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Plumbing the depths

I have not had a shower today.

Apologies for this confession, but at the moment I do not really fancy a freezing cold torrent of water, which is what a shower looks like at the moment in our house and has for a week or so following a tap related saga.

That is not important really for us as we have the advantage of relatives nearby with working bathrooms and I have showers at work if need be. I recall spending two years of college with the same situation, using the facilities – oddly that I remember them being deep underground, although I am sure that was not the case – to avoid chipping the ice off the bath in the house I shared. The house was owned and minimally maintained by a generic Eastern European chap in a camel hair coat who almost certainly had been separated from Arthur Daley at birth.

Of course I did not mind then. It was cheap, I had no money and at least it had running water and usually had a power supply. So channelling the moment I just keeping checking to see if the Lovely Wife looks faint from any smells that might be resulting and so far things look OK. Although she does have a bit of cold, it is true.

Now many years later on, I have however realised my tolerance is now minimal for anything not being perfect. Whether it is working plumbing, power or internet/phone signal, if I am deprived for more than a few hours I can feel the twitching start. Last week, out in the wilds of Herefordshire, the butcher two doors down declared to me – while selling me some of the best rump I’ve had in ages – which he was proud to live in a county devoid of any motorways (and therefore an island of peace trapped between the M5 and Offa’s Dyke). It is also a county where power cuts are still common place – largely treated with laughter and cheers in the local pub (although those hoping to eat food cooked on electric perhaps had a slightly muted reaction) and the freak storm that took out a Vodafone phone mast (as mentioned last week) and eliminated signal for about 48 hours was still the talk of the town when we left (already shifting details in terms of day it happened, length and the size of possible fantasy hailstones in the process depending on who you talked to).

But I have felt a bit ashamed at how much I react to such a pathetic and temporary removal of a minor comfort when – and you know what is coming here – so many people don’t have it. I do not feel guilty about the fact I am well off and living such a wonderful life; I prefer to be grateful rather than guilty. But it is a good time for me to remind myself that the situation is very fragile and needs to be appreciated, and that problems when they arrive should be tolerated with good humour rather than treated with panic. Meanwhile to also see what I can do to give back a bit even it is spending less time in the (eventually warm again) shower – that is incredibly power intensive and an easy way to reduce your personal environmental impact.

While thinking about the plumbing in trying to stem the flow from our taps to avoid waste it took me back to one of the most shocking books I’ve read for a long time – The Big Necessity by Rose George – which really brings home the importance of decent sanitation and the issue that it is not just finding a water supply but having the right set up in the right place to avoid contamination of supplies that do exist because that is just as, if not more important. Unfortunately it is easier to get money for schemes that dig new wells than those that build toilets… We’re too squeamish, even the supposed rational among us; we’re still people after all and we cannot stop how we react, although we can try and be aware of our natural repulsions and tackle the subject head on. Good sanitation is not something we view as a luxury so if we can help improve someone else’s situation and save lives, we should. And in the meantime, even if we cannot afford to help or have other causes (as we all do) that are close to our hearts then we can still be respectful of water and power use, where I know I have a long way to go in delivering on my words and intentions and actions.

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