Fordyce Maxwell: Carrying their water needs for a day would give them a new perspective

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TIME, I think, to revive the saying “You never miss the water until the well runs dry.” Old it might be, but lack of water is more relevant to the future of large areas of the world than lack of food.

Not Scotland, surely? “It’s Scotland’s oil” could become “It’s Scotland’s water” with a lucrative export market to the south of England – but much of our east coast can be as dry as East Anglia. We don’t all get the rainfall a hill farmer in Argyll told me he got: “Usually about twelve feet.”

Slightly stunned, I did the conversion, 144 inches or almost four metres. But twelve feet is more impressive. How much some parts of the world, including at present the south of England, would give for a small share of that.

It has happened before and I’ve joked about my part in ending the great 1976 south of England drought by going, belatedly, to report on it. The rains came the night I got there.

And recently I suggested that the water shortage could be solved by banning anyone under 30 from taking a shower, because of the way they seem to go to sleep in there.

That was only partly a joke, more a pointer to an attitude that every utility will forever be on tap. Those of us who grew up with chemical toilets, a pump in gran’s yard, only Monday is washing day, only Sunday is bath night, a spring and unreliable wind pump to supply all human, pig and cattle needs, and know how much effort it takes to carry buckets and drums of water any distance, are more circumspect about water use.

That’s not playing the “in my day” card or starting a Monty Python style “Water pump in the yard? You were lucky…” discussion. It’s plain fact that if you’ve never suffered from lack of water or genuine thirst, you’re liable to stand in a shower and let it wash over you for 20 minutes, let the tap run while cleaning your teeth, or – a pet hate – turn the lawn sprinkler on after two dry days or let a garden hose run for hours.

I realise much of that is not a threat to world water supplies. Industry uses vast amounts of water. Leaking mains water supply systems lose vast amounts. Drought threatening the south of England, not the north of Scotland, creates far more media interest. Government doesn’t seem to take it seriously.

All I say is that getting everyone under the age of 40 – I’ve decided to raise the age limit – to carry all their water needs for a day for 400 metres in buckets would give them a new perspective on a precious asset.

Last week Fordyce... enjoyed the remarkable sunshine while in the garden and on a hill walk, but worried about the effect of the dry spell on Borders crops. You can take the boy out of the farm…