What’s all the fosse about?

If you need to update your drainage system, one option is to install a micro-station. Jacky Laurie recalls the process

After inspections, difficult neighbours and then the powers that be deciding that we needed a new filter bed for our fosse on our precious lawn in front of the house, it is with some relief we have found our micro-station solution, though the mayor of our village has had to be the final arbitrator. This is the tale of its installation.

It’s 7.30 on a damp Tuesday morning – the long-awaited day has arrived when the new micro-station will be installed. The telephone wakes me. It’s my builder. “Excuse me, Madame,” he says, “but it is not possible to come today because it is raining.”

I protest. I can only see minor drizzle outside and I have organised not only all my neighbours, who are having work done too, but also the local farmers, because the road will be blocked. I have had no use of anything that uses water for 24 hours since the old fosse was emptied. However, nothing I say will budge him from his insistence that the rain is a problem; he will come tomorrow. To add insult to injury, just as I predicted, the rain clears and we enjoy a beautiful autumn day. I reorganise all my poor neighbours again.

Work begins

Wednesday arrives. This time I am up and feeding the dogs when the digger-man arrives. The builder isn’t far behind and we all drink coffee. At 8.30am my builder disappears to fetch his truck and tools. By 9.30am, there are three of them standing around the empty fosse septique. A bit of digging and removing old concrete happens, aided by a Labrador who keeps throwing her ball into the hole and then into the old fosse – nice. At 10.30 they all disappear again and by 11.30, I am getting desperate. Lunch is approaching, we have half a hole and a lot of mess as the digger is working over the fence. The digger is abandoned in the middle of the road. I ring them to find out where they are. “Don’t worry we will be back soon,” they say. “We were just getting some sand.”

Time for lunch

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There is a bit of me thinking, why the hell did they not get this all organised before? The digger-man is costing me €500 a day! No such pre-planning even enters their heads! Well at 11.45 they all reappear with broad grins, saying: “Don’t worry it will all be done by this evening.”

With that, after pre-positioning the sand and moving the digger, they all go off to lunch, kindly asking my mother and I to go with them. Sadly, or perhaps luckily, I have already organised another restaurant. Our company would probably have encouraged them to chat and then it would have been a miracle if the fosse had been done in a week, let alone a day.

The clouds are gathering as I arrive back, amazed to see them arriving at the same time (2pm). They look happy and have had a good meal with wine, of course, and are all set for much discussion and head-scratching.

Finally at 2.30, real work commences and the hole is finished. I retreat to answer the phone and when I have finished, hear a car pull up and a loud respectful, “bonjour”, which is the dogs’ signal to go into a barking frenzy. It turns out to be the gendarmes on their way down to my neighbour. They have to get out because the road is blocked.

A detailed explanation then ensues as they all peer into the gaping hole. The digger-man feels the necessity to tell them the whole story. He is on the village council and feels it is his duty to say how difficult it was for us to get permission to install a micro-station type of fosse septique. The story has to be told by all three of them. I am there really wishing they would go away as the light is failing, but I am not in luck. Just as they disappear after the real reason for their visit has been comprehensively discussed, my lovely neighbour from the other side of the road arrives.

Now, he is not called the village journal’ for nothing and just to be absolutely sure he has the correct story, he is shown the hole, the fibreglass container that is going into it and the reason for changing it etc. After much discussion and “umming and ahhing”, he departs ready to fill in anyone in the village who might be willing to listen to the details. God knows what the story will be by the time it gets to the village shop.

A critical stage

To add insult to injury, the postman now arrives and demands to be let through to the two other houses at the end of the lane.

He is only in his early 20s and when I tell him he should walk, he almost faints. “No, no. Not possible,” he says. Clearly, it is in his contract to drive at breakneck speed down tiny lanes, throw the mail he has into any of the three boxes in our area and depart as soon as he can.

He goes into a huff as I will not budge. The moment has arrived. The beautiful (I am exaggerating here) blue and green fibreglass cylinder is hoisted out of the car park and lifted over the fence to the hole. I have to admit, the digger-man is absolutely magic with his digger.

Getting connected

Well you could have knocked me down with a feather. It fits and all the pipes match. Perhaps I have been maligning them. Several more minutes of head scratching and self-congratulation, then the Lego mess of all the pipes comes out together with the instructions on how to connect up the fosse to its electrical system.

The dog then throws the ball into the new fosse and wastes another half an hour as it is very difficult to get it out. This is not just an empty cylinder. It is full of compartments that magically convert all our waste back into usable water, or so they say.

By this time, the now grubby instructions had been read and re-read and some comprehension was dawning. However, the air pump, which was made in China, had only English instructions and though my French is improving, when asked by the builder to translate the technical instructions about the connections, I flounder.

Ever inventive, I look them up on the internet. Sadly, I can only find the address of the makers, in China, and no downloadable instructions. I ring China, getting a very nice man at 10.30pm their time who re-directs me to America where it is 8am. He is also charming and directs me to the European headquarters in England. They are very helpful as well and direct me to Lyon where the French importers have their headquarters. I ring the number with dread and get a couldn’t care less, there is nothing I can do to help’ voice. I explain my problem as best I can. Lo and behold they ring me back and a very nice young man who speaks perfect English emails me the instructions straight away.

A helping hand

Well, my street cred is going up. I give the boys the copy but half an hour later there is further head-scratching and arguing about how they could fit a difficult pipe. I suggest they try putting it in from a different angle and with a different type of fitting. They shrug and say it wouldn’t work but after a moment they decide it is worth a try and, blow me, it works.

It’s a feminine thing perhaps, that kind of spatial awareness. However, that progresses the job and we now enter the home stretch. The digger-man leaps into action, fills the hole with sand and the others rush around trying to stop it getting into the now almost buried fosse.

Then the rain starts. It is getting cold and dark, and the dogs have given up and gone in to sit by the fire. The cats are yowling for food and the difficult bits are proving beyond the boys. I ring the man who sold us the new fosse and put him on to my builder. Within minutes the penny has thankfully dropped and the pipes and electricity and pump go together. “It works,” comes the cry.

A job well done

Darkness overcomes us. We are soaked and cold. The tools are stowed on board the van then much handshaking, kissing and talk of job satisfaction ensues. They all disappear saying they will be back to sort out the mountain of clay they have left in my garden. “When?” I feebly ask. “Next week... if we finish the job in the mountains,” they reply.

I am not holding out much hope as the job in the mountains was only meant to take two weeks and it has already taken a month. However, boy was I thankful that at last I can use the toilet in my own home again, not to mention do the washing, run the dishwasher, have a bath and do all the things one takes for granted when your sewage system works.

It’s now two years on and the mountain of clay would still be there if my husband and I had not moved it. But the fosse is efficient, clean and does not smell, and one can’t have everything, can one?