In a fit of environmental zeal last October, I splashed out on a water butt. I had been only too aware of the size of my environmental footprint (my wife had pointed it out etched on one of the tiles near the back door,) so I decided to reduce, reuse and regurgitate, or whatever the saying is. So, when I saw an advertisement for a water butt in my local free top quality newspaper, I felt the time had come to start protecting the planet for my children, neither of whom sees anything wrong in spending 30 minutes at a time in the shower.
To cut a long story short, Fingal County Council delivered the large green monstrosity promptly and it remained standing outside my back door for seven months while I contemplated assembling it.
Not that there should have been much to assemble – the blurb had said there was nothing to it but even so I knew things were never going to go smoothly. I’m not a DIY person. Flat packs can take me months to assemble. I hang wallpaper and come down the next morning to find it on the floor. Towel rails and toilet roll holders fall off the walls after three days.
Eventually, after much procrastination on my part and irritation on my wife’s, I took a deep breath and ventured forth. “I may be gone for some time,” I said as I closed the door like a latter day Captain Oates.
Actually I wasn’t gone very long at all. I came back in with the instructions. “Step one,” I read aloud to my wife. “Get a hacksaw and remove eight inches of your drainpipe about four feet from the ground.”
“That’s an end of that then,” said my wife, who is well aware of my deficiencies in anything practical. “You start cutting the drainpipe and the whole gable end is liable to come tumbling down.”
Call me stupid – and many people do – but I had never actually realised that you were supposed to connect the water butt up to your downpipe. I thought you just left it outside and you attached a tap and that was it. Notwithstanding my uselessness at sawing, we simply didn’t have the room down our very narrow side path to fit a butt without blocking in the wheelie bins.
“Okay, Plan B,” I said. “We just leave it outside the back door with the lid off and let it fill with rain water.
“If you think I’m going to spend my day staring at your butt outside the back door, you have another think coming,” replied my wife. “If we have visitors, all they will see is your butt. Think about it for a second.”
I thought about it for a second. “How about if I move my butt down by the shed?” I asked. “That way we can collect rainwater that rolls off the shed roof.”
“Yes, get your butt down to the end of the garden,” she replied and the finality in her voice left me in no doubt that there was no room for compromise.
The water butt had an inside part, like a huge plastic jelly mould, which I couldn’t really figure out what it was for. It had another piece to replace the eight inches of drainpipe (ho, hum) and a hose to connect butt and pipe, now also obsolete. It also had a tap which I dexterously fitted in to the only place possible – about an inch from the ground.
I removed the jelly mould and other bits and hauled my butt down to the shed, placing it strategically beneath the sloping roof. Then with great manual dexterity, that surprised even myself, I affixed the tap. Brilliant, I thought, standing back and admiring my handiwork.
Of course I soon spotted the flaw. If the tap was an inch from the bottom of the butt, how could you get a bucket or watering can under it, when you needed to water the garden?
Like Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot, I wrestled with this problem, scratching my chin and biting my bottom lip to show how seriously I was taking this. Then, just to be different, I scratched my bottom lip and bit my chin. This seemed to work, for the light bulb appeared over my head almost immediately.
I disappeared into the shed and re-emerged with one of the patio chairs bought in Tommy’s last September when they were selling them off. I placed the chair against the shed and then sat my butt into it. It nestled there snugly and the tap was now a good eighteen inches off the ground. Pure genius, I thought to myself and dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself on the back.
As you are only too well aware, this year’s summer has been a trifle moist. Consequentially, my butt filled up very quickly, aided by the water collecting in the huge jelly mould which I also left by the shed and which I emptied regularly. Even my wife had to admit that for once I’d had a very good idea and that my contribution to the environment when/if the dry spell came would be immense.
Then, about a fortnight ago, in one of those rare relatively dry days that my wife and I managed to get out to survey the wreckage of our garden, I checked the butt to see how it was coming along. To my surprise, it was practically up to the top lip. “Just about full,” I said and carefully poured the contents of the huge jelly mould in on top. Perfect! I placed the lid on top to stop any water evaporating and forming more rain clouds and walked back up the garden.
The next sequence of events happened in a split second but, replaying it in my mind, it all seemed to happen in slow-motion. I heard a loud crack and turned. My wife, duelling a rampant pyrrhacantha with a pair of shears, screamed. The patio chair buckled as the leg snapped off under the weight and the water butt went crashing to earth, spilling the entire 200 litres of rainwater over a startled viburnum.
“You idiot!” was all my wife could gasp noiselessly as two months of assiduous rainwater collecting went crashing to earth.(Actually there might have been a third word in there in between “you” and “idiot” but I an still too traumatised to recall.) I reached the water butt and pulled it upright but there was less than a teaspoonful left inside it. I picked up the plastic chair leg and idly wondered how I could have expected one plastic chair to bear the weight of 200 litres of water. With a sinking heart I noticed too that in the fall, a large split had appeared down three-quarters of the length of the giant container.
“That’s it!” I said, turning away in disgust, already preparing myself for a lengthy stay in the kennel. “I’ve had enough of this environmental lark. You just end up breaking your butt for nothing.”