TOM UTLEY: Bad luck, hosepipe snoopers! Mrs U's gives plants dishwater

TOM UTLEY: Bad luck, hosepipe snoopers! Mrs U's gives plants dishwater


TOM UTLEY: Bad luck, hosepipe snoopers! Mrs U’s so saintly with our taps she’ll only give the pot plants dishwater

Tensions are running high in the Utley household, as we prepare to meet our eldest son’s future mother-in-law for the first time. She’ll be flying over from her home in Canada to stay with us before the wedding, which takes place tomorrow week, and my wife is all of a flutter, getting everything ready to receive her.

She’s bought new bath towels for our guest — though I must say I can’t see anything wrong with the spanking-clean old ones in the airing cupboard. At colossal expense, she’s had a man in, with a special machine for getting rid of the weeds between the slabs on the patio.

Meanwhile, she has scrubbed and polished every surface in the house — and I’ve no doubt she’ll do it all again before our visitor arrives.

All this, and she’s still agonising about what to wear for the wedding. True, she’s bought a new hat and frock for the occasion.

But after weeks of scouring the shops and the internet, she just can’t find the right shoes to go with her outfit.

Women, eh?

Hosepipe bans have been introduced in several areas following weeks of warm and dry weather


Strictly between you and me, I’m not at all sure what Mrs U is afraid of. By all accounts, the bride’s mother is a charming woman. Indeed, our son — who stayed with her in Toronto a few months ago — tells me that she’s perfectly delightful.

Was she ever likely to think: ‘Oh my God! What sort of man is my daughter marrying? You should see the weeds on his parents’ patio! As for their bath towels, they may be clean, but I’ll swear that they’ve been used before!’

However, there’s one simple step to make our property look its best, which my wife forbids me to take.

I’m thinking of her beloved garden, on which she lavishes her attention all year round. The sad fact is that, like so many others all over the country, just at the minute our garden looks profoundly depressing. The lawn is parched and brown, with hardly a green blade surviving. The flowers are wilting in their beds, and the apples cooking on the tree.

Time and again over the past couple of weeks, I’ve suggested we should turn on the sprinkler, to bring our modest little patch back to lush and lovely life, in time for the arrival of our guest.

After all, there’s no hosepipe ban in my Thames Water area just yet — though it can’t be long in coming. Indeed, with Southern Water imposing fines for using hosepipes from today — and South East Water from next Friday — you can be sure that my own supplier won’t be far behind.

But Mrs U won’t hear of using the sprinkler. A far more responsible citizen than I, she’s been conserving water like crazy since May, when Thames first urged us to limit our consumption.

Mrs U won’t hear of using the sprinkler. A far more responsible citizen than I, she’s been conserving water like crazy since May

The wilting pot plants on the patio get only what she can salvage from the kitchen sink, while the rest of the garden gets nothing. As for cleaning the car, which could well do with a wash-and-brush-up, she’d probably leave me if I attempted it.

But then, very reluctantly, I’m beginning to feel she has a point.

True, our garden is a dismal sight, and the car is covered in bird poo. But then how much more shaming it would be if we had the only green lawn in our neighbourhood, or the only gleaming vehicle in the road outside. Even before the threatened hosepipe ban is imposed, any visitor might have good reason to take a dim view of us.

As for those millions of unfortunates across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, who will be hit by the hosepipe bans imposed by Southern and South East, I advise them to beware of curtain-twitching neighbours.

During past bans, some were all too eager to report transgressors to the authorities. And in this age of the smart-phone camera, I bet that sneaky sprinkler-users will suffer even more, finding themselves reviled all over the internet, with photographs to prove their guilt.

No, it’ll be safer by far to let the lawn stay brown and the car remain filthy.

Yet the real tragedy is that it’s all so unnecessary. For these islands of ours are awash with fresh water. It’s just that it’s not always to be found in the right place.

Surely it can’t be beyond the engineers’ wit to build the infrastructure needed to get the stuff from where it’s plentiful to where it’s needed?


Thames loses a quarter of its water through leakages, yet rather than repair their pipes they make customers suffer when the reservoirs run dry

Yes, I know I’m far from the first to have suggested this. Indeed, plans for a water-grid system have been drawn up almost every time we’ve had a dry spell in the past. But those plans invariably stay under wraps until the next time the sun shines in the South East, and nothing is ever done.

More irresponsible still is the sheer waste of this precious resource by the water companies themselves. Indeed, Thames alone loses a quarter of its water through leakages. Yet rather than step up their efforts to repair their pipes, such firms prefer to keep raking in the profits and making customers suffer when the reservoirs run dry.

Ah, well, it’s a pity that our garden will be such an eyesore when our Canadian guest comes to stay. But the great thing is that, a week tomorrow, we’ll be gaining a lovely and talented daughter-in-law, who I feel sure will make our son happy for the rest of his days.

After all, dare I say it, that probably matters more than a green lawn — or even the perfect pair of shoes for the big day.

No sooner was the ink dry on my column last week, in which I complained about my treatment by ADT, than I received a personal phone call from one of the multinational’s senior executives.

After reading my piece, he said, he had looked into my case — and found that I had indeed been shockingly overcharged for my (very basic) burglar alarm system. By no less than £773.88, as it turned out.

Offering me handsome apologies, almost embarrassingly profuse, he went on to promise instant action to put the matter right.

Then a couple of days later, I had an email from a senior manager at More Th<n, my buildings insurance company, which I had also criticised in that column.

He, too, offered me a profound apology for an ‘administrative error’ in calculating my premium — ‘the first we’ve seen of this nature,’ he claimed — and promised me immediate redress. It’s not clear, by the way, if the error he meant was the fact that More Th<n had recorded my year of birth as 1935, instead of 1953. Or did he mean it had been a mistake to charge me more for my buildings insurance, simply because I’m 68, rather than 86? Search me.

Well, I hate to sound ungrateful, and I’m naturally happy to have my money refunded. But the point is that before I aired my grievances against these firms in print, I’d been down the avenues open to other customers who question their bills, banging my head against brick walls every time. No top executives leapt to my assistance then.

Short of going to the trouble and expense of dragging offending multinationals through the courts, what hope is there for those who don’t happen to write columns in the country’s biggest-selling national daily newspaper?

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