Powerless in Poitou

We take for granted water coming out of taps and electricity springing into action at the flick of a switch, and it’s easy to forget how frustrating life can be when we are without them.

As yet, despite early morning temperatures down to minus 4C, our water has continued to flow. The electricity did give cause for concern when friends came for lunch a few days ago, as it went off just after I put the lasagne in the oven. It went off and on a few times. Not for long, just long enough to make me wonder if the worst came to the worst, could I scrape the lasagne into a large saucepan and cook it on the gas.

Yesterday morning we were reminded of the terrible power (pun?) electricity holds over our lives.Our charming new doctor asked us to go to the surgery early in the morning so that he could personally arrange appointments for both of us with specialists .“It will be much quicker if I do it for you,” he explained. “If you try, it will take months.”

He picked up the phone, began to dial, and ping! Off went the lights. Off went the computer. Off went the telephone.

“Zut,” he said.

Ping! On came the power, on came the lights, on came the computer, on came the telephone. The computer groaned and grumbled as it sorted out its files, and the doctor picked up the phone again. This time he got through.

“’Allo!” he said. “It’s Dr. xxx. I want an appointment…..”

Ping! Off went the lights. Off went the computer. Off went the telephone.

“Shit,” he said.

We waited for a few moments, and everything pinged and groaned and grumbled back into life.

He picked up the phone and dialled.

Nobody answered.“Shit, shit,” he said yet again, putting the phone down rather harshly.

Then there was another ping off, and a ping on, immediately followed by a ping off.

“Pff, I can’t believe this. Shit.”

We suggested that we could return later, but he said, No, don’t worry, I’ll sort it out when this nonsense is finished, and I’ll telephone you with the appointments. Which he duly did today.


The 7th plate from the 1st edition (1768) of Joseph Priestley’s ”A Familiar Introduction to the Study of Electricity”, depicting an electrical machine designed by Priestley |Source=Photographed from Medical Historical Library – Wikipedia

But our journey to the little town hadn’t been wasted, because there was a parcel to be collected which we had missed the previous day. Had it been during the summer, the dogs would have announced the arrival of the post-person. But being winter they have resigned from their role as guard dogs, and spend all their time curled up on the chairs in the living room (smothering them with hair), and nothing short of a nuclear explosion is likely to wake them. Hence we had missed the parcel delivery, but a little slip of paper said we could pick it up next morning.

So here we were, a couple of hundred metres from the post office where our parcel awaited. It would take no time at all to collect it.

Outside the post office, standing in the warm morning sunshine, was a very old lady, immaculately made up and coiffed, dressed in an elegant black coat with a velvet collar and a neat little belt with two buttons at the back.

“We have to wait!” she sang, with a big smile.

“For what?” I asked.

“For her,” she replied, pointing out the post office lady who was across the road talking to a group of council workers clustered around a giant digging machine. “There’s no electricity!”

“Ah,” I said. “We’ve just come from the doctor, he has the same problem.”

The post office lady came back, and the old lady explained that the doctor was also affected by the power cuts, which were caused by the road workers.

We went in to the post office and stood in murky gloom, while the old lady bought a special envelope to send a gift to Reunion, but she couldn’t see to write on it, so the post office lady tried, but she could also not see in the gloom. We would have to wait a while. In the meantime the old lady had another small packet to post, which needed to be weighed. But of course the scales are electronic, and they were out of action, so we would still have to wait a while. Which we did, to no avail. The post office lady bounced the little packet up and down in her hand and made a guess at the weight, and squinted very hard at the paperwork for the packet and the envelope until she was able to fill it in. It would cost the old lady 12 euros, which she thought was a very fair price. She tendered her debit card. But – you guessed this I expect – the card machine didn’t work because there was no electricity! She would write a cheque, which she did with screwed up eyes, and just as she tore it off, the electricity came back on.

Much relieved laughter followed, not least from TOH and myself who had now been waiting for over 10 minutes just to collect a parcel – which would normally take no more than two minutes – when we had another important medical appointment 40 miles away, and time was seeping away.

With a beautiful smile the elegant old lady bade us au revoir, and I stepped up to the counter waving the piece of paper.The post office lady found the parcel – it was just behind her on the floor. Picking it up, she scanned the bar code, but the scanner was not working, because the computer was not working because although the electricity was now working, the Internet was not.


Partial map of the Internet based on the January 15, 2005 data found on opte.org. Each line is drawn between two nodes, representing two IP addresses. The length of the lines are indicative of the delay between those two nodes. This graph represents less than 30% of the Class C networks reachable by the data collection program in early 2005. Lines are color-coded according to their corresponding RFC 1918 allocation as follows:
Dark blue: net, ca, us
Green: com, org
Red: mil, gov, edu
Yellow: jp, cn, tw, au, de
Magenta: uk, it, pl, fr
Gold: br, kr, nl
White: unknown

The post office lady banged the space bar a few times and made some exasperated tutting noises, and smiled apologetically, but that did not make the Internet work. Tantalisingly our parcel sat on the counter, so near yet so far away. While the post office lady kept tapping the space bar and murmuring, I wondered whether to just snatch the parcel and run away with it. By the time she had come out from behind the counter and unlocked the door we could be driving off in the car. I shuffled my feet. TOH was muttering impatiently. With a sigh and a smile, at last the post office lady jumped up, rummaged around in a drawer, dug out a sheaf of papers, and with a pen carefully filled in the bar code, scribbled on the box, and handed it over.

Driving home, I thought how lucky we had been that neither of us had suffered a heart attack that morning.

Lou Messugo



6 thoughts on “Powerless in Poitou

  1. We had a 13 hour power cut at home recently which was incredibly frustrating as we don’t have gas for cooking we couldn’t cook, heat water, and typically I hadn’t charged my mobile phone overnight so it didn’t work either, I felt very helpless. Having said that I did have a little chuckle reading this …. such a very silly situation! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

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