Restoring an old cottage...

Category: moving in

Tales From The Septic Tank

We’ve never been responsible for a septic tank before. In case you’re not familiar with such a beast, it’s basically a big hole in the ground into which goes everything that goes through us. Plus the washing up water, laundry water, shower water, etc.

It’s a bit grim. Well, it’s not, because luckily our tank is healthy… but it is.

Normally, your waste will drain away into your septic tank, then the septic tank will do its thing (more on that shortly), then it drains away downhill into a soakaway.

But here at The Dingle, things are slightly different. Of course 🙂

The house itself is in a dip at the bottom of the rise of the garden, about 12 feet off the road. So there’s no downhill for our waste to soakaway to. It’s highly illegal (thankfully) to drain effluent into public water courses or drains. So what’s going on here?

Good question.

Our tank system is pretty old, and a bit awkward: there’s a mechanical pump operated by a switch in the Rayburn Room, which means we have to remember to pump the tank every few days. We’re obviously going to replace this with an automatic system in the next year or so, but for now it’ll do fine.

Because we’re at the bottom of a hill, the grey water has to go uphill. So there’s an awkward arrangement of pipes at the front corner of the house that, frankly, is a bit unsightly. See:

Old-style septic tank

The poo hatch!

The metal hatch is the poo inspection lid (lovely). The brick contraption houses the mechanical pump. The black pipe that disappears into the bank takes the grey water away to…

…who knows where? At this point, we’re not entirely sure where the soakaway is, but we have our suspicions. The good news is, there’s no horrifying, B-movie-style bubbling and no smells, so wherever it is, it’s healthy.

The bad news is, we really will need to replace the system – or at least upgrade it – at some point. Preferably sooner than later. We heard a rumour we may be able to claim it on the buildings insurance, so fingers crossed.

The tank itself is pretty cool though. We had a chap out to empty it and take a look, and according to him it’s in good condition and healthy. We have nothing immediate to worry about, which is somewhat of a relief.

Since then, I’ve been learning about septic tanks. Many, many homes in rural areas rely on septic tanks because it’s just not possible to hitch us up to the public sewage system.

Newer tanks are bottle-shaped and made of plastic, buried underground; older ones (which we have) are usually large rectangular boxes of brick, stone, or concrete, buried underground. It’s a simple waste water treatment works.

Waste material – charmingly known as “sludge” settles in the bottom of the tank for natural bacteria to digest. It builds up, so we have to have it emptied every year or so to make sure it continues to work properly and to prevent the soakaway becoming choked.

Then the grey water drains off into a soakaway, usually a pit filled with gravel. They tend to be quite big, so are a massive pain in the backside to replace or work on. Also, it’s very expensive.

We need to find where the soakaway is to check the discharge is light grey and doesn’t include any solids.
I’ve discovered that expensive, posh toilet roll is a no-no — it doesn’t break down easily, so can block the tank.

Bleach in anything but tiny quantities is also a no-no, as is antibacterial cleaning stuff, because it kills the friendly bacteria in the tank.

And chucking cooking oil down the sink is a bad thing, because that can solidify and cause blockages.

We need to keep all this in mind when we build the new kitchen extension… but for now, everything seems to be working beautifully.

Happy days!

Help Us Obi-Wan Patterson, You’re Our Only Hope

We’ve not done much on the house except dig out a massive stump from the orchard and tidy up the flower beds outside the kitchen window, so I thought I’d share this.

BT were supposed to deliver our broadband and landline on Monday 18th April. Unsurprisingly, they’ve failed at their core business. I got cross. Here’s why…

Dear Mr Patterson,

You don’t know me, but I’d like to help you out.

You see, I’ve been a long-suffering customer of BT for more than eight years now. Not by choice, I might add; you have something of a monopoly on communications our area.

But let me start at the beginning. Bear with me, because although this tale of woe starts slowly, it’s all action towards the end.

We lived in a wee place called Radford Semele in Warwickshire, just outside Leamington Spa. Now, Radford isn’t truly in the sticks, but it is slightly countrified so we weren’t expecting superfast fibre or owt. However, we were a little surprised when we only got 0.6MB… and that was on a good day.

Then it got worse when some ruffians had away with the copper wire at our exchange (at least, this is what we were told happened). Despite this being a prime opportunity for BT to upgrade, it appears that what you actually did was hijack some existing wire and make the entire thing even worse. Bear with me here because I don’t know anything about this stuff and I’m paraphrasing (and possibly misrepresenting) my husband, who told me what he thought had happened. I was trying to listen, but you know how these things go.

Anyway: long story short we lived with this shockingly awful level of “service” for many years because we had no choice. No other providers, see? And in that time, I managed to grow my little business — which I run almost entirely online — from around £2,000 a month to £12,000+ per month. Whilst swearing constantly at our intermittent broadband (although at least I’ve extended my already impressive vocabulary of profanity).

I’m doubly proud of myself considering that BT, with all the money and power and superfast broadband at its disposal, still can’t seem to deliver a service that’s even close to acceptable to me. I’m not alone in this feeling, by the way. A friend of mine gave me your email address after a similarly appalling experience with you. Not that you’ll care about a few disgruntled souls.

Incidentally, while I’m on the subject, the best way to enrage your current customers who are receiving an appalling “service” is to send them marketing aimed at getting new customers — offering them a better deal. This is marketing 101 here, but it’s my area of expertise, so have a listen: your biggest and easiest profits lie in your current customers. You’d do well to put the effort into keeping us happy, particularly when so many people are leaving in droves for the likes of Virgin.

So here’s two things you can do right now to improve your bottom line and your customer satisfaction ratings: segment your list properly so you don’t send current customers stuff that’s aimed at new customers. And start treating your current customers better than new ones. Touting for punters this way is very unseemly, Mr Patterson. Do you know who else touts for custom like this? Crack dealers, that’s who. Get ‘em hooked, then treat ‘em like crap.

Anyway, I digress.

My real beef here is that we’ve just moved house to a little cottage in Herefordshire. Our dream, you see. Being the organised type, I sorted out a finish date for our old place and a start date for our new place. We had to wait two weeks, but that’s okay. I was excited, because I know the broadband speeds out here are a blistering 3.5—4MB. You can imagine how much I was looking forward to this after our previous 0.6MB (on a good day, remember).

Installation day came — April 18 — and the engineer turned up. He faffed around doing whatever it is he does, then said there was no line connected so he had to go sort it. Fine. He came back and told me the number that has been allocated to us was in use by someone else. And all the spare lines in the exchange were faulty.

Splendid work, BT!

So he disappeared, promising to log the fault (which he apparently didn’t) and assuring me someone would be in touch (which they weren’t).

We have no signal here. And obviously, no broadband or landline. So I’ve spent a lot of time this week walking up the hill in the garden, then wading through your infuriating telephone menu system. The first time I got through, someone hung up on me. So I had to spend another five minutes shouting at your menu system.

Then I got through to a call centre. The woman I spoke to was nice enough, but I’m not sure she really understood what the problem was. Either way, nobody called me back as promised.

Next day, I tried again and got through to a helpful woman somewhere in the UK who told me I wasn’t in the right department but she’d get it sorted. Apparently my issue was escalated to some kind of a manager and she promised me someone would call me back before the end of the working day yesterday.

Guess what, Mr Patterson? Nobody did. (Except, of course, for automated emails telling me how great it is that I’m now connected and online!)

At this point, I got cross.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve probably wasted half a day on this nonsense so far. I feel inclined to charge it back to BT. My day rate is £eyewatering + VAT. I’ll come back to that, though.

I asked my husband to deal with it because he has broadband and a phone signal at his offices. Here’s what he said:

“So, BT… They are utter sh*tbiscuits. [excuse the profanity, but I think it makes the point]
“Before I launched into the calling and whatnot.. I rang our number. It rings out. I logged into their website and ran a test on the line. It said ‘There’s a fault near your house!’ and In progress
Tue 26 Apr 17:00 Estimated repair date We aim to fix your fault by the time and date shown. We apologise if this is taking longer than expected. That’s the fix time/date. End of day on the 26th.

“According to the person I spoke to, the first they (BT) knew of a problem was when I ran a line check ten minutes before the chat.  Which means all the calls you made and the people you spoke to achieved exactly nothing.”

Can you imagine the ragemonster I’m turning into right now? Not only have I wasted half a day on this nonsense, but your people are insisting this is the first they’ve heard of it. I hesitate to throw such accusations around normally, but they’re lying.

We’ve paid £30-odd a month for the past few years of dreadful service. Then we’re charged £120 connection fee (yeah, I’m not paying that) and presumably if we ever get connected, we’ll be bent over for lots more money for a sub-par service.

Frankly, at this point, I’d just be glad of a landline and broadband. Let’s get that sorted, then we can talk about my wasted time and my inability to work on my client projects.

I’ll take the excessive milkshake consumption into consideration too (there’s wifi at the local diner).

Mr Patterson, I’m sure you can see my problem. I hope you can see your problem, because I struggle to believe I’m the only person who’s suffering. Honestly, I give up with your staff. Which is why I’m coming to you.

Please help me before my head (and my waistline) explodes.

I know you’re a busy man, but so am I. Well, I’m not a man, but you get my drift. The thing is, though, you’re not paying me. I’m paying you. So in this instance, I reckon my busyness should get a look in.

How’s about it, good sir? Could you step in on our behalf please? Kick some bottoms? Get us connected?

There’s a bar of chocolate in it for you if you can help me.



PS: I’m writing this email sitting on the floor of my shower, because it’s the only place in the house I can get enough of a 3G signal to hang a hotspot off.

UPDATE: I got a reply from his office within half an hour. WINNING!

What’s Next? Where Do We Start?

Both of these are good questions. Neither of which we can really answer yet.

So here’s what we’ve done since we pottered around on the mower:

  • Planted a Victoria Plum tree in the orchard
  • Crafted a compost heap out of sycamore poles and sycamore twigs (see below)
  • Removed approximately 3,265 stinging nettles from the steps up into the dingle
  • Tidied the front flowerbeds and admired the tulips
  • Disturbed two disgruntled bumblebees
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Plotted the death of the courtyard weeds
  • Ripped all the benches and train set remnants out of the attic
  • Taken a delivery of wood
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Drank some beer
  • Wandered around the woodland with our ecologist friends, who pointed out all the interesting flora and fauna
  • Erected a slackline in the orchard


And we’ve done a lot of thinking. And taken advice from other denizens of the village, who are a few years further on than we are in the house project arena, which includes living in the place for at least a couple of months before making any big decisions. I think that’s a good idea.

So, we’re going to plant a couple more fruit trees and start laying out vegetable beds, then get the place ready for the chickens. I’d like to do that this coming weekend, but we’ll see how we get on.

Now the attic is empty, that’s looking like a less scary project, too – so we’re going to start up there before too long, taking the cladding down from the ceiling, inspecting the roof, and making the walls a bit less gappy. Oh, and putting another window in up there, because although the space is huge, it’s a bit dark.

We haven’t got any decent pics of the attic yet, but I’ll take some tomorrow then upload them here so we can see what’s what.

Oh, and when the Rayburn is fixed (we met a chap in the pub who’s doing a proper job on it) we’ll sort out the stone bedroom. Which means putting the original window back, putting a new floor down, and stripping all the shite off the walls and plasterboard off the ceiling.

Watch this space…

And smile at our cute little plum tree 🙂Plum tree

Buttock detection devices

I found myself wandering aimlessly on what could be described as the lawn, but in reality would better fit the word ‘meadow’.  Long grass tickling my knees.  Hidden lumps and dips to stumble over and into.

I find a shed. In that shed is a shiny red motor mower.  It hasn’t moved for at least 18 months. I fancy myself a bit of a practical chap, so I take the battery out of it and I put it on charge in the shed for a couple of days.

It rains. Then there is sunshine. Then more rain. The grass starts looking long and luscious.  We either need to get some sheep – really soon, or that mower needs to start working.

Yesterday, there was some more sunshine, and an opportunity to see to the grass.  I remove the ignition barrel from the mower, and take it inside, to see if I can work out how to hotwire it. I’m amazed to find we actually have a key that fits. Back to the shed.

The battery has enough life to turn the motor over, but it won’t start.

I take the cover off the engine, check fuel and oil.

I try and pull-start the thing a few times. Doesn’t work.

I take the sparkplug out. It looks clean, fresh, and smells of petrol.  There’s no spark though.

No spark. So, it’s the battery, or the coil, or the HT lead.

I pull the battery out of my motorbike – I know it’s ok. I jump-lead that to the mower, and while the engine turns, it’s still not starting. Dammit.

The coil and lead look nice and clean. The air filter is fine.

A friend on facebook said “are you actually sitting in it when you try to start it?”

I look again at the wiring. There’s a lead that goes up under the seat. The mower has a buttock detector.  With jumpleads attached and actually sitting in the thing – it starts!

For the next hour or so, Vicky and I take turns pootling around the lawn drinking beer in the sunshine.  A thoroughly splendid way to spend a spring evening, away from the dust and heavy lifting of cottage renovation.

I might mow the lawn again this evening. Possibly tomorrow as well.

Motor Mower

A small, uncontrolled fire in the Stone Room

A good house move should always begin with a small, uncontrolled fire in your front room, I believe. Followed by a trip to B&Q to buy a fire extinguisher and some smoke alarms.

We had the Rayburn serviced today, and it’s a bloody good job we did. We were going to light it and get it going, then get it serviced… and I think if we’d done that we’d have had the fire brigade out. Seriously.

It’s actually making my blood run cold just thinking about this.

Anyway, thankfully we couldn’t figure out how to light it — the instructions are somewhat esoteric and we had enough other stuff to be getting on with, like removing approximately 53.7 tonnes of sand and crap from the house.

So in walks Rayburn Bob, who came to service our stove. He went about his business, gave it a good old poking, looking at, and servicing, and drank his tea.

“Can you show us how to light it, please? We’re total townies and we have no idea how to use it,” I said.

“Sure thing,” said Rayburn Bob. “You just stick a match in this hole here to light the cooker side, and this hole here to light the boiler side.”

“Great!” says I.

Rayburn Bob demonstrates by lighting said cooker and boiler. Then exhibits a sharp intake of breath.

“Oh, I don’t like the look of that,” says he, as liquid fire starts dripping in the lighting cavity. “I don’t like the look of that at all.”

At which point, he gets up and runs. Joe and I look at each other in mild panic, as we’re poised to take a photograph of the Rayburn being lit for the first time. Gotta save these memories, right? But it’s okay — our man comes running back in with a towel, which he flings at me and barks: “Get that wet now!”

Then he fires a fire extinguisher into the now alarmingly flamey cavity.

Uncontrolled fire in Rayburn lighting cavity.

Alarming drippy flame.


Potentially deadly inferno death with, Rayburn Bob starts packing up his stuff. “You can’t use that, I’m afraid. It’s been leaking oil into the insulation and it needs stripping and re-insulating.”

“Is that something you can do for us?” we ask?

“No, not me, I’m afraid. I’ll give you a couple of names though. And you’re probably looking at about £1,000.”

Sadfaces all around. We’re going to speak to a local chap who apparently takes Rayburns and Agas apart and fixes them often, and see if we actually do need to spend a grand, or if we can just pull out all the oily insulation and replace it with vermiculite, as an Aga-based friend of mine has suggested.

Fingers crossed, eh? Because it’d be nice to get the stone part of the house warmed up before the end of the warm weather. Which, it being England, will last for approximately 3 weeks.

Still, the rest of the house is warm-ish. The shower room is just about the toastiest room I’ve ever been in, which makes showers a delight. And the storage heaters in the hallway keep the landing pretty warm.

The living room is huge, though, and with the inglenook at the one end, it struggles to heat the whole room. Poor Maisie snake is a little chilly, I think. We’re trying to keep her as warm as possible.

And the cats have taken to living on my knee when I’m working in the daytime, which is nice, but… somewhat inconvenient.

Anyway — we’ll post the outcome of the Rayburn investigation here. I’m fairly hopeful because it’s only a few years old, but I know nothing about them, so who really knows…

Top safety tip kids: always get your oil-fired stoves serviced before using them for the first time, if your house has been empty for the better part of two years…

Onwards and upwards!

It’s Ours!

“Crikey. It’s quite big, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

It’s dawning on us that we’ve not just bought our dream cottage (yes, we got the keys just in the nick of time), we’ve also taken on an acre and a half of woodland. And an outbuilding that’s probably going to fall down in the near-ish future.

But that’s all fine, because this is a great big adventure.

We have the keys – we got them on March 30, two days before the deadline – and so far we’ve accomplished the following:

  • Got the chimneys swept (all in great condition – hurrah!)
  • Ordered an oil delivery
  • Sandblasted the interior of the house… all 45 black-painted timbers (yes, that was more expensive than we thought it’d be)
  • Moved the motorbikes and the contents of the garage over
  • Made, remade, and remade a whole bunch of plans
  • Got very excited

We actually can’t quite believe our solicitor and mortgage broker managed to accomplish what seemed like an impossible task: get the whole sale completed within two months, before the Government bent us over for an extra £8,000 or so in stamp duty.

So I’d like to recommend Amy at Express Mortgages. She’s some kind of a mortgage whisperer, I think. Tell her I sent you.

And Mark Cooper at Brindley Twist Tafft & James Solicitors in Coventry. He appears to be a sorcerer of some description. They’ve both been absolutely amazing.

Always go with recommendations, even if they’re slightly more expensive (in fact, these guys weren’t that expensive). In the end, they’ll pay for themselves. Plus your stress levels will be massively reduced.

The only other thing I have to report right now is that it was my birthday at the end of March, and Joe got me a chainsaw. Look:

Chainsaw Win!

Disclaimer: this is a posed photograph with a non-fueled, non-running chainsaw. Do not, under any circumstances, use a chainsaw in this position. Or wearing jeans. Or in any way like this at all. M’kay? Good.

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