Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

Days of torrential rain here in the southeast. Unusual. Unseasonal. Unwelcome. “The gardens need it”, people mutter, though I’m not sure this maxim of the English at the sight of rainclouds on the summer horizon really applies. My little patch at the back, after a few weeks of neglect and only occasional watering by someone young, willing and keen for extra pocket money, shows no sign of being parched. The various creeping shrubs that grow along the fences on either side are sprawling voluptuously, their tendrils reaching across, perhaps in the hope of making friends with the ones on the other side. Given a month or two more, perhaps they would.

Ironic, then, with the lushness everywhere and the volume of water cascading from the sky, the expectation of more rain tomorrow, the next day and, perhaps, the day after that, that on Wednesday there was not a drop to drink! Some burst, rupture, catastrophic pipe episode, a hernia in the supply system (with a more technical name, no doubt) shut off mains water to a swathe of southwest London. The shower whimpered and spluttered to a complete halt, inconsiderately, around 8.30, my hair washed but not rinsed, the kettle empty, my being, in all respects, unprepared. 

I managed to fill a kettle with tap water stored in the fridge that we keep there for drinking with dinner.  Who knows, we might have to resort to wine. I set about scavenging. A bit of rainwater had gathered in the watering can. Some old pots, the kind that gather in the far reaches of the garden looking forlorn, mossy and smudged green, the ones that don’t have a drainage hole in the bottom and fill up with water that turns dark and smells unpleasantly vegetal, these were perfect for filling the cistern manually when a flush became imperative. I scoured the house for empty bottles to take to my weekly class in a hall a few miles away hoping it had been spared the tap water drought. It had. An image drifted into my mind’s eye of a woman carrying a huge container on her head at the end of a 5-mile walk for water under a baking sun. I thanked my lucky stars.

For miles around, all the bottled water disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets, chemists, garages and newsagents scooped up by the multitude of local water-less, like gannets after a juicy mackerel or herring. The gannet stuff aside – it’s mildly worrying, after all – such episodes can have a positive effect on community cohesion. At least while the sense of novelty remains, before we get bored, irritated and start to smell so ripe we want to avoid all human contact. The corner shop is bustling with neighbours we rarely see or speak to (it’s a London/ city/ 21st century thing) out buying bottled water and swopping stories about how they were caught short. Or how it reminds them of the ‘wartime spirit’ that a few might remember directly but most of us heard about from our parents or grandparents. 

A little local crisis affecting us all seems to bring out something hidden inside us. People linger longer in the street, wanting to talk, to hear how others are managing. They offer to help one another. Everyone is friendly. It’s heartening. Though if this lasts a few days and the novelty wears off, who knows?

By late afternoon, supply is restored. The hair is rinsed, the kettle filled, the cupboard under the stairs stocked with spare bottles just in case. The neighbours are, mostly, back indoors, mostly silent again.

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