Tuesday, October 19, 2021
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Hypocrisy on tap

Notes from the Sticks: Hypocrisy on tap

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LAST week I received an email headed ‘Urgent help needed to save water’ from United Utilities, which supplies north west England where we live. It moaned that ‘the recent dry spell and warmer weather over the summer, along with more of us staying at home during the holidays, working from home or choosing to holiday more locally, has meant a big increase in the amount of water being used, we’re supplying 59million more litres of water every day to meet demand. The impact of this has reduced levels in some of our key reservoirs across the region.’

It added: ‘A simple way to make a big impact is to turn the tap off when you brush your teeth, which will save around 24 litres a day, enough for 96 cups of tea!’

United Utilities is the largest water company in the UK (in the wettest region of England) with a cast-iron guaranteed income which is rising steadily as more houses are built. Shareholders include the US hedge funds BlackRock, Lazard and Vanguard, and the Norwegian Norges Bank Investment Management. In the year ending March 2020 its profits rose £32million to £492million on revenue of £1.86billion (using raw material that is free), and the share dividend was increased by 3.2 per cent to 24.8p per ordinary share. The chief executive, Steven Mogford, received a pay and incentives package totalling £2.56million. This is despite the fact that in 2019-20 his company allowed 446million litres of water a day to leak from its infrastructure, second only to Thames Water with 595million. To use the usual measure, that is the equivalent of nearly 180 Olympic sized swimming pools. It dwarfs the 59million litres a day in extra demand. And they have the nerve to tell their customers to save water!

Note 1: One could perhaps excuse the high United Utilities leakage because it is the largest water supply company. However the Discover Water website DiscoverWater (en-GB) gives two other measures. The first is cubic metres of water leaked per kilometre of pipe, and United Utilities is the third-worst (2019-20) out of 20 suppliers with 10.5 after Thames Water (18.8) and South Staffs (11.2). The second is litres of water leaked per property supplied by the company per day, and United Utilities is the second-worst with 132 after Thames Water with 152.

Note 2: I tried the other day to report a leak beside a country road to the United Utilities website section headed ‘I have spotted a leak in the street – how do I report it?’ After filling in many personal details I got to a question asking for the postcode of the leak. At this point I gave up. Edit 11.50am: A reader has pointed out that there is a map on the site so that you can identify where the leak is (providing you know the area).

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I think I have said this before, but if I came back as an animal I would choose to be a ram. Ten months of the year idling and chatting with other blokes, and the work’s not bad either. This week I spotted this fellow waiting to be called upon to do his duty, and admired his magnificent Roman nose. I believe he is a blue-faced Leicester of the ‘crossing’ type.

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It was reported yesterday that a single case of the cow disease BSE has been found on a Somerset farm. That brought back a couple of treasured memories. The first is that Professor Neil Ferguson, the man single-handedly responsible for the disgrace that was lockdown but who did not feel that his own rules applied to him, predicted in 2002 that up to 50,000 people would die from exposure to BSE. In the UK, there have been 178 deaths. The second is the immortal 1990 image of the then Tory MP John Selwyn Gummer force-feeding his four-year-old daughter Cordelia with a burger to prove that there was no danger from eating beef. The child wisely refused to take a bite so he ate it himself. Gummer is now Lord Deben, chairman of the allegedly independent Climate Change Committee whose every pronouncement, like that of Professor Ferguson, is treated by the government as holy writ. Is there a pattern?

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Finally, from the ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ department, I particularly enjoyed this comment by ‘Circle of Willis’ on last week’s column: 

‘These videos remind me of an experience I had a few years ago.
We were walking along the River Great Ouse and came to a section where it’s joined by a small tributary which was surrounded by ponds of various sizes in a field with several cows. We heard a voice in the distance shouting “Help, help!”

‘Following the sound, we arrived at the pondside where we found a lady in a rowing boat, with about five feet of water between her and the bank, holding a calf’s head over the side of her boat whilst its body flailed around in the water.

‘She said that she had seen the calf slip into the water and appear to be drowning, so she’d rowed across to it as fast as she could and managed to get its head above water and resting on the side of the boat. She then struggled to get to them both to the bank. She’d got to within a few feet but was unable to get closer without losing her grip on the calf.

‘Immediately I leaped into action (as you do). I noticed that the edge of the pond, which sloped up at a 30-degree angle before reaching the grass, consisted mainly of mud and the odd cowpat but luckily, there was a small tree partially overhanging the water. Grasping a branch, I had intended to lower myself to water’s edge and somehow drag the calf in.

‘It didn’t work. The branch gave way and I was now up to my knees in the water. So I grabbed hold of the calf by the neck and attempted to drag it out and up the muddy slope. A calf is a surprisingly heavy beast and by the time I’d managed to get it, slipping and sliding, to the top, I was not only thoroughly exhausted but also covered in mud.

‘The dripping calf was having problems standing up and there were now eight or nine other cows standing all around me. One of them was bucking and braying and licking the calf, so assuming that she was its mother, I crawled off. As I did so she lifted her tail and in a touching gesture of bovine appreciation, squirted a jet of liquid sewage at me.’

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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