"You will have, one day, to think about putting in your own septic tank" said the brother, five years ago, as his regally chignonned sister handed over the mammoth keys to our new home.
We have always been aware that it says in our 'acte de vente' that we do not own our septic tank; that the ancient system connected to the house is not on our land, but on that of our neighbour, Monsieur A. and that the use of it could be withdrawn at any time. That we had not enough land to put in a system of our own we were not aware of.
When my parents-in-law were here, we had a sign up in the loo to remind them:
'If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down'
Not flushing is, however, no longer enough.
Monsieur A is now carrying out mysterious work in the ruined hamlet, particularly around the septic tank. Whatever he is doing, the tank is, a week after having been emptied, mysteriously full again, and we are possibly looking at a €300 weekly bill to empty it while we try and find another solution.
Here are the seemingly insurmountable problems:
First problem: For a year now we have been researching an environmentally friendly alternative to the septic tank, and have come up with a brilliant mini purification system, officially recognized by the French water authorities. Except, apparently, in the Vaucluse.
Second Problem: If we manage to get this system through we will have litres of purified waste water to give away, but no-one wants it.
Third Problem: Not one of the neighbours with their acres and acres will sell us a corner of land on which to put the system, even though we are offering them free water for their orchards, fountains, bassins and gardens. We have even offered, if Monsieur A gives us the land, buying a system which will serve the entire hamlet once it is done up by Monsieur A, giving him access to it and its purified water. "If we are to remain friends, I think it is better if you have your own system" he said. "But where can we put it?" I screamed inwardly.
I have been to the bored lady in the 'mairie' who clearly does not want to help, I have been to the overworked head of the water board who seems not to have heard about the environment. Last week we paid a visit to our other neighbours and, over the telly, asked them if they could help. They offered us a drink, said it was nice to meet us finally and said no......
There is land everywhere and a serious water shortage. How can we be in this situation in 2007?
Meanwhile, we are conserving water: Not leaving the beautiful Italian tap Julian has dreamed of for years running while we rinse, having short chilly showers now that the winter has drawn in and - now that we finally, after five years without one, have a bath in which to put the lovely Penhagligon's oil my stepmum gave us - no baths. When our friends come for New Year we will empty the tank before and after.
It's all très Jean de Florette.