Britain has a strange relationship with its water.
One minute the water companies are staring helplessly at excessive flooding and the emergency services are dolling out sandbags; the next, they are imposing a hosepipe ban. And ever since this gorgeous heatwave of ours emerged, we have all been waiting for the moment the bans are slapped on us once again, Sprinkle, squirt and be merry, our little subconscious voice whispers, for tomorrow we’re dry.
We have a small grey metal watering can at home. It is no fun, but eco-friendly. A drawback of this policy is that my children have never learnt parsimony when using a garden hose.
My sister’s house: and we have been charged with looking after Clover, her collie, for a week. And very quickly the children discover that Clover adores the hose, and would chase the water which comes out of it to the ends of the earth.
So, though I admonish and advise that the hose should be used with economy, wringing my hands like Uriah Heap, every time I look out of the window the dog is hurling herself with gay abandon after a fresh jet of diamond-clear south-English water. “Turn the hose off now!” I holler unbecomingly, and the children effect penitence worthy of a Benedictine monk.
But five minutes later the form of a devil-may-care dog hurtles past the window, in a helter-skelter water-seeking leap.
And of course the water does not stop at the dog. Maddie is 12, Felix 10, and it is a natural progression that they should wish fervently to drench each other, whilst fully clothed.
My mother arrived at teatime on Wednesday. And unusually she was not stormed by children at the front door. “Where are they?” she enquired, baffled.
The answer? They were skulking in the sitting room clad only in undies and towels. Their clothes were in the tumble drier, sweating off the results of the last water fight.
Yesterday my mother took pity on us and invited us to dinner; and, repast over, it took Maddie and Felix just seconds to source my father’s top-of-the-range garden hose. It has an attachment just like a gun. Pull the trigger and you can make water do tricks; it can create rain-forest-fine spray or an Al Capone deluge. Very well, my father said, you can water the lawn.
Afterwards we tumbled into the open-topped Audi that is Phil’s pride and joy, and the trial began.
Felix had a huge grin. For as long as I can remember, there has been a running joke that Maddie is a judge, qualified even to tell Mum and Dad off if they misbehave. Which, of course, we do.
“I would like to recommend that Judge Maddie be removed from the judiciary!” Felix opened. “For my first witness, I call me. Maddie soaked me with the hose!”
Judge Maddie moved in deftly to defend her admittedly shaky position. “Now, Felix,” she admonished, trying valiantly not to laugh, “I would remind you that the first thing you said to me when we got outside was “will you soak me with that hose?”
Damned. The jury was about to troop off to deliver a guilty verdict when Felix brought out his star piece of evidence.
“Now, Maddie, ” he squeaked delightedly (he can still do that) “It would be true to say that you waited until Dad stopped watching from the dining room window, And then you said: – and I quote – ‘Dad’s disappeared from the dining room window. Now I can squirt you as much as I like.’ ”
It was G K Chesterton who said: “Children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”
I beg to differ. Mercy has much to recommend it.