Our electricity tariff in France is what we inherited when we bought the house. It’s called Tempo. You need a university degree to understand how it works. There are Red Days, White Days and Blue Days and within each price band there’s a cheaper night rate that kicks in at ten pm. A forecast box on the wall in our utility room tells us what to expect for the morrow. From November onwards, it’s a house rule to check the forecast.
White Days equate to standard charges. Blue Days are cheap rate all day long. They come in summer when you don’t want any heating and it’s too damned hot to cook anyway. Red Days, though. Oh, Red Days. There are twenty-two of them spread through the winter months. Red Days are when you switch off all the lights. Red Days are when you hope somebody invites you out to dinner. On Red Days, we bring in the camping gas stove and set it up on the hob. We don’t use the electric kettle or the dishwasher or the washing machine and tumble dryer, or the vacuum or the iron. We don’t have on the computer and the television. We eat stir-frys and anything else that cooks quickly in one pan. Red Days’ electricity costs ten times the cheap rate.
The upside of all this is
a) Red Days are a good excuse not to do any housework.
b) On summer Blue Days you can afford to put on the air-conditioning
c) By law, our supplier can’t give us a Red Day on Sundays or Bank Holidays.
d) It’s rather nice sitting by the log fire in a room lit by candles
The downside of all this is
a) I spend all day Sunday washing, drying and ironing
b) I’ve taken to wearing winceyette pyjamas and taking a hot water bottle to bed
c) You can’t read by candlelight
d) Dinners can be a bit boring
With this last in mind, an idea for a book comes to mind. Red Day Dinners. Now, how would I pitch that?
First of all, I’d have to ask friends to donate recipes. I’m no great shakes in the kitchen. My greatest culinary strength is the one handed down by my mother: never waste anything. Throw it all in a pan and fry it up. The results can be surprisingly tasty, even if they are an odd colour. If the colour turns out too obnoxious, you crack in a couple of eggs.
See, there’ll probably be an expert out there who knows how to use a steamer on the one gas ring of a camping stove to cook a whole three course meal. I think I might manage two: warmed up leftovers in the bottom and a steamed slab of chocolate cake in the top. Voilà. And there we have it. Celia’s Simple Red Day Supper. Perhaps I should rethink the title of that book!
But, I’ve neglected to mention what’s happening outside on Red Days. It’s cold. It’s very cold. It’s a dry kind of cold that feels like daggers in your eyes. The wind slices through your clothes as if it’s trying to rip them from your back. Huge cedars and sky-piercing cypresses rock and sway and the distant mountains have done some overnight magic. The peaks are covered in snow. In the crystal light of a Red Day, they seem closer than ever, majestic against that winter blue sky, rock faces glowing pink at sunset.
Birds gather each morning on the top of a neighbour’s television aerial. They sit in tight rows and speculate on the day before they fly off to eat. At four thirty every afternoon, there they are, back on the aerial again before dusk summons them to roost.
Only 9 more Red Days to go.