Saturday, 19 January 2013

Wet Week

Earlier in the week the météo promised snow.  We had a light dusting. Barely enough to cover the grass. And since then, it's been wet. Very wet.

Why is it, I wonder, that rain comes in different sizes?  This week's rain is the big splodgy type that could almost be sleet and gets down the back of your neck if you have your coat collar at the wrong angle.

And this is the week that the fosse septique in the cottage has decided to start a "go slow".  I realise that for some of you, this will be too much information, but one of the "joys" of living in rural France is we all have our own private sewage disposal works - only sometimes they don't - work, I mean.

It was the gurgling that first alerted me to the fact that all was not well. I must admit most of the time I try not to remember what happens when I flush, but this week I could not ignore it.  So a large screwdriver and up with the concrete manhole cover to find sludge where there should be a nice empty gulley.  Normally it's pretty clear what and why.  Guests flush something they shouldn't.  But we haven't had anyone in the cottage since last October and we're scrupulous.

So I turn to the relevant section of the ex-pat forum and post my question: could it possibly be the water table?  We've had all this rain, the ground's saturated.  Is our sand filter bed - the final stage of the process - inundated so that everything is backing up?  I learn things I never knew and I realise we've been too complacent.  The advice is open up the inspection pits for the filter bed.  But after three years of neglect they're nicely hidden in the lawn among grass and weeds.  So I get out the strimmer in the splodgy rain and feel a line of wet drops run down the inside of my waterproof as I clear the ground. Opening the plastic covers flush with the earth is a challenge.  So wet knees are added to wet neck as I struggle to dig away the mud that's oozed in under the lids. There's a final plop and the first one's off.  The sand filter hole is empty and dry. Excellent! This end of the system is fine.

In that case we have a "bouchon" - a traffic jam and we just need to unblock it.  I wonder about flexible rods and get advice from the forum on not turning them anti-clockwise when they are in the drain as that just unscrews them - which would add un-get-at-able drain rods to an already over-filled pipe.

I wander round the local brico store and see rods for chimney sweeping. Are they the same? Confused, I find myself in front of the bright yellow Kärcher pressure washers.  We do need something that will clean the swimming pool surround in summer. And they also have this nifty gadget thing that can be used to unblock drains. It's on offer as it's a display model - so obviously a bargain.  I'm a bit startled to come out of the shop one hundred and sixty euros lighter - I could have bought a lot of rods with that!

By now the splodgy rain is a steady downpour and we struggle with the outside tap. Why is nothing coming through the pressure washer?  It helps to have the hose pipe plugged in properly.  The Kärcher hose line has a mind of its own and curls round the manhole - anywhere but down it. The sludge stubbornly remains.  And the rain gets worse.

I'll call a "vidangeur" on Monday - a man who knows all about fosse septiques and how to clear them. In the meantime, we do have a very smart, very expensive pressure washer for keeping the swimming pool terrace clean - if ever this damn rain stops.


  1. You have my deepest sympathy, Sue. Torrential rain AND fosse problems at the same time! Not fair. I do hope it gets sorted out soon and the rain eases off.

    We have a septic tank here in Wales as well as in France, so we know the sinking feeling when something goes wrong....

  2. Thanks Perpetua, must say it's not much fun! But we're fortunate. We do have "the facilities" up at the house, so with no showers, no washing machine and not much flushing in the cottage and we're managing not to make it worse until the vidangeur comes.

  3. I feel for you,I really so, until 18 months ago, we had a septic tank in our house in the Yorkshire hills....I recall only too well, the gurgling, and our sign that all was not well, was the squelching sound as we stood on a manhole cover just outside the kitchen door. I am very impressed with your attempts to resolve the problem yourself. I'm sure the pressure washer will have been a brilliant investment....well done.

  4. Hi Janice, thanks for dropping by. Our manhole cover is just by the front door!!! Been out all afternoon. Just checked. The sludge IS lower. Now is that because we've been out? Or because yesterday's attempt to clear it has shifted something? Who knows. I hope you're right about the pressure washer. :) :)

  5. You have my sympathy...and why is it that septic tanks only play up when
    a there is a heatwave
    b) it is pouring with rain.

  6. That Fly, is one of life's great mysteries. Like printers breaking down at 5pm on a Friday evening when you have a report to get in the post and French websites saying something will arrive in 3 weeks, when everyone else delivers within an week. :) :)

  7. Let's hope that the vidangeur comes and is not inundated with other customers with sodden land and blockages.
    When working, Him Indoors was often away from home when a crisis came, leaving me to dig out our Septic thing in Norfolk. Funnily enough, he was often around when neighbours required a practical hand!
    Best wishes for a return to normal service.

  8. Hi Lesley, thanks for the sympathy. Know what you mean about Him Indoors! Delighted to say that I managed to fix it! So no need for vidangeur. Just spent a fortune on pressure washer and attachments - so bring on the next blockage! Did I really say that??? :) :)