Water, water, every where,


Samuel Taylor ColeridgeRetirement doesn’t leave me literally ‘as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean’, or indeed day after day, stuck, with neither breath nor motion, although I can relate to the metaphors in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
A poem from which we had to learn verses when I was at school and which I have never forgotten, well – perhaps – partly remembered.  Increasingly drawn to the view that the very deep does rot and that slimy things crawl with slimy legs upon this slimy sea: as my spirit slid this curmudgeon contemplated his hand in ‘the shooting of the albatross’. If you will: my own diffuse dissatisfactions.

Coleridge Cottage – Exmoor

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

The foregoing: being a longer than intended introduction to the fact that we are having a lot of rain here in England. All this rain, which has ruined my attempts at self-sufficiency on my vegetable plot, reminded me of the time that I asked my neighbour if he would water some plants while I was away. From the expression on his face I sensed that he wished to hold onto his water and that he must have a water meter installed. He claims that metered water has reduced his water utility bill significantly and I’ll take his word for that, but it may be simply that he washes less and doesn’t flush the toilet.

I didn’t press him on this, but at the time it made me think about the so-called ‘privatisation’ of the utility companies. I am totally opposed to any campaign asking me to ‘save energy, water, or any other privatised utility output’. My rationale for this being that if we consume less, then the profits of a utility company fall and the price of their utility must increase to maintain shareholder dividends. If you think this a selfish approach to global problems, you are right. I am convinced that  we are being sold a pup when advised by the government on ways to mitigate these ‘global problems’. Of course, such an attitude may simply be the influence Coleridge and the onset of senility:

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that Woman’s mate?

We have recently had a ban on using hose-pipes lifted.  Earlier in the year a drought was forecast for England, particularly in the South East, which has the greatest density of population and the least water.  The media reports raised the old chestnut of the amount of water wasted – through loss – in its distribution. A problem that privatisation was supposed to address. Really? The rain has fallen freely and profusely from the sky, causing the hose-pipe ban to be lifted and the media to go off in search another bête noire. Providing respite for the board members of the water utilities from the ubiquitous drip, drip, of the media regarding their leaking water works.

All this rain, deluge after deluge, filling our reservoirs, flooding wetlands, swelling rivers, nature’s bounty becoming nature’s nightmare. Yet: as manna from heaven, it now replenished depleted reservoirs, a free bounty that caused the coffers of a private utility to overflow. At the same time, all this water, having increased the burden on the taxpayer, now flowed freely into the sea with non of the surplus being saved for the next scarcity of supply.

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

However: public ownership of the utilities, especially in the case of water,  did not lead to significant improvements in maintenance of the supply or improved distribution. The revenues generated by all the previous ‘publicly owned utilities‘ were used by successive governments as cash cows, their profits diverted into into the coffers of the exchequer.  Nor were these revenues  used to reduce taxation, they were always used to increase government spending.  Government profligacy that continued to increase the debt weight of the albatross hung around the neck of all current and future taxpayers. An increase that continues year on year through government subsidies to, or on behalf of, privatised utility companies.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

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