Thursday 26 September 2019


So I'm reading PK's ruminations on champagne last week and this at once sets me thinking about soda syphons. I mean, in my world, champagne gets drunk about as often as liquid nitrogen, given our preference for cheap sparkling knock-offs at anything from half to a third the price of the serious stuff - but, on the other hand, we do get through a huge amount of fizzy water, so much so that what we spend on bottled water we very likely ought to save by drinking from the tap instead, using the funds released thereby to pay for champagne.

Is this a problem? If so, what to do? Go back a couple of generations and you find an answer in the form of the soda syphon. My Pa always had a couple stashed in the drinks cabinet - immense, heavy ribbed, reinforced glass things supplied by Schweppes (maker's name extravagantly emblazoned on the side) with proper levers to dispense the contents in a barely-governable torrent. Part of his Saturday morning ritual involved a trip down to the off-licence to exchange the spent syphons for full ones. This is what we did, back then: we got milk, orange juice and fizzy water in glass bottles which were then recycled by the businesses which owned them. Apart from the petrol used by my Pa in the drive to the offie (two-and-a-half-mile round trip) the system was as ecologically sound as hell.

Time to get back to something approaching this model? Given that Schweppes, as far as I'm aware, don't do the refillable syphons any more, what about getting a fizzy water maker? There's millions out there: I mean, this thing from Grohe, I'm not making it up, a built-in sparkling water chiller/dispenser; or this, at just over one-thirtieth of the cost of the Grohe and resembling the soda syphons we all know and respect; and, of course, everything in between. Why not buy something affordable and effective and present it as a fait accompli to my wife? And put an end to financial ruin as well as all those planet-killing plastic empties?

Immediately, however, I can think of three objections. First, the business of making some sparkling water as opposed to opening a bottle involves a pitiful amount of labour, all things considered, but I am also pitifully lazy, so no. Secondly - and I burn with shame to admit it - in the days when my Pa was tending his Schweppes bottles, there was a tacit understanding in our house that it was somehow slightly common to use Sparklets-type DIY soda syphons. I never really found out why it was common - maybe it was the hint of manual labour involved instead of getting a paid underling to do the dirty work; maybe it was the jazzy brushed steel exterior of the Sparklets bottle, turning the sitting-room chimerically into the guest lounge of a businessman's hotel somewhere around Hounslow, which did the damage - either way, I never knew. But the prejudice lingers. I just can't treat the things with any degree of conviction.

But third - and more significant than either of these - is London's tapwater. I mean, I love London's tapwater, it's a great water for all everyday use, especially washing the car or having a bath in, but it does taste like a swimming pool. The thought of carbonating it before chucking it into the evening whisky makes my gorge rise. That's why we spend something equivalent to the revenue of a county the size of Hampshire on the ready-made embottled sort. And the idea that we might buy sweet-tasting still water, in bottles, just to carbonate it ourselves makes no sense because (a) there's no real ecological or cost benefit, given the number of plastic bottles we'd be consuming and (b) we can't be arsed (see above).

All that said, I can see a day coming, fairly soon, when, in order to get a fresh bottle of sparkling water we will first have to present an empty, used one (probably made of glass) as a key. Same for marmalade, window cleaner and aftershave, and why not? That, or a return to the old days of milk deliveries, but with a float tinkling around with Perrier, San Pellegrino and Badoit, dropping it off at the front door in exchange for the empties. Which, now I think about it, sounds so London middle-class it's not even funny.


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