Victoria Summerley: What happens to the water at midnight?

City Life: 'Why does my water cut off and then mysteriously reappear? The supplier hasn't a clue – but it's never their fault'
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The Independent Online

We've had a bit of trouble with our water supply recently. On two or three occasions, at around 11.30pm to midnight, the water has gone off. Right off. Not a trickle, not a drop.

The first time it happened, I was too tired to do anything about it and went to bed hoping it would be restored by morning, which it was. Thames Water don't actually like you to report a fault unless you're very sure that there is a genuine problem. In order to make sure, they ask you to try every tap in the house, especially the mains tap (which is usually the kitchen tap) on the ground floor. They also ask you to contact your neighbours to find out if they are having similar problems.

This sounds fair enough in theory, but it's frustrating if you're ringing people at midnight. I wouldn't dream of disturbing my neighbours at this time, so there is no way of acquiring corroboration for a complaint unless they also happen to have rung Thames Water themselves. This steers you into rather stormy metaphysical waters, if you'll excuse the metaphor.

The second time our water supply went off, I was lucky. When I rang Thames, I was told that a couple of people in my area had also rung to complain and that Thames would investigate. Twenty-four hours later, they rang back to say that their investigations had revealed no faults or problems. So why had my water gone off and mysteriously come back on again? They hadn't a clue. They were absolutely certain, however, that it was not the result of any fault on their part.

The third time it happened, on a hot, sultry night when I had been looking forward to a shower, I rang again. This time, I was told that there was no problem; no one else had rung, and until they did there would be no investigation.

I said that, in my humble opinion, there was a problem, because I had no water. Moreover, this was now the third time I had experienced a complete lack of water. No, said the woman on the other end firmly, until someone else rang to report a fault, there was not a problem. How could I know that the fault was in the supply and not at my property? Perhaps, she suggested, I had accidentally shut off the water supply myself.

This is unlikely, because I have no idea where the stopcock is. Of course, it is possible that I had been sleepwalking or hallucinating ("Is that a stopcock I see before me, the handle toward my hand?"). Or maybe I had undergone some sort of out-of-body experience while watching BBC News 24, and as my earthly shell lay slumped on the sofa, the ghostly fingers of my astral self had somehow twirled themselves around the valve.

Perhaps Thames Water adheres to some new theory of perception, which holds that in order for an observation to be valid, it must be experienced by at least two people. Even as I write this, someone at Thames may be beavering away on a philosophical treatise to be presented at some conference in Nebraska or Trondheim. They could call it Logical Negativism.

I think Thames Water ought to do a swap with the Samaritans. Thames could then reassure anxious and distressed people that there was absolutely, categorically, nothing to worry about. And the Samaritans could offer those who had no water a bit of sympathy.



****

August in London can be a very pleasant experience. Deserted by school-run mums and white-van men for Polzeath and Puerto Banus, it makes a great destination for a "staycation", as the Americans call it. Dusty? Hot? No. It's quiet, unhurried. The traffic that builds up to gridlock proportions around Christmas is at its most pianissimo. The roar of the chattering classes falls silent, and the only people in Parliament are American and Japanese.

Everyone with artistic pretensions has disappeared to the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, where they will see five excruciating shows and one good one and secretly enjoy the street entertainers and the fireworks display far more than the nude production of King Lear in medieval Serbo-Croat, or whatever this year's Eastern European offering happens to be.

Meanwhile, back home, it's rather relaxing not to have to keep up with the latest reviews or have a sensible opinion about the new play at the National. Instead, you can stretch out on the grass in park or garden, and read a book or even (luxury) stare into space.

This isn't to say that there aren't things on in London. There are the carnivals: Notting Hill, the Mela, the Carnaval del Pueblo. You can take in the culture of practically the entire world within less than 20 miles.

And let's look at the alternatives. Most of school-age Britain is at the beach, or in a theme park, so you don't want to go there. The entire population of Europe has squeezed itself into all the places you might consider as a holiday destination, leaving restaurants, shops and cafés in Paris and Madrid either shut or manned by grumpy staff. Most of the Caribbean is in a hurricane zone, as is the south-eastern United States, where a cool day is 100F. It's winter in the southern hemisphere and the monsoon season in India.

Not convinced yet? If you want proof that London can be a cool place to spend August, here's the clincher. You still can't get a table at The Ivy.

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