Dispatches from the Trenches

Karen Radford Treanor 


© Copyright 2015  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo of Harley, the kitten.

We have recently moved from Western Australia to Tasmania, which involved preparing our former home for sale. Murphy’s Law at once came into force and things went wrong in the plans to have a quick and smooth transition from one side of this big dry island to the other. August found us indulging in a pastime that goes back into the dim mists of our family’s history: plumbing the depths of the septic system and drains.

The day that the potential new owner’s building inspector was to come and do a top-to-toe inspection of the property was the day that the septic system overflowed. You don’t want to know the details of that—no, really: you don’t-- but suffice it to say the building inspector would have been under no illusions about the subsequent cleanliness of the septic tank, or its exact location.

This problem overcome, a few days later my husband had to tackle the grey water drainage system, which had been running sluggishly for a week. Finally, the kitchen sink refused to drain at all. Time for the usual remedy, which calls for the garden hose to be poked up from the lower ground, the water turned on full blast, and the blockage cleared. “I’m not paying Frank to come back and do what I can perfectly well do myself,” Gene grumbled, rolling up his sleeves.

This time the usual remedy did not work. Calling in his apprentice, Gene put the hose down the inspection portal under the kitchen window, and stuffed it round with newspaper and duct tape to make a seal. Reasoning that the blockage had to be somewhere near the kitchen sink, Gene decided to start nearest the sink. Water on full blast accomplished nothing at first, then caused the stuffed hose to fly loose and thrash around like a cut snake. The apprentice—me-- was not amused, nor was the cat, who was sitting atop the fridge supervising the proceedings.

Plan B. Thread the hose down the laundry room inspection portal. After some effort—hoses don’t like bending at right angles--the hose was introduced into the pipe and the water turned on again. Mysteriously, the water ran and ran but nothing came out down below where the pipe empties into the carry-off system. "Where the hell could the water be going?" asked the gang boss.

"Maybe somewhere we don't want it to go," suggested the apprentice, listening to ominous gurgling sounds coming from the bathroom. A quick check revealed no backup of sludge as had been feared, just lots of nasty gurgling noises and a rather unpleasant smell.

Plan C: take up the brick paving along where the pipes run and check to see if an invading bush or tree had managed to get its roots in to pry apart a joint and form a root ball that was now clogging the works.

Plan C had some problems, not least of which was the very professional re-laying of bricks after the system was put in years ago. They were as good as concreted in place, and it took a lot of effort to get them up. Then it turned out the line didn't run right next to the house, but on the other side of the walk, so more bricks had to be pried up. However, once the drain pipe was uncovered, an inspection port was discovered in the elbow. Now the hose could be threaded in and run straight down the line to where it went over the bank and down to the outfall.

The apprentice alternately turned water off and on as the master plumber ran the hose back and forth. Nothing happened for a minute, then a waterfall filled with dark lumps began pouring forth. The irrigation was kept up until the water ran clean.

At last, the hose was returned to the original spot near the sink drain and the water turned on again. Once again, no water came out, until with a rush it backed up the air vent and spilled out onto the workers. Back to the inspection port; after more reaming out of the straight run, more clumps of ick and oogh rushed out down below.

"Get me a long skinny spoon," directed the master to the apprentice. A variety of things were presented, and the choice was a long skinny small-bowled iced tea stirrer given long ago by Grandma to the apprentice for baby feeding. It did the trick, and allowed the master plumber to dislodge some of the glorp from the short length of pipe that ran from the elbow back towards the sink. After five minutes of manual evacuation, the hose was again tried and with a great whoosh, the line finally ran free--not before disgorging a spring clothes peg, a plastic coffee spoon, and two old pennies.

All the inspection ports were sealed up again, water introduced into the top of the system, and the drains ran free. Hurrah! cried the gathered masses (a cat, a bandicoot, two wattle birds and the apprentice.)

By now it was after five o’clock, the sun was westering, and the workers decided to leave everything as it was and and finish the relaying of the bricks another day.

Washing well and then slathering with alcohol externally was followed by a well-deserved application of food-grade alcohol internally.

Something attempted, something done, has earned a night’s repose,” Gene quoted from his favorite poet.

I’ve got a better one,” I said, handing him the two old pennies I’d polished up. “As they say in Yorkshire, ‘There’s brass in muck’. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Epilogue: If there were any justice in the world, the protagonists of the preceding story would have found and bought a new home and never had another plumbing problem. We did find a new home, bought it, moved in, and three weeks later were standing on the front lawn talking to Ken while his huge pumper truck dealt with the overflowing septic tank. Sigh.

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