Water, Work and Eels 

Crossing Waterloo Bridge – against a tide of people walking to work – the thought came to me: how much in food, cars, goods and services have I and each of these people consumed so far in our lives?

And how much would that all add up to (by volume) if you piled it all together? 

And further; would it be greater or lesser in size than some of the buildings and landmarks, which make Waterloo Bridge the best view in London?

How many people’s piles of lifetime consumption would it take to fill a flat in the block on the south-west approach to Waterloo Bridge? 

How much to fill one of the South Bank theatres or galleries? How many people’s piles to fill County Hall or The Shard?

Then if you think about it in terms of the elixir of life itself – water – from which all that consumption is derived: either directly, or through steam turbines and factory processes; what would all that stuff we’ve each consumed translate into, by volume of water? It’d be huge.

And that’s just the thirty, forty, fifty odd people walking towards me on the bridge. What about all 30,000 or so in the university I help run? Or the city I live in? Would the 10-13m people of London be greater or lesser, by volume of water consumed, than the volume of all the buildings we all inhabit in London? 

And how much water directly or indirectly went into the power, people and materials that built all those buildings..?

But then I’m over the bridge, and into yet another meeting, and working life kicks in… The benefit of a job which makes you walk though, is the frequent gift of time to contemplate. 

And the benefit of a job which is about ‘keeping the show on the road’, is you don’t have time to worry about stuff too much – I’m incessantly busy: fixing and sorting and organising; and walking!

All of this adds to the growing sense that much water has now passed under the bridge of my life. 

And talking to people who are older than me, there’s a lot to be said for letting go of some of the things which have subtly driven me hitherto. That inner need to be ‘the youngest to do things’, ‘the hardest working’, ‘the best regarded’, ‘the most senior’; albeit I gave up on being ‘the best paid’ at least a decade ago.

Consumption and chasing more consumption; money and chasing more money, status and chasing more status – these are traps for the middle aged mind, soul and body.

So nice to have lunch this week with a splendid person I know, who is drawing, debating, walking and contemplating – and counting eels in the salty transitional waters of the Thames – a philosopher, cartographer, artist and citizen scientist in his first year of proper retirement. 

The river of life is long. Perhaps all those struggles to be ‘going places’ fractionally faster than the natural flow of things is – at this stage in life’s course – a genuine mugs game or maybe an eel’s.