My black out Christmas

The festive season is usually one of my favourite times of the year – but 2013 will go down as one Christmas I would rather forget.

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During fierce storms on the night of 23/24 December which hit Kent, where we live, and many other areas of south-east England, our power went off at about 2am.

Initially, it was all rather exciting, getting all the candles out and the children piling into our bed so we could all stay warm.

Powerless on Christmas Eve

After limited sleep for all of us that night, however, the novelty soon started to wear off. I was unable to work the following day due to no electricity or internet connection, and we needed to think about what we would do over the next few days if power wasn’t restored.

We contacted our power supplier Ovo Energy first thing on Christmas Eve morning, but were directed to UK Power Networks, which owns electricity lines and cables in our area as well as London and the east of England, as it is their responsibility to actually distribute power and repair any storm-damaged lines.

However, repeated attempts to get through failed as the helpline was inundated with callers, and the situation was made more difficult by having to use a mobile with limited battery life. Although the UK Power Networks operators were courteous and sympathetic when we did get eventually through, the information we were given was often sketchy, and they were unable to give us any firm idea of when we might be reconnected.

As a result, we decided to prepare for the worst by stocking up on more candles and batteries for torches, and a car phone charger so we could keep in touch with family who were supposed to be coming down that day, but even this proved a challenge. Power was down in the two nearest villages too, so they were unable to accept debit or credit cards, which meant those without cash on them – like us – were, to put it bluntly, stuffed.  One shop helpfully informed us when we tried to pay by cheque that they’d stopped accepting them “years ago,” so even that wasn’t an option.

Our only option was to listen to the radio and contact friends living nearby to try and establish which areas had power. Fortunately, a village about five miles away had electricity, so we hot-footed it there, got some cash out and bought things for a fondue (the only warm food we could think of which didn’t require an oven) on Christmas Day, in case the power hadn’t returned by then and we couldn’t cook the turkey, which we’d left sitting in the shed as it was colder than the fridge.  We’d recently stocked up on logs, so knew we would be able to keep warm - in the sitting room at least - thanks to our wood burner.

It was at this point we realised how lucky we were, after a woman in front of us at the checkout told us her downstairs was filled with two foot of water, destroying much of her furniture and other possessions.

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Christmas Day – still no power

By Christmas morning, our power still hadn’t returned, and brave family, having postponed their journey the day before, were on their way to see us. Much as it might seem odd we didn’t simply opt to go and see them, we didn’t want to leave the house when we had no clear idea of when power would return.

But then, at 10am on Christmas Day, miraculously the lights came on! The turkey was shoved in the oven and we managed to have a lovely lunch. However, our joy was short-lived. The power went off again just a couple of hours later, plunging us into darkness once again.  This was the first time the children started to get upset - they’d been given a computer game as their main present which of course they couldn’t play, but they soon found other things to distract themselves with.

Although we’d managed to eat our Christmas lunch, our fridge was still groaning with food, so we removed much of it to keep it outside in the hope that it would stay cold. We didn’t open the freezer once over the festive season, so are hoping that because power was briefly restored on Christmas day, most of this food will still be edible.

Still in the dark on Boxing Day

We decided to escape the power cut on Boxing Day by leaving the house to go for a long walk, only to hear a blood-curdling scream from the dog within moments of setting off. He’d managed to rip the skin on his stomach after getting caught up in some razor wire, so we spent the next hour racing to an emergency vet who operated on him later that day.

It was at this point my husband and I started to have a total sense of humour failure, the only blessing being that we have pet insurance which should cover the majority of the cost of the £800 bill.

Obviously, this cheered us up no end (no hint of irony here…) so we were even more overjoyed when we got home to find the power still off. 

It eventually came on at lunchtime on 27 December, nearly four days after it initially went off, and has thankfully stayed on since.

The fallout

UK Power Networks has said it will triple the amount of compensation (from £25 to £75) for customers who were without power for 48-60 hours including Christmas day, and additional payments will be made to any customers off supply for longer up to a maximum of £432. As our power was on briefly on Christmas day, it is unclear whether or not we will qualify for the higher payment, but UK Power Networks has said it will write to all customers who are eligible by the end of this week, so we will have to wait and see.

To find out more about compensation, and whether you might be eligible if you’ve been affected by power cuts this Christmas, you can visit the UK Power Network website at http://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk, or telephone its customer relations department on 0800 0284587. This number operates from Monday to Friday, 8.30am -5.30pm.

While compensation would of course be welcome, it doesn’t take away from the fact that virtually the entire Christmas week – with the brief exception of part of the day itself – was spent in the dark and cold. And we were the lucky ones, who didn’t have to contend with flooding and damage to our property too.

What we all have to remember, however, is that these were exceptional circumstances, so it’s difficult to point the finger of blame at anyone, or to know whether it might have been possible to restore power to us, and others, more quickly. What the past week has succeeded in doing is making us much more aware of having provisions in place to cope with power cuts, such as batteries, torches, wind-up radios and so on, and of just
how much we all rely on having a constant supply.

So roll on 2014, and here’s hoping that next Christmas will be an altogether brighter – in every sense of the word – affair.

* Up to 10% can save at least £244.64, MoneySupermarket data based on sales. June 2013

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