TERRY PRONE: Glass might be half full locally but but drought remains a big issue

The weather, this weekend, and its effects on the environment, would remind you of those
historic accounts where someone with a fine head of auburn hair on them experiences an horrific event and the next day has hair white as the proverbial, writes Terry Prone.

According to hair experts, this cannot actually happen, but I’m for ignoring the experts on this one, because the notion of overnight bleaching has such a drama to it. Imagine arriving in to work and being complimented on your dye job, only to announce that chemicals were not involved. People would be so astonished. And impressed. Especially those who had minimised the event earlier on, who could now be punished by you doing a bitter shrug and murmuring that you did tell them it was an awful experience, and here’s the platinum proof.

It was like that, outside and inside, when the rains came. Inside, because I live in an old house, leaks spurted from the usual places and from brand new places. It was buckets to the right, buckets to the left. One of the leaks happened directly over a cat who had come in for shelter, who sat there on the kitchen floor with drops belting off its skull, complaining the way it did a few weeks back when I tried it with a new cat food. I had to lift it and shift it in order to replace it with a bucket and even then, it took it a while to stop whinging.

The change outside was even more radical. One day, we were surrounded by bright yellow lawns so crispy that a visiting toddler cried bitterly when its mother took its sandals off to let it run free. The kid experienced the Brillo pad wiry awfulness on the soles of its tiny bare feet and produced an impressive wail of betrayal. Then the rains came at the weekend, and literally overnight the grass turned from yellow to green.

Not evenly and not everywhere, but, if not miraculous, it was pretty damn impressive. It also went from crispy to soft and touchable. Not to mention the carnations looking like flowers in cartoons, where the blossom is hanging over, bent double, until someone pours water on it and it goes ‘Boinnng!’ and straightens up.

The rain came down like a monsoon, driven by winds that upended furniture in every local garden and turned at least one tent temporarily into a kite.

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The disappointing thing was that, when the downpour eventually died down and I went to check on the fish pond, the level was not appreciably higher than before the rain. One little fish pond, in miniature, demonstrated Irish Water’s problems: Rain such as we had at the weekend may cause impressive puddles, drainpipes with serious digestive problems and slithery roads , but it has damn all effect on the underlying water shortage. Grass recovers quickly. The gardening experts promised us it would, and it did. What Irish Water peculiarly calls “headroom” doesn’t. It would take a continuous downpour throughout August and
September to get us back to where we should be, in terms of stored water ready to send to our taps, and nobody wants a continuum of torrential rain, other, perhaps, than water engineers.

Because of the drought, the fish pond became a bone of contention, this summer between me and my neighbour. I’m not saying that this neighbour runs my life, and I’m not saying she’s the neighbour from hell, but I am here to tell you that Mary Lynders is a force to be reckoned with and not a woman to ignore. She always was, even before she became a household name by starring in Dermot Bannon’s TV show, where her daughters tried to demolish their house personally, prior to him improving it, while their mother filled in the time charming the boots off Bannon.

Halfway through the drought, she started ringing me. Because she’s the only living human who uses my landline, every call created two confusing reactions in me. The first was shock/horror: What the hell is that noise and where is it coming from? The second was fear: What have I done that merits Moll giving out to me?

When she rang me, this time, it was about the fish pond. The fish pond is pretty and Victorian in appearance and covered in netting because I have permanent cats and get visited by a large heron-type bird and all of them would love a fish takeaway. Mary Lynders has it in for most birds, but she hates the heron-type with a great passion. If we lived in America’s Deep South, Mrs Lynders would own a gun, be a crack shot and that heron would have no future. Never mind that it’s a protected species. Mrs Lynders would do time for that heron, no problem.

It would take a continuous downpour throughout August and September to get us back to where we should be

On this occasion, however, her worries about the fish pond didn’t include the heron. The water level must be way down, she rightly surmised. What was I doing about it? The honest answer was too ridiculous to articulate. The honest answer was that I was carrying a bucket of shower water a day across the garden and turfing it into the pond. The shower spurts out a bucket’s worth of water before it gets warm enough so you don’t get cold water shock just stepping under it, and I’ve been saving the water and trailing out to the fish pond with it. In my heart, I know this to be time-wasting and pointless, and so when Mrs Lynders
interrogated me, I sang dumb and said I wasn’t doing much for the fishpond.

Now, this is a neighbour who gets to the point, and she got right readily to the point. Did I want the fish to boil, she demanded. Another two confused reactions. 1) I’m beginning to doubt that I have fish, because I never see them. Days when I’m upbeat, I think they’re hiding cleverly in the shade of the lily pads. Days when I’m downbeat, I think they’re all dead. 2) Dead or alive, I didn’t want them boiled.

Well, she told me, the hose had to be used. I opined that deploying the hose might cause me to go to jail or at least get a severe talking to from Irish Water, and she told me that I would certainly be imprisoned or given out to if my pond was just decorative and contained no fish, buts since it contained fish, nobody would mind. The State, according to Mary Lynders, wasn’t forcing its citizens to boil their goldfish.

I obediently took the hose, pointed it into the pond and turned on the tap. Some time later, I went down to see how it was doing, and a goldfish swam out and looked at me. I felt like Médecins sans Frontières for fish. Saving its life repeatedly for the next two months is unlikely to keep delivering that first fine careless rapture, though...


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