When I was growing up in my mother’s house I would wash myself in warm water, wash dishes in hot water, and wash delicates in luke warm water. It didn’t seem a big deal, the water was there, it was heated every day even in the summer by the magic of a gas-fired boiler. The boiler itself was an intriguing thing to me because the pilot light would often go out in the winter and it took at least three matches and lots of patience from mum and me to get it going again. The one time we had no water no one else did either. It was a hot summer and the water just dried up.
The consumption of water went up in that summer as it still does because people wanted to keep cool, keep their grass green and in those days they drank tap water and took baths. Mum had two buckets, the kitchen one all the used water from washing up went into and that was for the garden. The bathroom one all the ablutions water went into and that was used to flush the toilet. My sister and I had to walk to the next street with a wheelbarrow and two containers to collect water from the tank provided by the local council. It equalized the whole community because there was a precious commodity we all needed and none of us had. At school, we heard lectures on wasting water, we were shown pictures of children in Africa with buckets full of water on their heads. Ruth and I tried it that evening but they fell off, we got soaked and were chased by two women calling us wasteful youths. We didn’t run far because we still had to collect the water and then at home we listened to another tirade about wastefulness and ruining school uniforms. We did without tea that night and felt very sorry for ourselves.
As a student I lived in various rooms in various houses all had running hot water, that we frugally maintained. Being poverty stricken students, we rarely had enough money left over for frivolities such as bills when the necessities of life, beer, took so much of our time and money. As the student years progressed and the beer became a side issue as we were scrambling to get jobs, interviews were being held at college and local hostelries, we were in demand but we demanded hot water in order to present a clean grown up appearance.
My husband and I married in 1987 shortly after university finished and we moved into our new home, bought at a snip but with an endless mortgage and with running hot water. Not for long, Sean decided the taps needed new washers so he dismantled them—and they stayed dismantled until we moved. For the first time ever I did not live in a house with running hot water, it was a bone of contention between us but in the bigger scheme of things, small potatoes. I was actually more concerned with the big hole in the living room wall covered by plastic from the time he took off a shelf. He told me over and over that a burglar wouldn’t come in, it was two small. Small I would say you could get three hefty men side by side crawling through there. The hole was never fixed and neither were the taps, but in that first house I had an electric shower with a gas heater next to it so I could in a warm environment have a shower with my baby and then used the water to wash the cloth nappies before sterilizing them. I was poor, I was happy and as a newly wed in love so as not to notice the annoying foibles of my DIY freakishly bad husband.
Fast forward to this year after many houses and many towns we settled on the side of a mountain thirteen years ago. On my wedding anniversary I duly gave my husband a home made card with as much sentiment as I could muster and the postscript of please can we turn on the hot water. Yes, we are poor again but through all the good and bad times one thing as remained steadfast I have never had running hot water. To wash up I use a kettle, to shower I put the heating on full blast for two hours and then brave a lukewarm shower, my washing of clothes is all done in the basin, wrung out by hand and prayed for on the line. I send the boys swimming three times a week to keep their teenage smells at bay. I saw a picture of a young boy in Africa having his very first shower and it put it into perspective for a little time. When we go on holiday I spend so much time in the bathroom Sean jokes I have turned into a mermaid, but I am enjoying the steam rise from the bath as the tap fills a bath or a basin.
I am not helpless, I have started a surreptitious fund to pay for a plumber to fix the hot press and central heating, I will even have enough that he can change the washers for me and then, oh then I will be beaming like the boy in Africa and I will be so clean you could eat your dinner off my hands.