Once upon a time, in the tiniest of English villages, 400 people lived together in contented, modern, peace.
It had been minding its own business since the times of the Domesday Book, west of an old forest. Ameneties had come and gone with the milennia. Its school had closed, its library was gone, and the railway station closed in the fifties. But the little village had its priorities just right, and so the pub, the Cadogan Arms, was thriving.
One day during a doubtful Summer of grey and rain, everyone went to get their morning shower: and when they turned on their taps, all that came out was a trickle of rust coloured water.
The landlord at the pub was coping with irate customers complaining; the villagers were perplexed.
After a few hours, the water had returned and all was back. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief until it happened again. And again. Someone, somewhere, was causing a one-village drought. Everyone was collecting water in saucepans, just in case. It was no way to live.
The National Press got in their flash cars and sped from London into the wilds of Suffolk to investigate. The quotes flowed freely. Ricky Calder, landlord of the Cadogan Arms pub in Ingham, told the Telegraph: “It’s been terrible, we have been forced to give refunds to guests who have complained because there’s not enough water for a shower.
“We have to put bottles of water in the rooms so they can have a wash and clean their teeth.”
The water company, Anglian water, concluded that someone, somewhere, was taking the water, possibly using a fire hydrant. Yes: even in this 21st century, alleges Anglian water, water thieves exist.
They do: firemen use them, small devices to bring hose water to new areas of a fire.
But there are older applications of the word.
The Greeks called them Clepsydrae: water thieves. They were not thieving water, but measuring time.
In the early days the water-clock was like a glorified sand timer, with a measured flow between two water containers. By the time the Greeks got hold of the word, however, the water thief was a slightly grander proposition. The Greeks worked out a way for the water to flow back into the system after it had run through once; it had gears and an escapement mechanism, and might be attached to something pretty: an automata, or moving figure, perhaps.
The word clepsydrae continued to be used by another grand civilisation: the Islamic world introduced sophisticated gears which made for speed and efficiency, water wheels and the ability to programme the clock to perform in a certain way.
The complex piece of engineering turns up, necessarily, in an incredible book written in the early years BC. It is the book which inspired the Vedic calendar. It is an astounding treatise on time and its passing, with relation to the tracking of the sun and the moon.
Poetry it is. “Purifying myself and saluting with bent head Prajapati Lord Of Creatures) ,the embodiment and presider over the five-year era, and who has for his limbs time-segments like the day, month, seasons and courses of the sun, I shall write systematically about the effect on time of the movement of the luminaries,” he opens with jewelled tongue.
In section II of the book he lists measures of time as measures of water. We have lost some of the standards they refer to: but 50 palas of water is one adhaka; three sixteenths of an adhaka is equal to one nadika of time.
Time and water, water and time. Father Thames would approve.
It is on this book that the Vedic, or Hindu calendar, was based. And from this calendar came a typically human cycle of work and rest. Only for the Hindus, as with Israelis, Saturday is the day of rest and Sunday begins the working week: anathaema for many of us who wait six long days for Sunday to arrive.
Afghanistan and Pakistan break at noon on Thursday and reconvene Saturday; calendars are different the world over.
And globalisation has brought with it a serendipitous synchronicity.For in America, where the unions were well established long ago, some men needed Sunday as a day of rest, and some needed Saturday, according to their beliefs and traditions.
Thus was born that most modern and happy of traditions, the modern weekend.
But as we have already established: there are modern water thieves. And time thieves too. The corporations in the UK have long since despatched Sunday as a day of retail rest. Mums all over my town must leave their families to have Sunday lunch alone, and sit behind tills to number crunch for shoppers.
The Corporations have their eyes on our time.
How long, I wonder, will our thoroughly modern concept of the weekend last?