Nor Any Drop to Drink
fiction by Catherine Ogston
Nor Any Drop to Drink
Here is an update on my news. As planned, I have set up home on North Rona and no one bothers me. Jock is my only companion, and perfectly content chasing rabbits and rats. We live in an old shepherd’s cottage – one of several abandoned dwellings on the island. I have planted potatoes, carrots and turnips – digging and turning the winter-hard earth was back-breaking I’ll admit. In the autumn I plan to get a few goats and sheep. We will all be perfectly happy here with just us and a spring to ourselves.
Clara, I implore you to join me. You’ll be safe here. It may not be an exciting life but there is fresh water and mark my words, that’s the thing (or rather, the lack of it) that is going to turn this world from ticking along to dog-eat-dog. Write back as soon as you can and we can make arrangements.
Your letter took a while to get to me and so I am guessing you have survived the bleak and relentless winter, with not a soul to speak to. You’ve always been a solitary creature Dad, but I never imagined you would turn into an actual hermit. Despite your predictions I am happy to say there are no sign of food and water shortages. The world is turning as ever, night to day, winter to spring. The snow has been heavy and the ensuing chaos brought the roads to a halt like most years. But even then we had milk, bread and fish and chips so I’m not ready to pack my rucksack yet. Perhaps I’ll come for a holiday when I’ve finished my internship.
Take care, Dad, love you lots, you crazy doomsayer,
P.S. Can’t you get an email address like a normal person?
I hope this finds you well. Indeed I hope it finds you at all. It has been over a year since I last took the boat out to Lewis and visited the nearest town. Faithful Jock has come with me and I dare say he is enjoying the change of scene and the cooked breakfast we shared this morning. How is life in London? The islanders tell me that there are no empty properties left here, with more and more people coming north. The deserted ruins of old blackhouses are being rebuilt by wealth incomers who see the way things are going. Scotland’s frequent rain has always been treated as a joke but now it may be its most valuable commodity.
The goats and sheep are faring well on North Rona. They provide us with milk, meat and a few other essentials – nothing is wasted. Caring for them gives me a rhythm to the seasons – did you ever guess your old pa, the crusty solicitor, would teach himself to deliver lambs? Jock is becoming quite the sheepdog – not bad for a spaniel.
Please come and join me any time, Clara. Email may be the way of your world but no internet connection on North Rona. Get to north Lewis and ask around for anyone with a boat to bring you out here. Stay safe.
Merry Christmas (although I realise the festive season will be over by the time this reaches you.) As you can see by my address I have left London. Economic twitches has meant the job market became totally unstable and my company had to let me go. Don’t worry, I have found a residential job in a hotel. It pays peanuts and it’s not exactly my skillset but it’s a roof over my head.
And now the part where I bitterly concede that you were right all along.
The only news story seems to be of water shortages in various capitals around the world. ‘Day Zero’ has arrived for many cities in Africa, Asia and Australia as frequent droughts, climate change and poor water usage and wastage means there is just not enough clean water to go around. We are not at that stage yet but certainly you cannot turn on a TV or open a newspaper without reading about ten top ways to conserve water for the good of the planet. Do you remember that holiday we had in Appin? It rained every day for a week and we came home a day early because we were so fed up of being soaked. Oh, the irony. Who could have guessed that twenty years later we would have rejoiced in the drizzle and downpours? Well, you perhaps did, but the rest of us weren’t listening.
Give Jock a headrub from me and look after yourself,
I write in the vaguest hope that this will reach you at some point. I have travelled north, to a place where I thought there was enough water for everyone who could need it. Unfortunately thousands of others had the same thought. The ban on personal water usage is now countrywide – limits on showers (ninety seconds only is the stipulated allowance), toilet flushing and washing up. Baths are a thing of the past. We all stink, especially in the heatwave which is still lingering. Oh, how I hanker for the days when I wore a t-shirt once and flung it in the washing machine! Flowerbeds have turned to dust with withering blooms and cars go unwashed. None of us believed they would actually jail gardeners who couldn’t bear for their lawn to yellow and burn but after the first dozen prosecutions garden hoses and watering cans were locked in sheds. Swimming pools have been shut for months now and swimmers congregate on beaches, like worshippers of a time gone by. Food prices have increased as the water shortages make food production more expensive. The worst of the media commentators predict a collapse of society as we know it. It’s hard not to disagree when I see cafes, restaurants, shops and factories shutting. The power plants may be next. The hotel closed its doors and I have come north, hoping to work my way up the country. If you’ll still have me Dad, I think I’d better join you in North Rona, until things get back to normal.
Of course you can come here. Stay with me, or choose your own cottage, or live in the lighthouse. I had hoped you would be here by now as your last letter was six months ago. Are you safe? We will be one hundred percent secure here. When I first arrived I didn’t bring just Jock and my small-holdings manual. I brought a gun too; the type a farmer uses, that’s how I got the permit. It will see off any invaders. Do not be alarmed. I have not turned into a maniac due to isolation and paranoia. I am just not prepared to take any chances.
Hoping you arrive here before long,
Dog-eat-dog was the phrase you used, wasn’t it? You were right. I, like so many others, am living hand to mouth. Foodbanks helped for a while, until they all closed, one by one. The government is in total crisis and rumour has it that the Prime Minister is in an underground bunker somewhere. I don’t know if she expects some sort of people’s uprising but really no one has the strength or energy for that.
The folk on farms and in the countryside are faring best but they can’t help everyone. In fact they can’t help anyone – if word gets out that there is fresh food available the place becomes mobbed. Like crazed bees desperate for pollen. No, they are silent and guard their riches carefully. There are gangs looting. More than one landowner has been shot dead for defending their property. But the city isn’t safe either.
Every week brings another report that things will get better. There is always something in the pipeline – no pun intended. From towing icebergs from the Arctic (the poor diminishing Arctic) to developing irrigation technology to water recycling ideas, we are told that change is about to happen. But in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Mombasa – even in Sydney – people are dying of sanitation related diseases.
I’ll stop here, Dad, I’m sure you’ve heard enough. What’s that famous line … 'Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’? I can’t think who wrote it. No doubt you know Dad, so you can tell me if I ever make it up to join you.
Love you with all my heart,
My dear Clara
Where are you, my darling girl? What I would give to see a boat approaching with you standing at the helm waving to me. On my last trip to Lewis I asked if anyone had seen you and I put up posters in case you chanced upon them. I left instructions with as many people as I could but all in vain it seems.
Jock has gone. Old age got him and I fear I am not far behind him. I buried him in the ruins of St Ronan’s chapel. I’ve never been religious but these days I go there often and pray for us all. What harm can it do?
Clara, if you ever make it here and I am gone, know that I love you dearly and will forever regret that I did not protect you more. I guess that is the dilemma of a parent – knowing when to shelter their child and when to let them live their own life. I saw the way the world was going but you had every right to remain optimistic and brave that things would not disintegrate to the depths that have been reached. We can only hope that those who come after us make a better job of guarding this planet and leaving aside man’s selfish desires.
Love you always,