I was recently asked by a journalist from a UK newspaper about my life in France and she asked me to think of something funny that happened to me. I was stumped, I hadn’t expected that as a question. The journalist had emailed me after seeing this website and was keen on talking to renovation experts and asked if I would be willing to pass on some “pearls of wisdom” as she put it, to people thinking of moving to France. I prepared some helpful tips, like how you should make sure you have access to Broadband if it’s important, not everywhere in France can get Broadband. To make sure you get booster heating for when it’s really cold, a log fire is all very romantic when it’s a holiday home but when you have to get up in the morning and chop logs and bring wood in to start a fire for the day, the appeal is not quite so strong. Anyway, you know what I mean, a dozen sensible things I had thought about to tell her that would help others wanting to live the dream.
But no, she wanted something amusing, so I told her about the septic tank incident.
Soon after I bought the house in the middle of nowhere – or the ch’tis as the French call it (the sticks) – an ugly problem with the septic tank arose. It was quite clearly blocked and we’ll leave it at that.
I didn’t know how things worked well enough to go through the Pages Jaunes (yellow pages) and find someone who was authorised to empty it. In the old days local farmers used to be able to come round with their big tanks, take your waste and then they’d spray it on the fields or dump it somewhere. The French Government has put a stop to that though, quite rightly. Now you have to use an authorised removal company who must give you a receipt for the job so that any officials who want to check, can tie your receipt back to the disposal of the said waste in the proper manner (blah blah bureaucratic blah).
Anyway, my lovely neighbour, a farmer, acted as Mr Waste Removal and he and his side kick arrived and drove a tractor dragging an enormous storage tank into the garden, which as luck would not have it, created huge craters in my newly dug vegetable beds. They then proceeded to unwind a massive hose pipe, bickering constantly while they did it. I watched apprehensively from the back door while they pushed the end of the pipe into the opening of the septic tank, having removed the lid (it’s not open all the time).
The farmer (the boss) told the sidekick to push the button to suck out the waste. Except sidekick didn’t – he pushed blow.
Cue pandemonium in the garden, shouting and screaming, blaming and blaspheming. Our neighbour Jean-Claude was having a beer with us at the time and thought this was great and started taking pictures on his phone to text all of his friends about what jolly fun it was in the Brits garden.
I was completely panicking at what was now starting to spread over the garden, filling the craters the tractor had made. By now several other neighbours who’d heard the commotion had wandered into the back of the garden to watch this seemingly fascinating event. We dished out beers and stood around watching the clean-up efforts. I can’t tell you how horrible it was, but it certainly was a memorable introduction to villagers I hadn’t previously met.
At least everyone now knows who we are!