Regular readers of this column will know that I rarely read non-fiction. If I want to read for entertainment, then I would far prefer imagination. Stealing Water is different. It’s a memoir of a young English man who truly is a citizen of the world, growing up in the Far East, Africa, and Ireland.
In 1977 the Ecott family moved from a staid middle class existence in Ireland to South Africa. The move was motivated by a continual threat from the IRA, a wish for warmer climate, and what looked to be a grand employment opportunity. All their friends and family left behind pictured the family living well, with a grand house, servants and all manner of luxury. In reality life was quite different. The family was bankrupt within a few months. Father was unemployed, the bailiffs took everything they could find, and the family was living in the streets even stealing water. They all had to survive by their wits, and fortunately Mum could. She started selling their personal possessions, eventually funding a small secondhand shop in the wrong shopping district. But customers could get what they needed there, if it was a thief in need of a fence or even some falsified identity papers, Mum had the contacts to help. Father was an ex SAS soldier who never should have left the Army, but he thought he could make a living as a security advisor, especially in troubled areas of the world.
I found the book fascinating. The stories about Mum are told with sympathy and humour. All the various characters who frequented the shop have their individual charm. And it is important to let the world know that not every white man in South Africa during apartheid was as ‘superior’ as the media would have us all believe.
However, I do have two comments. Firstly, it would be much easier to read this book if the story was told in some kind of chronological order, or even just some logical order. It appears that Ecott wrote the book as the memories popped into his head, one chapter about Mum and the shop, the next about life in Ireland, the next about the first few weeks in South Africa, and then the next about the trip to Malaysia, and then school life in Ireland, then back to Mum in the shop, and then to Dad and the IRA… Are you lost yet? I was. Secondly, the photo on the front cover of the cute boy standing next to a crystal clear inground swimming pool has nothing to do with the story. It may be a family photo, but really ….