Friday, 22 May 2020

There is an aspect of French rural living ...

... that rarely gets discussed, which nevertheless occasionally raises its somewhat ugly head.  And that is the "fosse septique" or septic tank.  Live in the country in France and the chances are you'll have one.

When we first renovated the house, our new system proved to be highly temperamental, with suspicious wafts of doubtful smells in and around the house.  But in recent years we have almost become complacent that all is well - until recently.  There it was again, that slight whiff from the utility room.  The spare bathroom in the hall (the other side of the utility room wall) these days gets rarely used and a dry shower trap can let doubtful odours escape.  A quick spray with febreze and run the shower for a few minutes and usually all is well.  But not this time.

A further possible source of trouble is the vent pipe, which unfortunately is located in the utility room, exiting up through the loft and opening out above the roof.  Knowing what we know now we would have rethought the whole system - oh the joys of being wise after the event.  With the wind blowing in certain directions the smells being vented may creep back down.  Maybe it is that?

So we keep the utility room closed for a few days and hope the smell goes away.  Until a couple of days ago.  When suddenly the aroma goes up a whole octave on the scale.  And I decide it couldn't be ignored any longer and has to be investigated.  And there it was - a damp, extremely smelly, patch on the floor. Which could only mean one thing.  There is a leak from the bathroom toilet either coming up through the floor, or through the wall - or both.  Not the spare bathroom, but the one alongside it which gets used all the time.  We needed to do something and urgently.

The first thing was to take all the gardening/dog-walking coats, cagoules and "gilets jaunes" hanging on the wall immediately above the offending patch out of the utility room and in so doing it became evident that the coats were damp and very smelly.

Monsieur G, he of the building company which did all our groundworks and laying of services, fortunately lives just the other side of our valley. He graciously agrees to come immediately. Being an extremely traditional builder with a strong rural accent Tod and I decide it needs both of us to participate in the conversation.  I also know that, as I am a mere woman, all of his attention will be on Tod.

But then I see the conversation going in all sorts of directions except the one I needed, which is to have someone dig up the utility room floor and knock down the wall to find the leak.  He really does not want to take responsibility and talks of getting the septic tank emptied (despite our having recently had a report from the public health inspector that all is well), well then, it must be humidity build-up in an enclosed space and a suspicious leak from the shower tray in the bathroom.  The whole scenario is not helped by his admitting he has no sense of smell, so the overpowering aroma completely passes him by. And, oh my, isn't a loss of sense of smell one of the symptoms of COVID-19?  And here he is, standing in our kitchen being unsympathetic and not wearing a mask.

So I get cross - never a good idea with Frenchmen who are certain of their own opinions.  But finally, as he departs, he agrees reluctantly he will send someone round "tomorrow" (unlikely as it's a bank holiday) to carefully drill out the concrete floor and investigate.

Tod then sets forth into town to warn our insurance man, as we can visualise all sorts of dire (and costly) scenarios.  I, in the meantime, head down to the cottage with an arm-full of the offending garments, with the intention of putting as many as I could through the washing machine.

Sorting the coats into piles on the cottage kitchen floor, that was when I found it.  A plastic shopping bag containing a stinky lump of fetid vegetation floating in its own fermenting juices, dripping through a hole in the bag.  Once a cabbage (probably) bought at the beginning of lockdown, too large to fit in the fridge and left, forgotten, to fester in its bag on a hook in the utility room until it formed a puddle on the floor.  Not sewage, but manky sauerkraut juice.

My overwhelming sense of relief is tempered with the knowledge that I need to get round to Monsieur G's builders yard as soon as possible and eat an enormous humble pie.  And call Tod back from the insurance man.

When I meet him, Monsieur G is gracious and, needing to have the last word, tells me we must get our "fosse septique" emptied.  I meekly agree.


  1. Oh dear,that made me laugh! We have our own stories to tell about fosse septiques so you must have been very relieved to find the cause even if you did have to eat humble pie.

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for dropping by. Oh yes we were! A celebratory glass was raised at supper that evening. :)

  2. Oh, good grief! What a relief! Humble pie was a small price to pay!
    Amything associated with a fosse septique had me panicking so I can guess how you felt.

    1. You are so right fly. And being a great one for putting my head in the sand, that's why I just shut the utility room door in the hope that the smell would go away!

  3. What a good story with a happy ending! Our Fr.village went on mains drains and there was a certain smug feeling until the water bill came in and other one off connection charges were paid. Lesley

    1. Hello Lesley, oh I envy you your mains drainage. (Though maybe not the bills.) I really admire the guys who go round sorting out everyone's fosses. What a ghastly job!