At the time of writing, I have spent the last four days without running water, while waiting for a replacement borehole pump to be fitted – an enormous task I understand, and probably something everyone could do without at this time of year – well, I suppose any time of year really.
It feels a bit like camping, washing up dishes in half a bowl of tepid water, and washing the body in much the same way! We have always bought water for drinking anyway, but it made me realise how much water we actually waste. Countless times over the last few days I have automatically gone to rinse my fingers under a running tap, and cursed when nothing came out. Now I keep a small amount in a bowl for rinsing sticky fingers and refresh it when necessary.
Do we actually need to shower every day? Obviously, if you have a dirty job - or a sweaty job – and certainly in the heat of full summer a shower is required sometimes twice a day, but how many people turn the water off while you are ‘soaping up’ and then back on again for a final rinse? I will be the first to admit I love the luxury of standing in a hot shower or filling a bath up until I start to float, but years ago if you were posh, some poor little servant girl would have sweated her way up and down the stairs with steaming jugs to indulge your bathing requirements. If you were poor, you had a shallow bath once a week ‘whether you needed it or not’ as they used to say, with the man of the house getting first dibs at the clean water first, and everyone else hopping in his water, in age order. This is where the saying ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ comes from, as the water would have been so dirty you wouldn’t have seen the baby in there!
Even I remember as a child my mother dumping me in the big stone sink in the kitchen for a bath (saving water perhaps), and when my own kids were small we didn’t have a bath, just a shower, and I would fill the footwell of this with a few inches of precious water - precious because water had to be tankered into a house with no mains or borehole. Water was conserved after rainy days, but it was never enough.
If we get to a stage here in Portugal where droughts become more common – and they are becoming more frequent already – our precious water might even become rationed. Can you imagine, say, only a few gallons being allowed every day, or no water after a certain time? Or only on certain days? My mind is working overtime – imagining us all trooping off to the baragem or nearest river with baskets of washing, and bashing the sheets on a rock, because we couldn’t waste the water at home! What a backwards step it would be, in an age where we can put man on the moon but not water in our taps.
Another area where water is wasted, is in the loo. We used to have a rather indelicate saying: ‘when it’s yellow, let it mellow, when it’s brown, flush it down’. I suppose the good thing is that most loos have a ‘short flush’ or ‘long flush’ option, but even then, it takes quite a bit of water for the ‘short’ flush, 5 to 7 gallons in fact for an older loo, so perhaps we should flush less, and certainly not just to wash a tissue or cigarette butt away.
There are masses of water-saving tips available – but in the meantime, I keep my fingers crossed that ‘normal service will be resumed’ soon, or we will be begging friends for a shower instead of a cup of tea on our next visit to them – or we will be forced to join a gym just for the free showers!