Is there a dowser in the house?

Using rods and wands, divining has had its share of detractors, but many satisfied customers swear by it, says Christopher Browne
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The Independent Online

If you've got a dripping pipe or faulty radiator, you would normally call in the plumber to fix it. And if you live in the Lewisham area of south-east London, you may well contact a plumber called John Emin. But instead of appearing at the front door with a box of tools and a monkey wrench, he'll try to find the source with a practice known as distant dowsing.

It may sound too far-fetched for words, but more than 20 architects, several multinational companies and many householders like you and me have called in this leak-detector extraordinaire and are more than satisfied with the results. For Emin is not only a trained plumber but is also a member of the British Society of Dowsers (BSD).

Leaks are niggly and unpleasant, especially now we've just turned on the central heating. Like my neighbour, you may already be at your wit's end after days and weeks trying to find the source of one that has seeped into the cellar and destroyed some precious books, seriously damaged a valuable carpet or created the Chinese torture of a 24-hour drip.

But, instead of the sound wave and texting technology used by the average water company, dowsers use rods, pendulums and wands to get to the root of a problem - and it's all done by remote control. The dowser waves a pair of rods over a plan or drawing, and the moment they start moving, they know they've cracked it. The client is then contacted and the repairers called in.

The BSD has 1,200 members, a website and a list of dowsers highly experienced in the art of leak-solving. "People have been dowsing for thousands of years, but it's still a relatively unknown practice," says Emin, who works for a company of eight south-east London-based plumbers and drainage specialists.

Though BSD members are allowed to advertise, Emin prefers not to. "It's because I'd be positively deluged with enquiries," he says. Almost all his dowsing jobs come from previous clients and recommendations. "I'm usually approached when all the conventional methods have dried up and people are getting extremely worried and frustrated."

Once contact has been made, he asks his client to send him a plan or drawing of the affected building, including the pipework and, if necessary, central heating system. It is then that his divining powers come into play. "I take out my pendulum or rods and follow the contours of the plan until there is movement. Once I've established the source, I phone the customer and tell them so it can be fixed."

Emin doesn't claim infallibility, though. "I've made one or two mistakes due to illness or incompetence, but I find the answer in almost every case," he says. When he does, he charges the homeowner a £75 finding fee - £420 for any commercial projects. One firm of London architects has paid him more than £2,000 for working his magic on drainage, central heating and flooding problems, though he didn't charge when he recently sourced a flooding difficulty at BBC Television Centre in west London. "I found the project too interesting so I didn't charge them," he says.

But leaks are not the only source of Emin's powers. A developer planning to build a supermarket near Bristol asked him to check out the site's stability. "I discovered coal deposits and two old mining shafts, one of them 480 feet down, but the company said they had already seen it all in a report from the Coal Board and decided to call me in for a second opinion," he says.

Most of the time, Emin, a distant relative of the artist Tracy Emin, is a hard-working plumber and drain repairer. "Dowsing is like mixing business with pleasure, and until seven years ago, I never charged for it. But demand has really really picked up, so I decided to levy a fee for my services."

So what do the water companies think about dowsing? Midlands-based SevernTrentWater is unequivocal. "We don't use dowsing - we've got more advanced technology than that," says a spokesman.

A spokeswoman for Thames Water, the UK's largest water services company, comments: "Though we use conventional methods such as soundwaves and giant ear trumpets to find leaks, we cannot see any harm in dowsing. Our responsibility stops at the boundary of the home, so customers who have leaks or plumbing problems can do what they like to trace them. "With all the recent controversy about plumbers who overcharge, calling in a dowser to find the source of a leak could be an excellent alternative," adds the spokesman.

Contact a dowser or find out more about the practice on the British Society of Dowsers' site www.britishdowsers.org

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