Sunday, June 26, 2005

Water Water Everywhere

It has been a very sobering weekend. Not literally, obviously. You know I like a cold beer on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s been a humbling couple of days. Quite fittingly, I feel, just a week before the G8 summit I have been made rudely aware of how crucial a regular supply of clean water is to normal living. And how, without it, life can be incredibly uncomfortable.

For reasons best known to themselves, Barnet Highways Agency – or some such group – saw fit to re-surface our road during the hottest week in June since the infamous summer of 1976. So all last week there were boiling hot oildrums of bubbling tar on the pavement while the road surface was dug up and relaid. You can picture the scene, rubble everywhere and semi clad workmen walking up and down the street with flasks. The sunburnt British workman, wearing nothing but hard hat, sleeveless orange jacket and shorts is not a pretty sight first thing in the morning. Or indeed any time of the day.

Apparently, a letter was sent out to all residents to let us know of the impending work and to ask us to move our cars off the road by 8 am. I’m not sure if there actually was such a letter because I didn’t receive it myself. But I luckily saw them starting work on Thursday morning before I took Scrappino to school and moved the Skoda just in time.

I knew something wasn’t quite right on Friday morning because when I went to take my shower there was only cold water – no hot water at all. The taps were turning but nothing at all was coming out. I figured it was due to the road work and had a cold shower. It was 30 degrees out side so I didn’t really mind.

But on Friday evening, when I was getting ready to go out to dinner with friends there was no water at all. No hot and no cold. The only water in the entire flat was a couple of bottles of Evian and the contents of the loo. Which I was too scared to flush in case it didn’t re-fill. It turns out that the workmen were so busy drinking their tea and working on their suntans that they had forgotten to turn the water back on. They’d had to turn it off to lay the road. Don’t ask me why they had to turn off the mains to lay down tar, but they did.

One of the neighbours called the council on Saturday morning to ask them to sort it out. They were told that a representative from Three Valleys Water would call round to explain the situation. He wouldn’t be able to switch the water back on. But he would be able to explain why we’d have to spend all weekend pishing in a bucket and washing our bits with baby wipes.

Living for 48 hours without running water is incredibly unpleasant. I had to pop over to a friend to take a shower. And I ran out of juice after a couple of hours and had to do an emergency shop for some bottled water and a crate of coke. Before I did any cooking I had to work out what I could cook without using any water. The plates are still standing in the sink ready to be washed up. And Scrappino’s school uniform is in the laundry basket, unwashed.

It was a horrible annoying uncomfortable experience. But in reality, I didn’t really suffer too much. If I’m honest, I was inconvenienced a little. But I wasn’t in any real danger. And I’m confident that by tomorrow morning normal service will be resumed and the toilet, washing machine, shower, bath and kitchen sink will all be back to normal. In some ways, it was a very sobering experience. And, if only for two days, gave me a small insight into what it must be like to live somewhere where you cannot rely on there being water available when you need it. How do they manage? Day after day, week after week?

To make matters worse, when the workmen had turned off the mains they had set up a stand pipe in the road. But the handle wouldn’t turn and it also had a massive leak, so all weekend (while we’ve been popping over to friends’ houses to shower and brush our teeth) gallons of water have been pouring out of the pipe and running down the drain.

Which is where the G8 summit comes in. I’m not one to get cross about world politics. It does no good. And we have Bob Geldof to do that for us. But it made me so annoyed to think that millions are marching to prevent poverty in Africa caused, in no small measure, by the lack of a clean reliable water supply. And yet here we are in suburban London with literally gallons of the stuff running down the street unused. I won’t try to make a gag out of this. It doesn’t hurt to have a serious posting once in a while. And if you want a funny reaction to drought in Africa and waste in the West you can always watch Comic Relief. They have dancing newsreaders and singing weather girls.

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