Water, Water Everywhere, But Not In East London

March 28, 2010

I woke up on Friday morning, crawled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen to get some water. I turned on the cold tap to find no water coming out. I tried the hot tap to find that was also dry. By the time I had tried the taps in the bathroom, I realised there was no water in Pie Palace. I was not best pleased, obviously, but I reassured myself this would probably only last a few hours, so there was nothing to worry about. In the meantime, how was I going to wash myself with no water? Well, necessity really is the mother of invention. It just so happened there was a wine glass full of water in the kitchen, so I took this into the bathroom and with a fistful of cotton pads, set about washing myself. Once I had completed my much-reduced ablutions, I called Thames Water.

As befitting companies in this digital age, I had to go through 3 layers of automated crap (and this was on an emergency number!) before I was welcomed by a recording, informing me of what had happened (a burst pipe in the Olympic village) and how they’d hoped to have it resolved by the afternoon. I suppose it had to be a recorded message because you couldn’t expect both call centre staff in some far flung country to be able to handle the deluge of worried customers.

By midday, I was ready to go out and do some food shopping. Although I was sure the water would be back on by the afternoon as promised, I decided to get a couple of single 1.5 litre bottles of water to keep me going in case this dry spell continued into the night, or the next morning. I could’ve gone for the 5 litre, but it would’ve been much heavier to carry and I don’t have a car. I went to various supermarkets to find the only bottled water left were a couple of sorry looking sparkling water bottles and lots of flavoured versions. At Lidl, one of my favourite budget supermarkets, I was shocked to find there was not one single bottle of water left in the store. That place is usually piled high with the stuff. All I saw before me were pallets where the bottles used to be. This was panic buying in the extreme. My last place to call was a little shop I like to visit often. If there were no water bottles at that shop, I would’ve been at a loss at what to do next. Well, there was one bottle in the fridge, which I grabbed with grateful hands, but as I walked around the shop, there was another solitary bottle on the shelf. This stray looked like it needed a home and I was going to provide it. I took both bottles to the counter, but suddenly decided I would take only one. I thought of someone like me, hoping to find that precious bottle of water as I walked into a shop, only to find that every bottle had gone because of someone else’s fear. As I walked home, I hoped the water would be back on, not least because in a windowless bathroom, as is the fashion for new build flats in London these days, that toilet needed to be flushed, if you know what I mean. I reached Pie Palace, put the bottle down and turned on the tap. The clear liquid gushing out of that faucet was a very welcome sight.

It occurred to me that this was just a small taste of what could happen if water was in very short supply here in the West. In the event of that disaster, I’m sure I’d be one of the instant dead, because I didn’t rush out to stock up and even though an opportunity presented itself for me to take everything that was available, I left enough for someone else, thus possibly reducing my chances of survival.

What would you have done? Stockpiled like your life depended on it, or decided to be calm and trust that everything would be OK?



  1. I’ve seen the same thing happen when there is a hurricane warning. Water… Gone. Canned food… Gone. Cereal, chips, crackers… Gone, gone, everything gone! I always find it so bizarre. I mean it’s good to be prepared but shit! You don’t have to buy out the whole store! What about other people? That was really good of you to leave a bottle behind. Hope your water is still up and running!

  2. Intriguing story, and I heart you for leaving the last bottle. A generous spirit indeed.

    • Thanks for that Theresa. I hope I would still be able to do that if there was a really big emergency. Oh, and thanks for having a look at my blog. It’s much appreciated.

      • I think it was rather generous of you as well. Even if it doesn’t necessary mean you will definitely leave the last bottle of water on the shelf in the event of a really big emergency, at least it means you will at least think before you act. And that means a lot.

        There are many people who won’t even stop to think.

        • Thanks for that, Mallcop. I have nothing to add here.

  3. It’s a good job the olympic ‘aquatic centre’ (swimming pool to us normal people) has been reduced to a paddling pool by the bean counters otherwise you probably wouldn’t have had any water for days while they were filling it.

    • Looks like I’d better stock up on that water now. Just in case…

  4. It is an interesting thing the panic buying that occurs soemtimes. It says a lot about you that you left that second bottle for the next person. If only we could all find it in us to think of the next person wouldn’t the world be a nicer place.

    I loved this
    “I suppose it had to be a recorded message because you couldn’t expect both call centre staff in some far flung country to be able to handle the deluge of worried customers”
    Made me laugh right out loud

    • The world can be a nicer place. Bloody hard work, though. If I made you laugh out loud, my job is done.

  5. Imagine what it would be like if the water stopped, not before you get into the shower, but when you were just shampooing your hair.

    That would be priceless. Actually happened to me once. I wailed because I needed to get back to a 12 hour shift in just 8 hours.

    I blamed my mom because she nagged me into taking a shower. I was like ‘nooo, they said they would cut off the water at 10!’ but she was like ‘it’s only 9.50! you have 10 minutes more!’

    And the bastard workers cut off the water at precisely 9.55pm.

    • The definition of mean, encapsulated in that final sentence.

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