By Tim Porteus

THE family were just about to have their dinner when it happened: a power cut.

Suddenly they were plunged into the semi-darkness of late afternoon on Christmas Day. But the saving grace was the food was cooked and ready to be served.

And so the family laid the table with candles that dad John had fortunately bought just a few days before. “Typical,” said Sam, the older daughter, “the only time when the TV is half-decent and we get a power cut.”

“Never mind,” said Heather, her mum, “look at the table, it’s magical, and we can talk without the TV blaring at us for once.”

“Aye, suppose,” said Sam.

John knelt by the grandmother and gently stroked her hand as she snoozed in the armchair: “Come on mum, we are going to eat.” She opened her eyes and took some moments to realise what was happening. Then she gave her son a smile. He helped her out of the chair and led her to her seat at the table.

“Come on kids, time to eat,” called the mum to the other children. “Mum, my iPad is almost out of power,” said Jennifer, the younger daughter. “Dad, we can’t play the Xbox, how long will this power cut last?” asked Ryan, her brother.

“Well that I don’t know,” said John, “but there is something I do know!”

“What’s that?” asked the kids in harmony.

“I’m hungry and this food looks amazing!”

So they all sat round the table in the flickering candlelight and began their meal.

“Gran isn’t eating much,” Jennifer whispered to her dad.

“It’s fine, she’s just taking her time,” said John as he cast his eye towards his mother.

Heather glanced at John with a sympathetic smile.

After the dinner there was the issue of what to do. There was still no electricity and all the devices, including the children’s mobiles and iPads, were out of power.

“This is the worst Christmas ever,” said Ryan, who was desperate to play his new computer game.

“Dad, can you not use the landline to phone someone?” asked Sam “Well the trouble is how do I get the number? I’d Google it normally, but we can’t do that.”

“I have a number on the fridge,” said Heather helpfully and gave it to John, who went through to the kitchen to make the call.

Sam suddenly realised she couldn’t contact her friends either. Everything was stored in her phone.

“I can’t contact my friends!” said Sam to her mum, really upset. “They’re going to think I’m ignoring them!”

John came back from a quick call. “The power cut will last about three hours,” he announced. There were howls of protest from the children.

“I have an idea,” said their dad and he collected some candles and put them on a small side table which he placed in the middle of the room.

“And your idea is?” asked Sam, with a mere hint of sarcasm.

“We will tell stories to each other.”

Sighs and tutting filled the room.

Sam seemed to be the one most upset: “I just knew it. This is just a disaster.”

She burst into tears but her mum came to the rescue.

“I have Joe’s number written down, Sam,” said Heather, “you can use the landline to phone him. Then he can tell the rest of your friends you are not ignoring them.”

“Oh mum thanks, er, but why do you have Joe’s number and how did you get it?”

“For emergencies,” she said, handing Sam a piece of paper.

Sam went into the kitchen and closed the door.

“Who’s Joe?” asked John.

“Her boyfriend.”

“Her boyfriend?! She has a boyfriend?!” John asked, surprised.

Heather nodded: “Yes, kind of,” before adding: “She’s 15.”

John stood, soaking it in. His wee princess was growing up too fast, at least too fast for him.

After Sam had made her call she was in a much better mood. The family all sat round the candles as if it were a campfire in the middle of the living room. The children had been persuaded by crisps and juice and at first there was awkwardness about it.

“Right,” said John, “I will start by telling the story of how me and your mum met and fell in love!”

The children laughed in semi-horror at the thought of it. “OMG, too much information,” said Ryan. But as John told the story, Heather began to add her version of events and their children sat transfixed listening to the story of their origins.

Every now and then John would turn to his mother and ask: “Do you remember that mum?”

Soon the gran joined in, adding some of her recollections, then she told a story of when John was a child and how he’d stolen pears from the orchard by the tower.

“Really dad, you never told us that!” said Sam, laughing. Now the children wanted to jump in with their stories but John kept them at bay.

“Let gran tell her story,” he said.

And so a tapestry of recollections and memories was told, with all the family listening. Her stories sometimes came to an abrupt end and sometimes they were just short snippets of memory. But the children listened, recognising their gran was seeing events and people from long ago. And her stories were part of their story.

“Why did they call the cinema the scratcher?” asked Jennifer.

“I’d never really thought of you as a young girl going out dancing,” said Sam, holding her hand.

Eventually the grandmother became tired and began to snooze, but the children continued with some of their favourite memories, of holidays and funny moments: “Remember that time when”... “Aye that was so funny”... “I will never forget when you”...

Three hours went by and so John turned to Heather and said: “I think it’s time.” He went into the hall and switched the power back on.

The sudden glare of the lights immediately changed the atmosphere.

There were “aws” and “oh nos” from the children. But soon the house was filled with the sound of computer games and the TV was once again dominating the living room.

A while later, Sam came to speak to her dad.


“Yes darling?”

“All my friends say they had no power cut and I’ve Googled it and there is no record of a power cut at all. It seems we were the only house in the area to have no electricity.”


“I’m not stupid dad. You switched the power off didn’t you?”

John hesitated for a moment. “Yes, I did,” he admitted.

“I knew it,” said Sam angrily, “did mum know?”

“Yes, she did.”

Sam furrowed her eyebrows. “But why did you both want to ruin our Christmas?” she asked, confused.

John sighed and indicated to Sam to come with him into the kitchen.

“I will tell your brother and sister this later, but there is a reason I cut the power. You see, gran is, well, she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

The news stunned Sam and she got upset. Her dad gave her a hug.

“I wanted to create an atmosphere in which your gran might be able to remember things and talk about them, but also so you could hear her stories. I don’t think anyone would have listened if all the screens were on. I’m not sure how much longer she will be able to share these things with us.”

Sam thought for a moment and nodded. She wiped the tears from her face and smiled: “That was a funny story about you stealing the pears, and do we have any photos of gran when she was the dancing champion?”

“I’m not sure” said John, “but I will have a look.”

Sam went back into the living room and stood by her gran, who was snoozing. She looked at her softly and stroked her hand.

“By the way, dad, Joe isn’t my boyfriend, he’s a boy who’s a friend, there’s a difference.”

“OK,” said John.

“Oh and another thing,” said Sam as she was heading for her bedroom, “you and mum didn’t ruin Christmas, you made it.”