Water, water, everywhere – and not a drop to drink.


Yesterday morning, when I woke up at silly o’clock, I had no water in the house.  Turned taps on : nothing.  Not a drop.  I was forced to wash up and brush my teeth using a small bottle of mineral water.  It reminded me of Greek Island holidays where, fresh from the bruised tetanus jab at the local surgery, you are terrorised into mixing Colgate with pre-packed bottled water for the next two weeks in order to maintain some degree of dental hygiene because people in England have convinced you that if you don’t you’ll return to Gatwick with tetanus lockjaw.  It did make me realise how important caffeine was to me.  I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the water, but the coffee was the thing.  I slopped a load of water from my nighty-night-bedtime glass and boiled it for the cafetiere.   I was able to go out and face the world, adrenal glands a-glow.

Our whole city is of course built around the water.  The river is the one piece of the city most Londoners regret not taking advantage of, and not spending enough time with.  Perhaps that’s a leftover from the days when the Thames was a friend in trade but an enemy when it came to the gut; many Londoners were raised on weak ale as the water was far too deadly to drink.  They did skate on it during occasional “Frost Fairs” in the seventeenth century, which seems like utter stupidity to me, but that’s the early Georgians for you.  The development of further bridges through the late 18th and beginning of the 19th century “broke up” the river slightly, making it less likely to freeze over.  I shouldn’t think anyone wanted to drink that water after it melted.  Cholera was so rampant and dastardly and progressed so swiftly once it attacked that it was known as King Cholera in the early and mid 19th century.  It arrived from Asia at some stage in 1831 and didn’t let up for nearly thirty years.  There were epidemics in every decade from 1820 to 1860, and the source of it was not successfully worked out until John Snow, assessing an outbreak of cholera in Broad Street Soho (now Broadwick Street) in 1854,  traced the outbreak to a street water pump. By the end of this particular outbreak, made possible by the fact that Soho wasn’t included in the beginnings of London’s sewer system and that certain people lived with “night soils” underneath their floorboards, 616 people had died.   Basically, it’s to do with poo poos getting into the drinking water; rampant diarrhea and vomiting herald dehydration and, more often than not, death within 72 hours.

And who would have wanted to partake of a refreshing glass of Thames Water extracted from the river during the “Great Stink” of 1858?  I remember it well!  It was a corker.  London was so rancid and smelly that parliament couldn’t sit, so there were some advantages.   However, in the short period in which they did sit, no doubt, holding perfumed handkerchief to public school noses and dry retching in the face of The Stink, they shoved through a  bill in 18 days that was to construct a massive sewer system for London and an Embankment (The Victoria Embankment, constructed 1864)  to stave off the stench of the river.  Fast forward a century, and with London drinking water the safest it’s ever been, it seems odd that the country then got obsessed with drinking water out of plastic bottles that, they now tell us, breed carcinogens if left in a hot car, in a hot dog, or under a warm dinner lady’s bottom.    The Thames Water Ring Main does supply massive amounts of us within the Thames area with our drinking water (or not, if you live in our house).  London needs 2.6 thousand millions of litres a day.  Most of the Thames Water Ring Main has its activity in Teddington Weir and from there is piped out through various sub pipes throughout the city (BUT MISSING OUR HOUSE).  Obviously, it’s built in London Clay, which is a fabulously brilliant tunneling fabric because it’s impermeable.   I did try to Google “Thames Water” to research this river further, but just got directed to a website that asked me whether I wanted to “pay a bill or was I moving?”  and it turns out that that website, was in fact Thames Water, the supplier. 

So, my first email was largely composed in swearwords and badinage and asked when my ****ing water was going to be ****ing well back on and if, after all these ****ing years, they couldn’t pull their fingers out of their watery ****ing ***holes and make it possible for me to have a ***ing bath.  Oddly, no reply.  But I was able to play a game called Waterwisely.

Waterwisely lets you move in an interactive town and go through your daily routine monitoring your water intake.  Apparently, when I got into the bathroom area, I should pledge to be in and out of the shower in 4 minutes in order to wash responsibly.  I should also put a bag of crystals down my loo to initiate responsible flushing.   Apparently if I turn the tap off when brushing my teeth I will save an astonishing 12 litres a day.  Of course, in my house that’s a hypothetical scenario because I HAVE NO WATER, but you get the drift.  Then there was a section of the cartoon about saving water at the Health Club (don’t go there.  Ever.  So water saved!) and Car Wash (don’t wash the car.  Saved!).  Also, I could collect rainwater in my garden (I don’t have one) to water my plants ( they are already dead) so lots of water saved there.   Want to save 17 litres a day doing the washing up.  Don’t do it.  Get your husband to do it.  There you go – water saved!  Apparently, in the water stakes, dishwashers are toxic.  I mean, they are really really bad news.  They’re the water equivalent of leaving the garden hose on all night. 

Of course, yesterday I went around turning the taps on and then cursing when nothing came out of them but a tragic, semi-whistling, stream of air.  This meant that last night the house was suddenly filled with the burp and fart of pipes and tubes and there was water, water, everywhere, vomiting out of various rooms.  I’m glad it was back on, as I was dreading the return of the “stand up wash” – you know, the one you do standing bolt upright naked at your bathroom sink with lonely, pathetic flannel  and which makes you feel like you are at boarding school or a prisoner – but ultimately the absence of running water made the heart grow fonder.  How wonderfully lucky we all are, to turn on a tap and have clean cold water rippling out through it.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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