January 27, 2023

Tensions run high in the Utley household as we prepare to meet our oldest son’s future mother-in-law for the first time. She’s flying over from her home in Canada to stay with us for the wedding tomorrow, and my wife is all confused and getting ready to receive her.

She bought new bath towels for our guest – although I have to say I can’t see anything wrong with the brand new old ones in the dryer. At a colossal cost, she had a man inside, with a special machine to remove the weeds between the slabs on the patio.

Meanwhile, she’s 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 agonizing over what to wear to the wedding. Admittedly, she bought a new hat and dress for the occasion.

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

Women, huh?

After weeks of hot and dry weather, hose bans have been introduced in several areas


Strictly between you and me, I don’t know at all what Mrs. U is afraid of. In every way, the mother of the bride is a charming woman. Indeed, our son – who stayed with her in Toronto a few months ago – tells me she is perfectly delightful.

Would she ever think, ‘Oh my God! What kind of man will my daughter marry? You should see the weeds on his parents’ patio! As for their bath towels, they may be clean, but I swear they’ve been used before!’

However, there is one simple step to keep our property looking its best that my wife forbids me to take.

I think of her beloved garden, which she devotes her attention to all year round. The sad fact is that, like so many others across the country, our yard is looking very depressing at the moment. The lawn is parched and brown, with barely a green leaf surviving. The flowers wither in their beds and the apples cook on the tree.

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Over the past few weeks I’ve suggested again and again to turn on the sprinkler, to bring our humble place back to a lush and lovely life, in time for our guest’s arrival.

After all, there is still no ban on garden hoses in my Thames Water area – although it may not be long in the offing. With Southern Water imposing fines for using garden hoses starting today – and South East Water starting next Friday – rest assured that my own supplier is not far behind.

But Ms. You don’t want to hear about using the sprayer. She is a much more responsible citizen than I am and has been saving water like crazy since May, when Thames first urged us to limit our consumption.

Ma’am. You won’t hear about using the sprayer. A much more responsible citizen than me, she’s been saving water like crazy since May

The wilted potted plants on the patio only get what they can salvage from the sink, while the rest of the garden gets nothing. As for cleaning the car, which could use quite a bit of a wash, she would probably leave me if I tried.

But then, with great reluctance, I begin to feel she has a point.

Admittedly, our yard is a nasty sight and the car is covered in bird droppings. But what a shame it would be if we had the only green lawn in our neighborhood, or the only shiny vehicle on the road outside. Even before the impending garden hose ban is imposed, every visitor might have a good reason to spot us.

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As for those millions of unfortunates in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight who will be affected by the snake bans imposed by South and South East Asia, I advise them to beware of hair-raising neighbours.

During previous bans, some were all too eager to report violators to authorities. And in this smartphone camera era, I bet sneaky sprinkler users will suffer even more, because they’ll be taunting themselves all over the internet, with photos to prove their guilt.

No, it’s far safer to leave the lawn brown and the car dirty.

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

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


Thames loses a quarter of its water from leaks, but instead of repairing their pipes, they make customers suffer as the reservoirs dry up

Yes, I know I’m far from the first to suggest this. Almost every time we’ve had a dry spell in the past, plans have indeed been made for a water network. But those plans invariably remain secret until the next time the sun shines in the southeast, and nothing is ever done.

Even more irresponsible is the sheer waste of this precious resource by the water companies themselves. Indeed, Thames alone loses a quarter of its water through leakages. But rather than stepping up their efforts to repair their pipes, such companies prefer to rake in the profits and let customers suffer as the reservoirs dry up.

Well, it’s a pity that our garden is such an eyesore when our Canadian guest comes to stay. But the great thing is that in a week’s time tomorrow we will have a beautiful and talented daughter-in-law who I am sure will make our son happy for the rest of his days.

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

It’s not just columnists that count

No sooner was the ink dry from my column complaining about my treatment by ADT than I received a personal call from one of the multinational’s senior executives.

After reading my piece, he said, he researched my case — and found that I had indeed paid shockingly too much for my (very basic) burglar alarm system. With no less than € 773.88, as it turned out.

He offered me fine apologies, almost embarrassingly profuse, and promised immediate action to set things right.

A few days later I received an email from a senior manager at More Th

He too apologized deeply for an “clerical error” in calculating my premium – “the first we’ve seen of this nature,” he claimed – and promised immediate recovery. By the way, it’s not clear whether the mistake he meant was the fact that More Th

Well, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, and of course I’m glad my money is being refunded. But the thing is, before going to print my grievances against these firms, I’d gone down the avenues open to other customers questioning their accounts, banging my head against brick walls every time. Not a single top manager jumped to my aid then.

Aside from the effort and expense of taking offending multinationals to court, what hope is there for those who don’t happen to write columns in the country’s best-selling national daily?