bursting bubbles

‘Mum, can I have fizzy? 

‘There’s none left.’

This is true, but only because, in the course of preparing supper, I have furtively poured into my own glass the last of the bottle Mr Fixit bought for a rare invasion by outsiders a week ago. It isn’t clear whether he essayed this controversial act as a principled demonstration of his independence of the Environmental Taliban, or to spare the invaders from same, or simply because he likes it, and it was an excuse. Actually, we all like it. That’s the trouble. You can go on all you want about how in the good old days we laughed at the French for having to drink their water out of bottles, but there is something magical about the fizz.

But as we all know about the unconscionable environmental costs of transporting the stuff, and the bottles that are still only marginally worth recycling, at least till that place opens in Dagenham we can’t have it. Mostly.

Moping about this one day when I should have been applying my massive brain to something worthwhile, like what to cook for supper, I remembered my grandmother’s soda water bottles. Huge, heavy, clear glass and of course refillable, they were delivered in crates, with the same vaguely medicinal tang as mineral water but the major bonus of squeezing a lever to produce a drink. Soda siphons! They must still exist. You would have thought.

I finally tracked one down at the Kitsch Shop who also supply the bulbs of compressed gas, which, together with any old tap water, produce a reasonable simulacrum of fizziness. This method has the huge bonus, from the point of view of any child, that charging the siphon entails a complex routine involving water, and therefore lots of mess and screaming.

On the other hand, from the point of view of the adult, most of the mess comes from wasting two or three bulbs and cursing loudly as you try to unscrew the bloody thing and start again, before you finally manage to fill the siphon with exactly enough water to absorb the gas, but not so much that the minute you screw the top back on, it will spurt violently through the joint and trickle down the siphon onto the table every time you try to use it, leaking gas throughout, so you end up with about a cupful of flat water, and an AS level in cursing and malediction 

Also, it’s not cold. Warm fizz just doesn’t have the same allure.

And the gas bulbs are expensive, and they come by post, and they’re quite heavy. Not as heavy as water, admittedly. But in any case, as with anything that involves extra effort, we’ve run out of them, and I have to deflect the attention of inspectors Poirot and Maigret, before they jump me with a bilateral interrogation of Suspect No 1 in the Case (sorry) of the Disappearing Highland Spring.

‘Do you know’, I remark, in a doomed attempt to sound just randomly conversational, ‘that there are lots of places in the world where not only is there no fizzy water, there isn’t even any tap water. Because there are no taps. Or even pipes. So the women and children have to spend most of the day, maybe five hours, just walking to the river to get water and back. You know how you hate walking. Imagine that…’

Magnus imagines it. ‘But if the children are fetching water all day…’
‘…they can’t have time to go to school…’ Dolly’s face lights up. I move swiftly on. ‘And it gets worse. Because they don’t have water, they don’t have loos, either. So the women and the girl children have to wait until dark to have a poo.’
‘Good question. I guess, because the men make them.’

Magnus, who appears to be conducting an investigation of how much butter it takes to saturate the sports pages of The Guardian, but would claim to be eating yet more toast to keep him going until I’ve finished my lecture and he can finally get an actual meal, senses an attack on his gender.

‘How do they do that then? How can you stop somebody pooing? Anyhow, boys and girls poo the same, it’s not like peeing, why would men stop them if it’s the same?’

These are trenchant questions, and I have no answer. Luckily Dolly, whose special subject is knowing best, has raced ahead. ‘It’s because they have those long skirts, those skirts with you know, all bunched up like in Bollywood films and they’d get poo on them if they weren’t careful.’
‘Well, maybe. But listen to this! They have to wait until it’s dark, and then, in the dark, they have to walk away from the village into the jungle, until they find somewhere totally private, and sometimes that’s so far they get eaten by wild animals. Just because they don’t have water.’

‘Eaten by wild animals? You’re kidding.’ Mr Fixit, who normally tunes out completely when he senses the onset of my environmental tic and by extension these days, more or less whenever I open my mouth, has been drawn in despite himself. ‘Don’t pay any attention to her, children, she’s been reading too many fairy tales down at the British Library. 

‘Anyway I like wild animals, I’d make friends with them, they wouldn’t bite my bottom.’

‘And in case you hadn’t noticed, Mum, there’s water just about everywhere you look here. I mean, we don’t have jungles, and we don’t have wild animals, unless you count Titus the cat…’

My only son turns on me an expression that he will no doubt use to devastating effect on his Saturday football league in twenty years’ time ‘… in fact, I really don’t know what you’re going on about.’

It is possible, viewed through the prism of his merciless eleven-year-old logic, that I have slightly overdrawn my case here. I take a metaphorical backward step, into the kitchen where I belong. ‘I just wanted you to realise that tap water is an incredible luxury, and nobody needs water in bottles.’

‘She’s right, son. Who needs bottled water when there are six Cobras in the fridge? Could you fetch me one, d’you think, on your way to the kitchen?’