Tuesday, February 9, 2010


It doesn’t taste of much, it rots your boots and it causes alarm when it starts dripping through your kitchen ceiling. The Ancient Mariner bemoaned the fact that it was everywhere but there wasn’t a drop of drink. And people have actually drowned in it.
On the other hand, we are still the only planet in the solar system to have it in abundance – either the still or sparkling variety – and it’s a handy way of separating continents, when all things are considered.
During the recent big snow, we were advised by Fingal County Council to stop running our taps at night to stop our pipes freezing, as water levels in the county were getting perilously low.
I was about to write in and tell them that we hadn’t been doing that at all when the concept suddenly hit home. Up till then I had never thought of running my taps at night to stop the pipes from freezing. What a brilliant idea!
My wife, though, who is far more mindful of concepts like ‘civic duty’ and ‘water conservation’ gave me one of her famous withering stares when I broached the subject and I knew it was a non runner. I therefore fell in behind her new water campaign which, already quite stringent, now became punitive.
The dishwasher, for the time being at least, could have a break. It uses 15 litres of water per cycle, whereas we could wash by hand, the old-fashioned way, using a half a kettle of boiled water per day.
I was not to have my traditional St Bernard blackcurrant cordial with my dinner but could make do with lemon and lime like the rest of them. Similarly, I was to have no water in my whiskey on a Friday night, just a splash of red lemonade. When I gave my car its six monthly wash, instead of filling a red basin, she handed me a mug of hot water and a sponge. Teeth were to be brushed in a thimbleful of water. And only when absolutely caked in dirt, so our skin was barely visible, were we allowed to have a shower. And even then, my wife was to stand outside the door with a stopwatch.
Invigorated by this water conservation fervour, I suggested that, as everybody knew that having a shower used much less water than having a bath, maybe we could all have bath but (and here was the clever bit) we should fill up the bath using the shower attachment instead. I am still reeling from the second withering stare in two days.
I have to admit that, such was the rigour of the new regime, that I rebelled, once and once only. When she was down her mother’s, and I was alone in the house, I flippantly and gratuitously turned on the tap and let the water run joyously down the plug hole for three seconds.
“Go, my children!” I whispered as the twirling liquid ran out of sight. “Find your way safely and quickly to the Great Sea.” It felt good, though when my wife returned I felt sure that she could read my flush of guilt by the way she kept eying me suspiciously, even though I had dried the bottom of the sink with a bit of kitchen roll, so not to give the game away.
Of course, the worry is that our efforts are merely a drop in the ocean. When I used to drive in to work along the back roads by the Cappagh Hospital, I had to drive down a road in Finglas West that I don’t think has been dry for ten years. There’s obviously a leak there somewhere that has never been fixed and it makes you wonder what is the point in conserving tiny bits of water when it’s gushing away merrily somewhere else and nobody seems to care.
But as my wife says, that’s no reason for personal irresponsibility.
There is no fear of water charges in our house. The amount of water we use, the Council will probably end up owing us money, unless of course they do what they did with the black bins and realise everybody’s being too green and they aren’t generating enough revenue and slap a fixed charge on top of the water consumption charge.
No, I’ll nail my colours firmly to the mast here, even though I’m getting pretty short of colours and am only left with a light ochre and sunset red. I believe that water should be free to be enjoyed by the whole nation as a God-given unalienable right. We live in a temperate and moist climate, abundant with water, and this should be free to the benefit of all. And if anyone wants to put pots out in the garden to collect rainwater or go down to the Tolka and scoop up a lunchbox full of water, they should be allowed to do that without fear of financial retribution. And they can gulp as many lungfuls of air as they like, while they’re at it.
If however, they want to avail of water that has been collected in reservoirs, treated, pumped to water towers, treated again and then pumped through miles of maintained piping to the comfort of their own homes, then I don’t think it unreasonable to levy a small charge based on consumption levels. There is nothing else in our homes that costs money to produce that we get for free, except maybe plastic sacks from spurious charity collectors.
Or else we can all go back to the old system of going down to the village well with our buckets and do away with indoor plumbing altogether. Come to think of it, that mightn’t be such a bad idea, as it would get people talking to each other in a community environment, much the way the water cooler does in the office. Of course, it might mean a few of our young people would die of thirst before they lifted a bucket but hey, we’re overpopulated anyway.
Yesterday, the cold tap in the wash hand basin in the bathroom, which had been stiff for a while, suddenly seized up. It turns about a half of turn but no water comes out.
I thought she’d be happy but she wasn’t.

Taking the plunge in the property market

I tend to keep my cards very close to my chest where financial matters are concerned. I find that if I leave them any further away, I walk off and forget about them and my wife is always picking them up and throwing them in the green bin.
So recently, when I got a welcome and totally unexpected piece of news regarding an inheritance, I did not clamber up on the roof and pronounce the glad tidings at the top of my voice. I simply sat there at the kitchen table smiling to myself and humming a Lionel Richie tune.
“What are you looking so pleased about?” demanded my wife suspiciously. My sudden bursts of good humour tend to have an unnerving effect on her and the sooner she gets to the bottom of my bonhomie, the easier she can rest.
“Oh, no reason, my little Venus flycatcher,” I smiled at her sweetly. “What way’s the property market these days? Have we reached the bottom yet?”
“What are you up to?” she countered, maintaining her long tradition of answering a question with a question.
It was no good. I could keep it in no longer.
“It’s just that I was thinking of buying an apartment in Kimmage,” I announced breezily.
The words had the desired effect. My wife’s jaw dropped and she stared at me like a guppy fish. My daughter shrieked. “For me? For me?” while my son wanted to know where Kimmage was.
It was obvious from my wife’s expression that she was missing some information here so I calmly told her about the inheritance and explained that I was thinking of delving into the property market. And to my daughter’s deep disappointment, I told her that I was thinking of buying it as an investment property to keep the wolf from the door later on. I had never thought of myself as a landlord but the more I considered the idea, the more I liked it, especially as everyone around me seemed to have property here, there and everywhere.
I could see my wife was doubtful from the way her eyebrows were so arched they were actually two inches above the top of her head. The questions came thick and fast. Why this sudden interest in the property market? Did I think this was really a good time to buy? Would I not be leaving myself short if other contingencies arose? What kind of return could I expect from an apartment in Kimmage?
I explained to my son that Kimmage was where the three lovely lasses came from and that it was on the south side of the city, probably the equivalent of Phibsboro (which he’d heard of.)
And then patiently I told my wife that I had been thinking of investing in an apartment for quite a while and the inheritance had provided me with the funds to do it. I was quite satisfied with the expected yields and was confident the apartment would not remain idle for long. Yes, I realised there were occasional levies on properties but that was a chance I had to take.
“But Kimmage?” she said incredulously.
“I know it sounds weird,” I replied, “but realistically I’m not going to afford anywhere in the City Centre or Dublin 4. But hey, who knows, with the returns from this property, the next step could well be an apartment on Grafton Street.”
“You’re sure you have this inheritance?” she persisted. “It’s not like in Coronation Street where people spend thousands and haven’t read the small print?”
In reply, I simply smiled and held up my recent communication. She snatched it out of my hand and began to read avidly, while Louise and Neil clamoured around, reading over her shoulder.
“Some people have all the luck,” she grumbled eventually, handing it back to me with little grace. “Well, it’s your money and you can spend it how you like. All I will say to you is – think very carefully. It’s a very big step, owning property.”
“Nobody ever got rich without taking risks,” I countered. “Listen, I’ve done the sums and they all work out. One thing’s for sure, the prices aren’t going to get any lower and I can always remortgage if things start getting sticky.”
Louise and Neil resumed their seats, somewhat gruffly I thought. I think they thought I might have given them a handout. Not in this game, I thought. You reap what you sow and you don’t get a free ride from anyone.
“Right,” said my wife. “Put your card back at the bottom of the pile. €500,000 for your inheritance. €500,000 the cost of one apartment. There you go. That should send shivers down the spine of anyone avoiding my hotels on Shrewsbury Road and Ailesbury Road.”