The thing about bottled water is that the more you think about it, the weirder it is. And the more you think about it, the harder it is to justify in common-sense terms.
For a start, the logistical merry-go-round of getting water that might as well have come from the tap, pretty much, into plastic and glass bottles, and then around the world, is mind-boggling. Sometimes a bottle of Buxton mineral water destined for Boston must sail past a New Jersey bottle of Rock Spring water, destination Sheffield, in the mid-Atlantic. Somehow the sort of madnesses that usually mark celebrities out as a different race from the rest of mankind -- Raquel Welch, apparently, will only wash her hair in Evian; there are racehorses in America whose trainers think it's normal only to let them drink Arkansas Mountain Valley Spring water; the terribly exclusive Ritz-Carlton in New York has a water sommelier on hand to advise on the right bottle to complement madam's smoked salmon -- somehow these insanities have leapt across the chasm that ought to separate us from the stars and entered the everyday.
The other week, four of us had Sunday lunch at a London restaurant. As usual, the drinks bill was higher than that for the food. But when I looked closely, I saw that going on for half of this -- [pounds sterling]13.50 -- was for our water.
My aunt goes one better. She drank water in a Chicago restaurant that was charged at $12 a bottle. The really galling aspect of this was that, once the first bottle was finished, glasses were topped up from a jug of tap water. No one assumed you would pay that ridiculous sum of money twice, or that you'd be able to tell any difference in the taste.
The bottled water industry is huge. Last year, we drank 1,580 million litres of it in the UK. Every year, for the past decade, consumption has risen by 10 per cent -- and is forecast to continue to do …