Sunday, January 02, 2011


On New Year's Eve, about five o'clock in the afternoon, I had a bath. Well, 2010 was almost over, so I thought it was probably about time. Water pressure was a bit sluggish, but that often happens around here when the weather's cold, so I wasn't concerned. When I went to run a tap (faucet for you overponders) a while later however, scarcely a dribble came out. By seven in the evening we were completely waterless.

At first this was just a minor inconvenience. We've had the water go off for an hour or two before. I had been planning to cook some rice for supper, but we made do with baked potatoes instead - no big deal. The toilet got a bit stinky until the Horse Doctor remembered the two large water butts attached to the downpipes from the gutters, collecting our lovely Welsh rain. Between them they probably hold about 500 litres, so we've a few flushes there. Boiled, it's OK for washing the dishes too, but I wouldn't want to drink it. The dogs don't seem to mind, but I'm a bit wary of unidentifiable floating objects in my tea.

So I took my whisky neat to welcome in the new year. Some would bluster and say you should always take your whisky neat, but I have to disagree. OK, so most of the commercial single malts have already been watered down and chill-filtered, but the cask strength Bruichladdich that was all we had in the house really needed something to stop it from stripping the skin off my tongue, and a drop of water helps to bring out the more subtle flavours. 

New Year's Day and we still had nothing coming from the taps. I phoned Dwr Cymru to ask them what was going on, and was unsurprised but somewhat alarmed when the helpline operative seemed to know nothing about it. The whole village was without water, and there's no way my neighbour wouldn't have been complaining loudly from the first moment the supply disappeared. Still, whilst not as bad as Northern Ireland, Wales has had a fair few burst pipes since the recent thaw, and the authorities have been very busy. I was prepared to give them a little time to fix the problem.

Of course, we had no drinking water, and it being New Year's Day, all the shops were shut so we couldn't go and buy any. We consoled ourselves by drinking beer instead and waited for the water man to come. The day passed without a sign.

This morning I tried the bathroom tap with hope in my heart, but still it was dry (the tap, that is - I imagine my heart is quite damp). I was contemplating how muesli might taste moistened with wine when the phone rang. The water man was going to be in the village at eleven, handing out bottled water to all and sundry. Had they got any further with the problem? Of course not.

To be fair to them, the water man and his chum turned up pretty much on time. There are numerous mains valves, stopcocks and other water paraphernalia along the road that runs in front of the house, and as they stopped at each one to do whatever it was they needed to do, the locals appeared like wasps at a picnic, swooping in with the obvious questions. Is it fixed? Do you know how long it'll take? Have you found the problem yet? Apparently there was good pressure at the top of the hill, but nothing down the bottom, which meant there was a serious leak somewhere letting all the water out. They just needed to find the leak and stop it. How long that might take was anyone's guess.

When I asked the water man about bowsers and temporary supplies, he opened up the back of his van and hauled out a six pack of two litre Brecon Carreg spring water bottles and handed them to me. Twelve litres will dilute a lot of whisky, and is probably more than the average African villager gets in a week, so I wasn't going to complain too much. We still went to town and bought another six bottles, just in case.

Later on, walking the dogs up the top of the hill, we saw a man in a mini-digger excavating around a stop-cock or valve or something. By the time we came back, he had finished and disappeared. Hooray, I thought (or Hwre, since we're in Wales), it's fixed. We can go back to our profligate ways.

But no. The taps gave a light gurgle, spat out a very small mugful and then dried up again.

That was about three hours ago. The water men have gone home for the night and we still have no supply. That's forty-eight hours since it went off, three days since the drop in pressure started to play havoc with the higher houses in the village.

Now I wouldn't want you to think I was complaining. I've mentioned those African villages, and there isn't a week goes past that some charity doesn't ask me for a donation to sink a well somewhere or other. Water is a scarce resource in large parts of the world, predicted to be the next major reason for countries going to war, once the oil has run out or we've worked out how to live without it. We've got it pretty damned good here, all things considered. But that easy access to fresh, clean water on demand inveigles itself into every aspect of life, and when it's gone you don't half miss it.

Take cooking, for instance. Pasta and rice are my main staples. That might not say much for the healthiness of my diet, but having to come up with recipes that can be cooked with no water has stretched my imagination. Last night we had mutton pies, chips and beans - a great Scottish tradition.

Before Earl Grey invented tea, people drank beer because it was safer than water. My old school had its own brewery to supply the pupils and masters.* Having tried it for a couple of days, however, I can honestly say that beer is no substitute for a nice cuppa, and it feels just wrong drinking it at breakfast. Fortunately we have bottled water now, so I can finally fill the kettle.

But I still can't wash properly. The occasional rinse of the hands and face in boiled butt-water, yes**, but no showers, no baths. I know it's only been forty-eight hours, but I already feel grubby. My hair looks like I've just come out of an audition for the remake of Worzel Gummidge, and my scalp is crawling and itchy. I've gone much longer in the past without washing, but for some reason this time it feels worse. Maybe because I'm at home rather than out on the open road living out of a bicycle pannier and turning my underpants inside out to make them last longer until I can get to a laundrette.***

As of half past six this evening, we still have no running water. I can cook rice for supper, and have tea at breakfast tomorrow. I can fill a basin with boiled water to wash, and the water butts should keep the toilets flushed for a good few days yet, particularly if I keep on peeing in the hedge outside.**** But somehow life without the luxury of a bath is increasingly intolerable. And I only had one two nights ago.

We are grown soft in the decadent west, so we are.

* alas, long since converted into a library. 
** kyak, kyak.
*** you can get an extra couple of days putting them on back to front, too. Then inside out and back to front.
**** if it's OK for the dogs... Mind you, I draw the line at shitting on the lawn.



Blogger Emma said...

Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa ( may be another solution to itchy throat. i know a lot of people use it, its also non alcoholic, though it's effectiveness is not as good as alcohol based cough medicine, but it's still good to use on not so serious itchy throat. Hope you are getting well soon!!!

February 13, 2011 12:14 pm  

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