Hosepipe bans are a gift to lockdown-nostalgic curtain-twitchers

You can see it now: Mary leaning over her wooden slats, enquiring just how Gerald’s lawn looks so lustrous in the middle of a drought

As if a cost-of-living crisis, train-and-plane meltdown and extreme heat weren’t enough to fray tempers, South East Water has decided to lob some extra gasoline into the mix – by encouraging people to snoop on hosepipe ban-dodging neighbours. The company is urging its customers to rat on those surreptitiously wheeling out the sprinklers, which at this stage is practically an all-out call for war. Bans have been enacted in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Sussex and Kent will face restrictions in the coming days.

Those missing following regulatory minutiae to the letter á la lockdown (remember the Covid hotline for rule-breakers?) will no doubt be thrilled at this opportunity to once again step into the breach. Instead of drones and helicopters being dispatched to root out violators, South East Water has decided to take the more community-spirited (read: cheap) option, relying on the “goodwill” of its customers, who they’re clearly hoping have an axe to grind with Sally from No 8.

I, too, would like to feel grass beneath my feet again, and not scorched earth. But this is a depressing way to go about it, sure to tip residents of already-parched suburbia into hellfire. You can see it now: Mary leaning over her wooden slats, enquiring just how Gerald’s lawn looks so lustrous in the middle of a drought. Expect tight-lipped smiles, head-nodding to a range of excuses (“we import heat-resistant African bamboo, actually”) and the sight of decapitated petunias on the grass the following morning. It won’t end there. Christmas will become a new battlefield: every non-anaemic wreath a sure sign of a ban-denier; cards featuring baubles barely clinging on to branches of threadbare firs (not that Gerald will be getting one, obviously).

I know South East Water wants to prevent the crispification of the planet, but pitting neighbours against each other on the most touchpaper of topics – their lawns – will surely provoke a fallout none of us can weather. 

Chorizos abound

Is it a bird? A plane? The closest star to the sun, or simply a cast-off from the charcuterie board? So goes the riddle posted on eminent physicist Etienne Klein’s Twitter feed this week. Sharing a photo purporting to be the Proxima Centauri – the star closest to the sun – he enthused at how just-released images from the James Webb telescope mean that “a new world is revealed every day”. This “level of detail”, he pointed out to his 90,000 followers, was proof of the sheer wonder of the universe.

After amassing over 11,000 likes, some followers mused that his snap of a star located 4.25 light years from Earth looked suspiciously like Spain’s national sausage. And so the magic was brought to an abrupt end, when Klein admitted the close-up was, in fact, a slice of chorizo. The gag was more than an attempt at dad humour, he insisted (presumably with cheeks a similar hue to his meaty snack); rather a very important lesson in fake news. Some might suggest the easiest way to avoid fake news proliferating is not to post it in the first place, but there we are.

This was the first time Klein, director of the French Commission for Atomic Energy, has attempted posting a joke, he said, clarifying that “according to contemporary cosmology, no object within the category of Spanish cold meats exists anywhere other than on Earth”. The good news, he added, is that “some people understood the trick”. The bad? That the galaxy looks less delicious than we thought. 

An undervalued holiday destination

For anyone approaching the middle of August having not been on holiday, the mind wants to know only one thing: where to? Luckily, destination inspiration is here courtesy of Airbnb, where top of the list for “unique stays” is ... Stoke. Yes, on-Trent.

I wouldn’t say my one trip to the area screamed “holiday hotspot” (though in fairness it was to the courthouse), but the proof is here in black and white – or at least the black and white of a PR campaign designed to push beleaguered holidaymakers into less-loved parts of the country.

Given reports that we’ve developed “staycation fatigue”, Stoke et al have barely been getting a look-in. More fool the detractors, if you ask me. Go and join the weeping crowds at Heathrow; the rest of us (okay, a handful? Enough to fill a Honda Jazz?) will be hotfooting it down the A500 for a chance to marinate in the majesty of Robbie Williams’s birthplace, nearly named 2021’s City of Culture last year (it lost out to Coventry; the less said about that, the better).

Aside from being spared a purgatorial whirl through our airports, you can be assured that very few other holidaymakers will be there. Frankly, it sounds like bliss.