The Water Thief

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)Β ,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. Β 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?


Written in response to two Side View Themes: last weeks, Synchronicity; and this week’s, The Weekend.


48 thoughts on “The Water Thief

  1. I think we’re fast losing the concept of a weekend being part of either a holy day or a day of rest, in fact we may have already! Workers work all hours, all days and shops are open longer and longer hours. Then there’s entertainment and technology, we never switch off! (which is why I’m here reading blogs!) πŸ™‚

  2. Love the weekend, a time for personal chores, trips, shopping and leisure. We do spend way too much time in cyber world and stretching the work day, but, at least the cyber world is a choice we make. Spending time with friends in cyber space is a great way to pass the time and enjoy the thoughts and stories of others.

    1. It is. I think the jury’s still out about cybertime, Lou: the psychologists are all busy doing their research but it’s such a new phenomenon. I shall watch the psychology journals with keen interest over the next few years….

      And the weekend: what a wonderful invention of the 20th century. Fantastic to have two days to stretch our minds and be with those we love.

  3. Weekends do not exist in my life. I work most Saturdays and 3 Sundays out of 4. I used to enjoy lazy Sundays before the powers that be decided that ‘It’s just another day’.
    (Yes, I’m off today)

  4. Until….. Ah, yes, until that wonderful, synchronous point in time (no matter how it’s measured) when one’s internal clock has slowed sufficiently to no longer be as mindful of the clocks of others; and then may choose any day, or all of them, to be “the week-end.” πŸ™‚

    1. That is a wonderful day indeed, Karen, and because I have a while to go before I reach it I had not even considered its existence. A seven day weekend: simply wonderful!

  5. a weekend is a construct, but seemingly an important one for health. we need to take a break

    i always pity the people with families who need tyo work over the weekend

    1. I know. It must be hard to lose members for a while. I used to work when the kids were young on Saturdays and Sundays, managing the haunted house round the corner. I had a blast, but there came a time when Phil and the kids just missed me too much. Resignation time.

  6. Nice post, Kate. Really interesting. I’m always so impressed by the breadth of your reading. When did the opening incident occur?

  7. I’ve been working for myself for almost a decade, and nights and weekends are part of that deal. Clients often call me during what should be off hours, thinking because they are working, I should be as well. I have gotten better about not taking calls or answering emails except during normal business hours. Emails are the worst thing, because people expect immediate responses to them, regardless of day of the week or time of day, and telling people I will not respond to them at certain times doesn’t stop the flow. It merely increases the quantity for me to cull through.

    It is a conundrum, because people need breaks. They need permission to take time. They must, sometimes, be lazy.

  8. When I started out in the world of work I had a job as an Nursing Auxiliary and had to work shifts and weekends on a rota.
    Then as a nursing student I also did a 40 hour week, divided up into shifts, earlies, lates, nights and weekends on a rota basis.

    Weekend work varied depending on the environment.
    On a surgical unit it was often quieter as most surgery was on a planned basis Monday to Friday, so the patients in our care were recuperating, rather than immediately post-op. On a medical unit it depended whether the ward was ‘on-take’ for emergencies. However the staffing was usually lower than on a normal week day, and there were fewer docs around too.

    At this stage of my life I rather enjoyed those days off in the week after working a weekend: my own displaced weekend at a quieter time for shopping, visiting etc. How life changes after marriage and children πŸ™‚

    1. Yes: kids make a huge difference to downtime. I notice Cameron comments that weeks blend into weekends when you have little ones. I remember the same feeling of being adrift without an anchor.

      I had a similar experience to you for a while, managing a theatre/ arts complex. It was nice trundling out just as the children were getting fratchy, putting on a glamorous suit and make up and the works and telling ballet companies what to do instead of potty-training children. And I was free to be with them when no one else could. BUt our weekends were not what they are now: a temporal sanctuary…

  9. Kate, I used to work on a shift rota that was five days on and three days off, so my ‘weekend’ revolved around in a cycle. I always preferred the midweek weekend as opposed to the weekend weekend. I now work Monday to Friday so I just have the normal weekend, and with it no time. The time thieves are definitely out in force around me!
    I love the measurements ‘…three sixteenths of an adhaka is equal to one nadika of time’. As well as being drawn to water, I’m drawn to time! πŸ™‚

  10. Firstly, you are a marvelous tease, introducing the mysterious water thief of Suffolk without hinting at the resolution!

    Secondly, the weekend has lost its gloss for many, I fear. Now that staying home with my son has been thrust upon me, and his school is only 2 days, Saturdays and Sundays are much like Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, but with more people in the shops. My husband’s work is scheduled when it is convenient for his clients, so there is no sacrosanct day of rest for him. It’s all a bit catch as catch can.

    I miss that stretch of weekend days something fierce sometimes. Or maybe what it embodied?

    1. Ah, would that I had the end of the story for you, Cameron: the trail goes cold after the first tranche of stories. There is usually more than meets the eye to stories which go silent like this: I shall be calling the parish council next week to find out the conclusion, if indeed there is one….

      1. And I only answered the first half of your comment: we have found that as the children grew, we have left those strange anchorless weeks behind and we are all together at the weekend once more. I can only speak for now: Felix is eight, Maddie eleven; but that stretch comes back, and it is all the sweeter for having been missed πŸ™‚

  11. I await further developments in the dreadful crime!
    Weekends I remember as times for all families to relax and have fun – but not by relying on service, because everyone else was also relaxing and having fun. We managed perfectly happily. One doesn’t really need 24/7 shops. Modern greed has created that.

  12. There is that wonderful little scene in the first series of Downton Abbey where Matthew Crawley and his mother are dining at Downton Abbey for the first time. Matthew says he can do his solicitor work during the week and learn about Downton on the weekend. Lady Violet swiftly pipes in “what is a week end?”

    The advent of 24/7 with shops being open, banks, etc. has really robbed most of us of that time of rest. I am old enough to remember when stores closed at 5 or 6 and weren’t open on Saturdays. Fresh meat wasn’t sold on a Sunday and, well, you know the score.

    I wonder, too, Kate. I think the weekend and free are at a demise, along with the middle class.

    1. There’s a sentence to provide food for thought, Penny! I love the Downton sketch, it must have passed me by. Our world is blind to the need for quiet, and thought. One of my most important jobs as a Mum, I feel, is to build in reflection, and time, and what we call ‘bibbling’ -non specific, pointless activity which bring with it joy.

  13. And I am one who loves the weekend as it means I get to get outside and roam.
    The water thief hit us last week…fire dept only one street over and they burst a water vein flooding the street etc…which halted the supply to homes for a bit.

    1. I loved that post of yours, Suzicate: the pictures were just fabulous. Outside is very beautiful where you are. And what drama! Water thieves seem to be a universal fact of life the world over!

  14. I think we are sometimes responsible for filling our lives so full of activity that even a traditional weekend doesn’t feel restful. I think that is often a shame. I think there was a time in my life I did prioritize our time differently, but even our play interrupts good rest. Great post, Kate. Fascinating histories, and some worthwhile considerations. Debra

  15. Hands-off the weekend, Greedy Corporate Types! What a terrible prospect, Kate

    Seems as if Europe has a different kind of water thief at the moment – my sister-in-law, who lives in Sweden, just emailed me to say that all the water in pipes in their house froze on Saturday and they had no water for a day – I can’t imagine that kind of cold

  16. In my case, the weekend lasts becasue my employer can’t afford the cost of the overtime if he brings me in… Long may that remain the case! You see – there is a positive to the recession πŸ˜‰

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