Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Installation of our new fosse - part deux - Tuesday: starting work, clearing the drive, emptying the current fosse

Following on from the first part of our new fosse installation story, the first day of construction proper (Tuesday) was started with a rude awakening with all the equipment being unloaded outside our bedroom window.

Pretty quickly Tony (the English owner of the plant hire company) got to work with the mini digger, scraping to one side the existing gravel from the driveway whilst Nic (one of his French workers who spoke quite a bit of English) and Bennodet (his other French worker who spoke no English) helped scraping back gravel with shovels and started laying out the pipe-work.

Just behind the digger in the photo above you can see the monster 5000 litre septic tank.

Just 45 minutes after they arrived Tony had already cleared the gravel off the driveway, dug the first hole, dropped in the grey plastic fat trap tank 'downstream' of the kitchen in the current house (leaving the existing fat trap in place), and Nic was laying the pipe-work down a trench dug by Tony in front of the house.

This seemed to set the way of working for pretty much all of the time they were with us - Tony would do all the driving, digging and levelling with the mini diggers whilst Nic and Bennodet would do all the labouring, laying pipes, shovelling things, gluing pipes together and shifting soil around, etc. I guess it's the perk of being the company boss to be able to drive the mini digger!

They also never really let up the pace of work at all. There were frequent tea's and coffee's supplied by Liz and I (well mainly Liz), and they stopped for those and chocolate biscuit breaks, but apart from the obligatory French lunch break in the restaurant in our village, they just kept on working continually throughout the day. Even when it started raining that day they put on Macs and kept on going.

As I showed on the plan for the new fosse system, half the new fosse system (fat traps and connection to the existing pipe-work) was in the courtyard in front of the house, the septic tank itself was in the garden adjacent to the courtyard, whilst the soak-away bed was some 40m away round the back of the second (older) house, up the hill, and underneath where the climbing frame was situated. Consequently there was lots of digging to be done at each end of the garden and pipe-work to be laid back and forth between the two halves.

To make this easier Nic and Bennodet took down the garden fence by the roadside next to the soakaway so they could get materials and diggers in off the road.

Just before they took the fence down I dismantled the climbing frame and took this 'before' photo showing the undisurbed garden! You can see how the garden was laid to lawn with a few fruit trees and bushes and then a hedge dividing our garden and the neighbours.

Once they’d taken down the fence Tony made short work of removing and piling up the top soil from the garden into a big heap and then the first smaller lorry arrived to tip a load of sand for the filter bed.

I hadn't noticed it at the time but apparently the farmer arrived at about 9ish to empty the fosse and they sent him away again as they weren't ready. Later on he came back as arranged with his tractor and tanker, just as the second (enormous) lorry arrived and started tipping the remainder of the 35 cubic metres of gravel for the filter bed.

So one end of the road was blocked by the tipper lorry and the other end was blocked by Tony’s flatbed and the farmer’s tractor and tanker. Just then Liz arrived back from shopping and of course couldn’t actually get to the house with all the equipment blocking the road!

The farmer made pretty short work of sucking out the contents of the old septic tank and fat trap and I was €50 lighter in the wallet when I’d paid him – still it was better than the €150-200 bill that I would have had to pay if I’d got an official septic tank emptying company to come and do the job for me.

Although the farmer only took 20 minutes or so to empty the septic, we did have an amusing moment when he first turned on the pump on his tanker and accidentally set it to ‘blow’ rather than ‘suck’. With one end of the pipe resting in the congealed fat and liquids in the fat trap the resultant fountain of effluent caused everyone to dive for cover and there were lots of frantic shouting in French as to the error being made!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Installation of our new Fosse Septique - part one - day zero

What a month it's been. We had two weeks lovely break in our Brittany holiday home (punctuated with lots of mud and rain, but more of this later), and then it was straight back to work with a vengeance. The first week back I drove down to Heathrow from our home in Bedfordshire on four consecutive days (70-odd miles each way) in the back-to-school rush-hour traffic, and then it was Toby (our eldest son)'s 9th birthday, then his birthday treat with his friends going to Legoland, then another week of work, commuting, helping out with two charity events my Rotary club was organising, and it's up to my Dad in Lancashire next weekend, and ...

The holiday seems such a distant memory.

One of the main things we were planning on having done whilst we were in France was installation of a new septic tank system (fosse septique) and I previous wrote about the different constituent parts of the new fosse and emptying the old septic tank and plans for new fosse septique plans.

We arrived OK at the Gite OK on Monday afternoon (despite a very wet drive down through Normandy) and bumped into our gardeners Brian and Kevin who were tidying up the flower beds and giving the hedge a trim. We saw that there was a large plastic tank, some pipework and a small caterpillar-tracked earth mover parked in one of the driveways so it all looked positive that the job was on!

After a quick look round the house and garden I had to make my goodbye's as I urgently had to go and get the farmer sorted out to empty the existing fosse the next day.

Drove round to the farmer's house and spoke to his wife (who of course spoke no English at all), asked if he was in ... Oui ... explained that he had emptied my fosse 2 years previously and that we were having a new fosse installed tomorrow and could he come and empty the fosse tomorrow ... Non, Il et en vacance pour une semaine ... he was on holiday for a week! Argh, best laid plans of mice and men, time to revert to plan B unfortunately I hadn't thought of this problem and there was no plan B.
In desperation I decided the best thing to do was to drive round some other local farms and see if any of them could help me. The first couple I went to, no they couldn't, and no they didn't know anyone who had a pump. The next one I came to I felt more confident as parked in the field opposite the farmhouse was a large agricultural tanker unit.

Went to the farmhouse and explained to the farmers wife what the problem was and asked whether the farmer could help. She of course didn't know but offered that her husband could phone me that evening. Argh! I couldn't remember my mobile number - brainlock! I use the mobile all the time but of course I couldn't remember the number in French so with more desole's I had to write it down. More chatting about the weather, the children, how we liked France, where our house was, how many children she had, etc, etc and I made my way home.

Fortunately the farmer phoned later that evening and confirmed he could come round next morning - result!

The next morning (Tuesday) I was expecting the work to start at 9am so set the alarm clock for 8am. Just laying in bed prior to getting up, there was a series of loud crashes and bangs from outside as at 8:01 (or thereabouts) a lorry turned up and started unloading a mini-digger and a mini-mini-digger and the work on the fosse started.

I think in total I've taken some 420-odd photos of the fosse construction work over the following days showing the excavations, fittings, pipework, inspections, filling-in's, levelling off and finally the new driveway. I don't intend to upload all of them to our Flickr Brittany photo album, but will instead try to walk through a sample to show the story unfolding.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Free Entry to the London Property Investor Show

Received an email notification today telling me about the London Property Investor Show that's coming to the Excel arena from September 21st to the 23rd.

According to their website
The Property Investor Show is the largest dedicated property investment event held in the UK each year and is the "must attend" event for the serious property buyer. If you are considering buying residential or commercial property for investment purposes - in the UK or abroad - The Property Investor Show will answer all of your questions.

There's expected to be over 300 exhibitors including house builders, developers, estate agents and lenders, as well as a whole host of seminars on every aspect of buying, financing and managing your property.

Tickets are free but you do have to pre-register via the show website.