Happiness is a vacuum cleaner and iron for the last place in Britain to get mains electricity

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The Independent Online

Julie Hutchings switched on the lights in her kitchen yesterday. Then she switched them off. And on and off again. The vacuum cleaner was next, followed by the iron, the cooker and the television. Declaring it "fantastic", she did it all over again, for the cameras.

Mrs Hutchings, 44, and her family could finally luxuriate in the bliss of domestic appliances, powered by an unrestricted commodity taken for granted by the rest of the population. It's called electricity.

Yesterday, the modern world caught up with the 30-odd inhabitants of the beautiful wooded valley of Cwm Brefi, a peaceful fold of the Cambrian mountains in west Wales. The Hutchings smallholding became the first property to have power in the last settlement in the United Kingdom to be connected to the National Grid.

Four generations of Hutchings were on hand to watch. And, as this is the modern world, the media was there to record the moment.

As the electrician Gareth Jones connected the last bits of wiring, tensions ran high: the crew from Sky was worried that the moment might not coincide with its plans for a live transmission. Mrs Hutchings' husband, Graham, said that, since the valley had waited half a century, Sky could wait a bit longer. At 1.20pm, Mr Jones put away his pliers and said: "It's ready." Mrs Hutchings switched on the kitchen lights. Nothing happened. A second attempt worked and Mrs Hutchings said she was "really pleased, chuffed actually".

It had been a long time coming. Although work on the National Grid began in the early years of the 20th century, mains power did not reach the area until the early 1950s. Somehow Cwm Brefi was passed over and it became too expensive to lay the poles and cables across a countryside of steep hills and thick woods. So the locals continued with their combination of generators and bottled gas,.

Mrs Hutchings probably knows more about the relative wattages of her electrical appliances than most. She said: "We get about 4 kilowatts from the generator, or Genny, as we call her. The deep freeze has to take priority, that's 2kW, and we juggle all the rest of them. I couldn't have the vacuum cleaner on at the same time as the washing machine."

Her husband, a carpenter, couldn't run his power tools at the same time as any other appliances. Their son, Patrick, 16, found it difficult to get enough time to revise for his exams on the computer he bought himself; when the generator caused a power surge it damaged the hard drive.

Four years ago the people in the valley, led by Mrs Hutchings, began a campaign to be connected to the National Grid but were told by the power company, Western Power Distribution, that the demand from 11 properties could not justify the costs. So they sought help from the Welsh Development Agency and, with a local community group, helped the Welsh Assembly to obtain a £250,000 grant from the European Union.

Each household had to contribute £5,000. Eight weeks ago, work began to run the cable from Llanddewi-Brefi, the village near by, via 190 poles, strung out along the hillsides. Trenches take the lines to individual properties including, right at the head of the valley, Tyn Cornel, a youth hostel, which has relied entirely on bottled gas and open fires.

At the Hutchings home, Mrs Hutchings' mother, Norma, made tea for everyone, although not from an electric kettle, and Mrs Hutchings said she was looking forward to unrestricted cleaning andusing e-mail. "I think that we have managed to get along OK, and in some ways you might think it wrong that we are so desperate to have all the modern conveniences up here.

"But I hate to think of our children or grandchildren wanting to leave because they couldn't get access to e-mail or use the television when they wanted. So maybe it is actually a good thing, because it will help keep the community together.'' She confessed a small sadness that the family would no longer rely on Genny.

Her stepfather, Harold Davis, a sprightly 82, will also be spared his daily job for the past 15 years of cleaning it. Still, he wasn't unhappy because he had a new job. Beaming at a large, white appliance on the kitchen counter, he announced: "I've bought a breadmaker."

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