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The Warp


Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, an engine in the stable yard, primed by a gardener, would chug all day with a gentle thudding sound, making our electricity. Hot water was a by-product which trickled out through a brick wall into a red muddy pool, good for floating toy boats in.

Nearby in dry weather our hens, Rhode Island Reds and Bantams, watched beady-eyed from dustbaths under the topiary yews.

At seven or eight on winter evenings the chugging stopped and then all the lights in the house went out.

That’s when Mr Davies was swinging a huge metal connector between terminals that took the current directly from the machine to others that transferred the energy from the glass batteries.

The electricity produced by this engine had a very gentle quality to it. It was half the strength of modern electrics, enough to light bulbs with a gentle bloom but not enough to run appliances like cooking stoves or electric fires on.

It was in a brick and galvanised tin building and the generator was dark green, the size of a pony, running on petrol, and against one high wall were stacked scores of dusty glass batteries.

As he was an employee, my father always addressed Mr Davies as ‘Davies’.

Once as we strolled along the cut box hedges in the garden and we came upon him unexpectedly, ‘Good morning Mr Davies!’ I said.

‘Morning, Sir!’

When we were out of earshot my father said, ‘Jeremy, did you have to do that?’

Red-haired freckled Frances, one of the nannies who looked after us children, had been attracted to the son of one of the local farmers. Increasingly our walks would end up in a huge thatched barn a few fields away where I suppose they had a cuddle as we played.

He went away with his regiment and died of malaria in a ship in the Mediterranean.

After that our walks ended in his parents house. ‘I still can’t believe he’s not coming back,’ I remember red-haired Frances saying.


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