Tuesday 3 October 2017

Two Minor Crises

Home made pork "scratchings" or, as they are known round
here, "dog treats". 
Two minor crises drop their pebbles into the calm mill-pond of our quiet Autumn and leave us feeling guiltily worried that we should not really have that superstition about bad things happening in threes. We should not really be waiting for the third thing to go wrong but there it is. niggling away. Our first involved the septic tank getting a blocked exit and the 2nd involved the oven 'checking out' with, we think, a dead heater element.

Sorry if you've just had your tea. Septic tank
(bottom left) with one cover-slab open and,
just outside it, hole dug into the shingle-pit
to expose the out-pipe.
I am not sure why I spotted the septic tank thing - for some reason I walked down there at bird lock-up time and peered down the inspection hole, to see the reflection of my face looking back from 3 inches down, instead of the standard (for 5 years) 12 inches down. A quick check at the top 'manhole cover' up by the new kitchen door, showed that the 'water' was backed up in the sewer too. I was home alone at that point and, anyway, could not really ask Help-X volunteer 'AB' to fix it, so the buck stopped here. Liz and AB arrived a few minutes later so they did, in fact, get to help. Bad timing, guys!

Brine-cured pork belly bacon rashers.
For those town-dwellers with mains sewage and no experience of septic tanks and 'local' sewage treatment, perhaps a few notes on how these things may work (or are meant to work). Your household waste (toilet, sinks, shower, washing machine, dishwasher) all wooshes down the sewer pipe to end up in a big concrete pit - in our case about 6' by 4' by 6' deep.

A very late water-lily flower.
While it all sits in here a good old bacteria and fungus culture gets at it reducing the solids to a fraction of their 'live' volume and creating a reasonably clean, clear 'water' fraction. This exits at the far end of the tank via a 4" pipe about 12" down from the brim, into a big, 6' deep pit filled with beach shingle. The pit is covered with membrane and then 6" of local clay-ey soil and grass grows over it to disguise it all. The pit 'leaks' like any good soil and the 'water' quickly runs away into the 'run-off' area, legally at least half an acre of YOUR land.

A rubbish pic but quite fun, with the camera almost touching the
ground. Stumpy and her 2nd brood chicks. 
A quick exploratory grope about by hand (elbow deep - nice!) told me that the outflow pipe was well blocked with waddy, raggy stuff (we guessed old loo paper etc) and lumps of white floaty fat. Nothing for it but to dig down into the shingle pit, find the other end of the pipe and rod it all out with likely sticks and garden trowels. Obviously with the exit blocked the shingle pit was as dry as dust (well, you know, as dry as any part of this county gets in October), so when I broke through, I knew immediately - the tank level fell and the shingle pit filled up.

The current waterfowl count. 5 geese and
5 ducks.
We knew we were sorted, but it would only 'fix' at the speed the 'water' could leach away into the soil from the shingle pit. Overnight, then. By next morning the tank was back at standard depth and the shingle was, once again 'dry'. It only remained for me to shovel all the pebbles back in, refit the membrane, re-cover with clay/grass  and replace the concrete slab. A good hand wash and a bacon and eggs breakfast were enjoyed before the rest of the house was even awake. I hope that didn't put you off your tea.

The oven was not so easy to DIY. It 'died' on Sunday and failed to fully cook my latest sour-dough loaf  despite looking like it was working - fans, lights, pre-heat light and so on. It was, in fact, only cooking to 80ºC. Our delve into the instruction books and tech manuals and some internet searches led us to believe that these machines have a re-place-able heating element which can fail. This is a 5 year old oven from IKEA.

More pork products. Pig kidneys and bacon.
Onto the phone for us then, to try to rustle up a 'Mr Fixer', with the inevitable run-around that that can dish up. IKEA do not actually make ovens (now, there's a surprise), either 'Whirlpool' or 'Electrolux' do that for them and it is to these guys you must apply for after-sales service. In our case, Whirlpool's main base in Nottingham, UK. In fairness they have been quite efficient and have (for a €155 fee) agreed to send a bloke tomorrow who should arrive with a working knowledge of this oven and, we hope, an element in his back pocket. These days, such missions are covered by a text info service which is nice. I was a bit amused, though, by my text which advises me that the man will arrive at some point between 07:39 and 10:39. Why those times, specifically? I smell an automated route-planner / scheduler and a job sequencer in action.

Grand-Mere Pierrette's Boeuf-carrottes under construction.
Ah well. Other than that we are just chugging along assisted by our Help-X Frenchman, 'AB'. He is proving to be as solid and successful at the 'boring and hard work' jobs as he was at the more glamorous butchering. We have mainly been pulling nettles and moving piles of old hedge cuttings, branches of fallen trees (remember Storm Doris?) and other woodwork through which those nettles are growing. It's all looking a bit tidy in areas we did not get at with the Spanish lads.

Supper is served. AB does the honours. 
AB has also cooked for us, a favourite family recipe called 'Boeuf Carrottes'. Huge respect to 'Mere d'AB' and to source of this recipe, Grandma 'Pierrette'. Basically a stew made with 'chuck' steak (from upper shoulder of the bullock) and carrots, it was a delicious revelation, with the beef meltingly fall-apart tender and the sauce brim-full of flavour.

Tidy and nettle-free.
Thanks very much AB. I'm cooking tomorrow. No pressure!

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