Pay­ing the price of coun­try living

Sep­tic tanks, heat­ing oil, broad­band... ru­ral life may not be easy, but Susie wouldn’t have it any other way

Norfolk - - Susie Fowler-watt - SUSIE FOWLER-WATT BBC TV’s Look East pre­sen­ter shares a lit­tle of her fam­ily life [email protected]

In the ur­ban me­trop­o­lises of Nor­folk, the din­ner party chat may be about property prices, the best schools, or even Brexit. In the coun­try­side, it’s likely to be about sep­tic tanks.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, there aren’t many things that cause more stress to the ru­ral dweller than the va­garies of their waste sys­tem. Al­though oil cen­tral heat­ing and dodgy broad­band come a close sec­ond and third in the hot top­ics for coun­try con­ver­sa­tion.

When Alex and I moved out of Nor­wich into our cur­rent home 15 years ago, my BBC co-pre­sen­ter Ste­wart White halfjok­ingly asked whether we had got our­selves a set of rods. He wasn’t talk­ing about fish­ing.

We soon came to un­der­stand that our re­la­tion­ship with our sep­tic tank would dom­i­nate our lives. We are cur­rently at peak ob­ses­sion – hav­ing our whole garden dug up to in­stall a new tank and soak away sys­tem, fol­low­ing a seven-month in­sur­ance saga.

I have spent too much of my re­cent life star­ing into a cess pit and dis­cussing the role of a baf­fle or a mac­er­at­ing pump. This is time I will never get back.

We are not alone. Every one of our neigh­bours has had drainage is­sues. There are those whose tanks have over­flowed, or those who have to have theirs emp­tied every month.

Then there’s the ques­tion of whether to pump or not to pump. These are not prob­lems that keep town residents awake at night.

Oil cen­tral heat­ing is an­other source of hor­ror sto­ries. At the lower end of the night­mare scale, there’s the time we ran out of oil and the gunge from the tank dam­aged the boiler.

At the other end there’s the friend of a friend whose tank cracked and ev­ery­one had to rush round with con­tain­ers to try to col­lect the oil pour­ing out into the garden. Happy days!

An­other topic guar­an­teed to cause an­i­mated neigh­bourly dis­cus­sion is broad­band; com­par­ing up­load and down­load speeds is a favourite amongst those of us who don’t live anywhere near an all-im­por­tant fi­bre cabi­net.

I have spent many, many hours try­ing to work out why the in­ter­net isn’t work­ing: check­ing the router, un­plug­ging bits of kit and plug­ging them in else­where in the house, wait­ing on hold for an eter­nity to talk to our broad­band provider, buy­ing new fil­ters in case that is the problem (and then finding out it isn’t).

Alex re­cently re­ported on a group of peo­ple on the Nor­folk/ Suf­folk bor­der who have taken mat­ters into their own hands. They set up their own com­mu­nity broad­band scheme, and paid for the fi­bre to be laid to their vil­lage and into their homes. Their re­ward? An as­ton­ish­ing 1000 mbps. Most of us coun­try folk would be pretty chuffed with 10! I some­times find Alex look­ing online at houses for sale in Nor­wich - dream­ing of 4G, (rel­a­tively) low en­ergy bills, and pipes that take your waste far away. But we will not move. Living in the coun­try­side may be costly in time and money, it may even get a bit whiffy at times, but I be­lieve it pays div­i­dends in health and hap­pi­ness. And now I have ac­quired all this knowl­edge about on-site drainage sys­tems, it would be a shame not to use it!

I have spent many, many hours try­ing to work out why the in­ter­net isn’t work­ing

ABOVE: Tanks very much; a nec­es­sary evil of ru­ral life as Susie’s garden is dug up for new sep­tic tanks

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