Alex Bell: Reflections on his World Premiere

I got into journalism for the free taxi chits and the promise of whisky.

I’ve often wondered if this a credible basis for a career, particularly since bosses stopped the free cab rides – how’s a man meant to function paying for his own transport? When faced with two years' work, and a complex tale about how the spread of civilisation threatened the world’s water
supply, I should have found it easy to condense the thing into a zippy performance. That is, after all, what journalists do. Perhaps it’s the whisky, but I’ve struggled.

Do I mention the river god, Hapi, whose penis got cut up into 16 bits? Should I include the idea that ancient American irrigation methods meant they had no need to invent the wheel? Would it be appropriate to compare the World Bank's obsession with big dams and water schemes with Stalin’s central planning? Do you have any idea how much a cow drinks, and the effect that
has on the world’s water? Do you have any idea how much I want a drink?

It is a writers’ job to make the world a bit more understandable to a general readership. Yes, detail and complexity will be lost, but unless people have a working idea of a problem, they can never make the choice to learn more. I’d got into a fankle because I wanted to seem clever and
know-it-all, when that’s not the point. The job is to be clear.

So I reduced six thousand years of history into half an hour of mildly humorous chat, and told a tale of ditches and wars and simple things, and the audience clapped. I think it went well. A man came up, responsible for groundwater policy in Southern Africa (I know, exciting isn’t it?), and
declared it a triumph. Pack the place with groundwater specialists and I’m laughing. If only I could work Hapi’s diced willy into it, the audience might be laughing too.

Alex Bell – co-founder of – promises to stop these articles soon, but would like it to be known that he can take his riotously entertaining water show to schools, weddings and bar mitzvahs. His book, Peak Water, will be out in September, published by Luath. His Edinburgh Fringe show, Water Wars, is free at 1300 at The Schop, St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh from today until Friday and then Monday to Friday next week.

Mike Wilson writes: “It's brilliant. Gently clever, funny and hugely engaging. Go.”

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