I write these lines on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, a half century that has brought the fens from the middle ages into the 20th Century. I was brought up in the age of the black stove, the open fire cum cooker which needed doing over with black lead every morning to keep it up to scractch. It was the heating element of every kitchen. Made of cast iron and standing on four legs it replaced the open hearth with the suspended cooking pot. You got up in the morning adn the first job was to light the fire and warm the house, boil the kettle and make a cup of tea. An innovation was the primus which performed on pressurised paraffin and boiled a kettle in three minutes.
For the fen people this was all altered at a stroke so to speak when the fen was joined to the National Grid in 1965. Most of the outlaying houses were wired up and ready to go awaiting the facility that had been available in the village for thirty years.
Someone had given father a television set and an aerial. The TV was an aged Pye nine-inch. It was on the 10th August and it was eleven in the morning when the supply was switched on.
"Git the telly gooin," said father. I hastily tied the aerial to a trailer which stood in the yard, connected a few things up and lo and behold, he had a picture. He spent the whole afternoon in the house watching the test card, saying to mother at intervals,
"This is the life, missus".
It was however several months before the electic kettle was tried. People were frightened of something they couldn't see and probably alarmed that it might be the last thing they would feel.
One elderly farmer waited for three days after the switch-on puzzled as to why he had no power. Finally in desperation he rang the contractor who had wired him up,saying.
"I know it takes time to soak through the wires, but I thought it should have been on by now." He was no doubt harking back to the days of the paraffin heater when the wick took some time to soak up the paraffin before it could be lit. It turned out that he had not been joined up!
I remember my wife's father absolutely entralled by the electric light. Standing by the switch he flicked it on and off several times.
"Look at that", he exclaimed, " and you don't want no matches!"
We're catching up I thought before long they will be putting handles on cups