The Surge to Victory

Ah. The third day of summer. And at last it feels like it. Sun shines. Washing dries. Pigs snooze. Cats roll in the dust. Grasshopper warblers warble and grasshoppers hop. And Plumber Man declares the day a weekend.

He deserves it. Yesterday he excelled himself in the gruelling and ultimately gross activity of unearthing and unbunging the long and pongy outflow pipe from the foul and overly-flowing septic tank. And I have to say, disgusting as the task was, it was at the same time both fascinating and satisfying.

On the previous day, when the rain had finally stopped and some tentative signs of ground-drying had begun, Simon decided that the time had come to unravel the many mysteries of the 70’s septic tank drainage system. He started digging on the opposite side from the inflow pipe, and within not many minutes he was back at the door calling me to join him in exciting discovery.

“Come here! You’ll want to see this.”

After numerous such beckonings over the last few months I now know better than to bother asking what it is that I will so obviously want to see. Simon likes to keep the suspense going as long as he can. So, obedient wifey that I am, I don my wellies (usually what he wants to show me involves walking into less-than-lovely places) and follow in Simon’s wake, buffeted by the barely-contained excitement radiating from him in ripples.

“There! Look at that!”

I can see why he is so excited. We had both expected that he would have to do much digging to find the blocked pipe which we knew must exit from the tank somewhere, but only about 40 cms down he had discovered the pipe and, after digging along its length for another 40 cms to plot its direction he had come upon a raised construction that turned out to be an inspection chamber. He lifted the lid proudly, as if unveiling a rare work of art, to display a tableau of motionless grey liquid, framed by black-gunk-encrusted concrete. Instantly the implication of this wondrous sight hit me. We actually had access to the inside of the pipe, without having to break into it.

Plumber Man scurried off eagerly to the Plumber Cave, returning moments later with his trusty set of drain rods – a tool that no self-respecting Plumber Man should be without. He poked the first rod through the shroud of stinky grey into the place that was supposed to be the empty end of a drain pipe. He met a little resistance, but not as much as he had expected, given the total non-drainingness of the would-be drain. He attached another rod and pushed further. And another. And another… until he had used all ten. Ten metres in, and still no blockage to unblock. This was a little dispiriting to say the least. Plumber Man wondered just how long the pipe might be, and just how far down it the real blockage lurked, and whether he would have to make yet another trip to the gloomy Planet of Les Briconautes, to obtain more rods.

Before resorting to such a dire course of action however, Plumber Man decided to explore the problem a little further. Convinced that the drain rods were progressing through the pipe in a straight line, he made a guess as to the direction the pipe took beneath the ground, and dug another hole ten metres from the first. To his initial delight, he discovered the pipe just half a spade’s width to the left of where he had started to dig. but then he realised that the pipe was still going straight on, heading off into the very depths of the freshly blooming vegetable patch, that he had so carefully and lovingly constructed and nurtured over the last three months.

The almost summery sky clouded over, as Plumber Man’s initial excitement subsided in the face of continued obstruction. Thinking that he may have to dig holes all through his precious vegetable beds to track the pipe’s progress, or break into the pipe after all, to install a new free-flowing section at a different angle, he decided to revert to his secret identity and spend the rest of the day as The Man Who Sits In Front of the Computer.

We began the next day with yet another discussion of sewage over breakfast, like you do.

“That pipe can’t just carry on like that, surely. It must split into drainage sections somewhere. It couldn’t just be a long solid pipe. That would make no sense.” The early morning air was heavy with Plumber Man’s bafflement. He suffers badly from a debilitating case of Chronic Logic Syndrome, that more than fifty years of treatment with Real Life has so far failed to alleviate.

Whenever the assertion that something ‘makes no sense’ is tossed into the conversation like this, I cannot help but think that the something in question is actually quite likely to be the case. Luckily, being a woman, I am blessed with a natural immunity to logic.

“Well I reckon it is, and I reckon if you keep digging holes at points along a straight line you’ll eventually find the end.” I considered for a few moments how to best work out exactly where this imaginary straight line might be. “I think we should use a piece of string”. I was a Brownie in the 60s – old habits die hard.

Unexpectedly convinced by the possible sense of my suggestion, or perhaps simply unwilling to face the task of breaking into the stinky pipe to fit a side shoot just yet, Plumber Man agreed. So as soon as our fasts were well and truly broken, Plumber Man and I headed out into the unsuspecting vegetable patch armed with a spade, a big round-thing of twine (bequeathed to us by previous owners of the house), and a hefty helping of optimism.

As I held the twine-holder above the centre line of the second dug hole, Plumber Man moved a few meters down the garden with the free end of the unravelling twine, lining it up with the imaginary line between the first two holes. He stopped just short of the first row of potato plants, which were waving their purple yellow-centred flowers in celebration of the arrival of summertime. I had never really noticed before just how pretty potato flowers are. While Plumber Man busied himself with some more digging, I contemplated the life-cycle of the potato, and realised how ignorant I was about the many and varied workings of nature. My wondrous musings were interrupted by yet another small yelp of excitement issuing from Plumber Man’s smiling lips. His digging had revealed the pipe in its continued march across the vegetable garden towards infinity. But once again, the initial surge of glee was quickly replaced by an ebb of indecision. Should we continue in our grail-like quest for the pipe’s end, and risk the ruination of the vegetable garden, or should Plumber Man get to work installing a new length of drainage pipe heading off away from the would-be constituents of our salad days into the adjacent llama field?

Plumber Man reconsidered the question of the non-sensible pipe’s possible length. “I guess the end might be in the middle of the potato patch” he grumped.

I had a feeling, based on nothing I could put my finger on, that it would be longer than that. I suddenly wished we had some divining rods, and mentally kicked myself for having spent Midsummer’s Day indoors writing moany blogs about the weather, when I could have been out and about on the Sabbat of Litha choosing my wand.

But with two sightings of the pipe about two and a half metres apart, it should be easy peasy to work out the trajectory of the pipe’s relentless journey through the underworld, and digging another couple of exploratory holes seemed a far more appealing proposition in the increasing heat of the day than digging a long deep trench for new pipework. So Plumber Man and the end of the string advanced to the furthest side of the potato patch and stopped in the gap between the potatoes and the courgettes, while I tried to work out how to hold the string over the centre of two consecutive holes, considerably more than a human arm’s length apart.

I placed the twine-holder on the ground next to the first of the two holes, so that the string emerged from it above the centre line of the pipe, and stood at the second hole trying to hold the string exactly above the centre line of the bit of the pipe that I could just about see hiding in the bottom of the muddy hole. The method was hardly precise, and I struggled for some minutes with the mysteries of parallax caused by binocular vision. Plumber Man was a pent-up coil of digging-waiting-to-happen. He was getting impatient.

“Just get it above the middle of the pipe!” he suggested rather unhelpfully.

“I’m trying to! But the middle keeps moving depending on how I look at it.” It reminded me of trying to shoot cardboard figures in the arcade games of my childhood. I decided to give up trying to work out by sight where the actual middle was, and to rely instead on a general sense of middleness. “There! That’ll do.”

Plumber Man pulled the string as straight as he could above the waving, grabbing hands of the potato plants and chose his next digging spot. He dug. He exclaimed. Who’d have thought it? Here was the pipe again, still marching on. We considered the situation. If the pipe extended for just another few meters it would clear the courgettes, and the leeks, and the runner beans and the gooseberry bushes, and find itself in the weed-free patch that had only just been cultivated ready for the next swathe of planting. Picking up the free end of the string, Plumber Man pulled it out yet further to locate the next digging venue. There was no stopping him now. The vegetables were nearly safe. The digging was getting easier. The end was very possibly in sight.

But suddenly the digging wasn’t getting easier. In fact it was getting harder. The spade was hitting solid rock. Only – hang on – it wasn’t solid rock. It was pieces of rock. Bloody great big slabs of rock. Arranged slabs of rock that had clearly been placed in the ground for a purpose. Energized by this new and curious discovery, Plumber Man summoned all of his superhero strength to toss aside the rock like – well, like bigs slabs of rock. After much levering and hefting and huffing and puffing, a Very Big Hole appeared, with a strange assortment of bricks and smaller pieces of rock at the top end. I adopted my Little Miss Archaeologist persona, and carefully worked the mud away from the brick construction with a trowel, to discover what appeared to be a tile pretending to be a lid. I levered up the tile… and dug a little more… and a Lo and Behold, Glory of Glories, there, revealed to the hardly-believing eyes of mankind, lay the End of The Pipe.

And lo, the End was black and dry, and the waters of life floweth not therein. And the End was filled with much impediment.

“I guess you’ll be wanting your drain rods again.” I said, already heading back to the barn to get them. “And your thick rubber gloves.” Plumber Man looked at the blackness at the End of The Pipe, and concurred. After a tentative poke with one rod, the thickness of the black impediment became apparent. There was no way of knowing how far up the pipe the thick blackness went. But one thing was for sure – if Plumber Man was successful in his mission to unblock the evil blockage, there would soon be one hell of a lot of bunged-up stinky wetness gushing out of that pipe in a veritable river of iniquity. He stood and he considered. He looked back up the garden towards the septic tank, and he thought about the amount of liquid that was seething in what should be the space between the top of the tank and the start of the outflow pipe, and the amount of liquid that could be lying dormant in the blocked pipe. And he started digging again.

After not many minutes, Plumber Man (aka Digger Man) had fashioned an Even Bigger Hole from the space already lying in wait at the End of The Pipe. When he was satisfied that it was Big Enough, he set to in earnest with the drain rods.

He pushed and he pulled, and he pushed some more, and he pulled some more. A big gob of gloop oozed from the pipe like an evil tongue. But no water. Plumber Man walked back to the inspection chamber next to the tank, carrying the one last rod that he had yet to use. The one with a sort of plunger attachment on the end. He pushed it through the shroud of grey into the top of the pipe and plunged. He hurried back to the End of The Pipe. The tongue of slime was oozing a little more.

Plumber Man could sense victory within his grasp. He jumped down into The Even Bigger Hole and pushed and pulled some more with the rods. The ooze oozed faster and then…..WOOSH! Plumber Man leapt to safety in the knick of time as the the sleeping volcano of the Blanchetière sewage system erupted in a malevolent gush of fetid mire. Up at the inspection chamber, I watched in fascinated delight as the shroud of liquid grey surged noisily away down the pipe’s mouth. At the End of The Pipe, Plumber Man watched in horror as the deluge filled The Even Bigger Hole (which wasn’t quite big enough), and overflowed to run off in a thin stream of black, down the garden toward the field.

Eventually the flow turned to a trickle and the drama subsided. We stood back to silently contemplate the nature of the monster we had unleashed. There is still Much To Be Done before the War of the Waters can be declared over. But Plumber Man has triumphed in the Battle of The Blockage, and at least now we know all there is to know about the existing drainage set up.

And as everybody knows, Knowledge is Power.

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9 Responses to The Surge to Victory

  1. Jane says:

    Not fancying that pool much!

  2. Jane says:

    Simon did well to discover all of the mysteries of the sewage system-ably assisted by you of course.

  3. Linda says:

    Hi Val
    Digger man has just read your post with much exitement and was almost as exited as you and Simon to find out where the pipe eventually ended up! His words of wisdom on the matter were that you wouldn’t have had lumpy bits in the pipes if the septic tank had not been so full! Hope it is now flowing freely and sweetly..or at least as sweet as these things can be!

    • Val says:

      Ha Harrr! I have uttered those same wise words on numerous occasions recently, along with other ‘told you so’ comments about how we should have got the septic tank issue sorted earlier. We suspect the problem was already there before we started using it though, which is why the previous owners had disconnected the sink from the drainage pipe, and were using a composting toilet. And anyway… there were so many more important (ie pleasant) things to be doing with our time last summer 🙂

    • Simon says:

      Digger man’s wisdom is valid 🙂 However, since the fosse was installed in 1975, may well never have been emptied, and is only one third of the size required by current normes, I guess being full was inevitable! What still amazes me is that we managed to carry on using it for nearly a year without any real sign of problem. I wonder where all that liquid was going . . . .

  4. Linda says:

    It’s amazing how fascinating things septic are when you don’t have mains drainage! I have heard tell of the need to put old yoghurt or milk in the fosse on a regular basis to keep it ‘active’, to ban anyone from using it if they are taking antibiotics, to not use bleach, anti-bacterial cleaners, to use special dis-integrating loo paper etc etc.. but up until a few months ago we were sending our ‘waste’ into a pile in the corner of the field with no obvious after effects as far as we can see!

  5. Val says:

    I’m thinking sour milk would be a sight cheaper than the sachets of Activateur Biologique Professionnel that we bung down the bog once a week or so.

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