Turn Off the Tap
01 June 2006

While we rush around our homes checking for dripping taps, the water companies also have some work to do, putting their own house in order.

During England’s last ‘great drought’, in 1976, I was in Africa, where people tended to fall about at the suggestion that the UK might be short of rain.

Thirty years on, the drought threatening the south-east of England is serious stuff—caused by the driest 14 months for 80 years. Pictures of half-full reservoirs keep appearing in the media and hosepipe bans are being imposed. This means that householders can no longer use a hose to water their garden or wash their cars—although, for some reason, they can still hose down their patios and driveways.

Meanwhile, a huge amount of water leaks away through holes in water pipes: 3,608 million litres a day in the year up to March 2005. So, while we rush around our homes checking for dripping taps, the water companies also have some work to do, putting their own house in order.

Undervalued care
The care of the elderly is Britain’s last taboo, maintains comedian and TV presenter, Tony Robinson. His moving documentary for Channel 4, Me and My Mum, told the story of his mother’s last months in residential care, suffering from dementia. When he started making the programme, he was astonished to discover how many of his acquaintances were going through similar experiences. ‘People see having a parent dementing or in care as their own personal, isolated tragedy.’

As part of the docu-mentary, Robinson visited someone who had made a different choice from his own, Italian Londoner Rosa Bellino. Bellino cares for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, in a small council flat and has not had a night out for years. Reflecting on the interview afterwards, Robinson said that it had not turned out as he expected. Instead of revealing someone who was carrying an intolerable burden, it had been infused with love.

In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Robinson described Bellino’s decision to give up her career to ‘see her mum through the rest of her life’ as ‘quite wonderful’. It is shocking, he pointed out, that carers like her receive only £45 a week in state support. Foster parents, by contrast, can receive up to £300.

No push-over
When four of us from a charity which helps detained asylum seekers offered to talk to eight different classes of 16-year-olds about refugees, it seemed a daunting task. And, indeed, the young people were no push-over.

At the end of each talk, we handed out evaluation forms asking the students whether their attitudes had changed at all, and why? More than one said that the talk had had no effect whatsoever on their negative view of asylum seekers, ‘because I don’t want to change my views.’

Other responses were more encouraging. ‘I always thought there was an asylum problem in this country,’ wrote one, ‘but now I think that the problem of asylum is not with the seekers but with us.’

Moth alert
Last year I donned my boots and took part in a national survey into the health of our most common wild plants. I was allocated a kilometre square of the Ordnance Survey map of my locality and told to find out what was growing at its exact centre. This turned out to be in somebody’s garden. Fortunately they were welcoming, their garden was large and my patch was wild: but I only managed four or five of the species listed.

The people who took part in a survey of garden birds over the last weekend in January seem to have had more fun. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reported that ‘a staggering 8.1 million birds’ were counted, by ‘a record-breaking number of participants’.

Meanwhile quieter, and more nocturnal, souls have been counting moths. Alarmingly, this survey has found that numbers have crashed by a third in the last 40 years, with some 200 species showing a decline. This is bad news for the birds and bats who feed on them; and a clear sign that Britain’s biodiversity as a whole is in a bad way.

Moths aren’t everyone’s favourite insects. But they enchanted the Victorians who gave them such romantic names as Maiden’s Blush, Merveille du Jour and Kentish Glory. Reason enough to mourn their passing.

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