginning with D.”
Ian – “Dark?!”
The fuel saving strategy employed by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) during the 1972 Miner’s Strike massively impacted industry, schools, along with domestic users. However, from a personal perspective I look back on that event as one that through its adversity helped underpin further a strong family bond. This most likely aided by talking to each other due to the paucity of usual distractions
I’m not advocating for one second that power cuts and major strikes are a good thing. In this narrative I’m attempting to mirror my now late father’s mantra of trying to take something positive from even the worst situations.
His ideology stating that being inconvenienced isn’t the end of the world (unless of course it was the end of the world!), and both good and bad experiences should be greeted with the same dignified reaction. Something I strive to replicate, but if truth be told, with not possessing the old man’s tolerance levels it’s not a natural bedfellow.
Right, I’m going to bring this to a conclusion as our kids just turned up at mine and I want to hide the Toffee Crisp bars!