Friday, 6 July 2012
The village poos
It is interesting to observe the reactions of a group of people when it becomes clear that one of their number has done something bad, but nobody knows quite who it is. My classmates back when I was twelve years old reacting to the theft of a ten pound note, or the people in my village reacting to a mystery dog chasing sheep a few years ago, nobody owns up but everybody has their own Prime Suspect.
I remember in the class of twelve-year-olds the culprit turned out to be the last person anyone would have suspected. The "bad kid" that became Prime Suspect turned out to be blameless and the criminal was found to be the anonymous kid at the edge of the crowd, the one who never crossed anyone's radar. I learned a lot from that episode.
The village I grew up in is a hotbed of finger-pointing at the moment. It's the periodic sewage eruption that's done it. You see we're a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and we're not on mains sewage. So every house has its own arrangements, in some cases a septic tank, or in about half the houses a spiffy new biodigester. The latter devices are a miracle for the rural dweller, they efficiently process all waste and emit only clean water that's safe to put in a stream, while the former are stinking piles of mess at the best of times.
So every time we get heavy rain, the septic tanks can't cope. They have difficulty draining away, and they can't handle any extra water. So raw sewage ends up going down their outfalls.
Raw sewage sounds bad, but surprisingly it needn't necessarily be a bad thing if there's not much of it. If left, it'll rot away pretty quickly. You wouldn't want to come into contact with it, but the countryside is a pretty big place so it's likely to remain unseen. The problem in our village is that a row of houses share the same outfall pipe, so we don't just get a small outfall from one tank, we get the combined outfalls of a great row of them. So the ditch it runs into ends up a festering mass of sewage, the water overflows onto the road, and the whole place smells of sewage for a few weeks. Not very nice, is it.
This situation has been going on for decades, on and off. Lots of recrimination and a few waved fists, but nothing done about it. The houses have morphed from farm workers dwellings into flashy homes at the top of the property ladder for the idiots who watch those awful shows on TV about moving to the country, which simply means that recrimination is more likely to entail solicitors letters.
Unfortunately though someone has committed the cardinal sin, and complained to the council about it. A walker, faced with an overflowing ditch with raw sewage in it on a public footpath. And their target was not the culprits who made the sewage, but the unfortunate landowner across whose land the ditch runs. Not surprisingly he's hopping mad at a problem not of his making.
The council are Bad News in this context. The Environmental Health people have powers to Fix It, and Now! which means in practice they can issue an order to the source polluters which in effect says "Get a biodigester or we'll turn up with the JCBs and send you a very large bill".
And here's where the finger pointing starts. In a whole row of houses, everybody's blaming everyone else. There is even a faction who are blaming the landowner on whose land the outfall is ending up, as if he's the possessor of the arsehole from whence the poo came! It all seems like so much fiddling while Rome burns, as if the Environmental Health JCBs are revving just over the horizon while they blame everyone else. I am sure the legal threats will soon be flying, and I'm very glad my parents live in a different part of the village and already have a biodigester. These people think nothing of spending many thousands on a shiny new 4x4 or a keep-up-with-the-Joneses home improvement, but they won't spend similar money on something that will have a real effect on those precious house prices they care so much about. It's all about maintaining a jetset lifestyle on credit, these days.
So there you have it, news from the countryside. If you have romantic notions of what it's like based on those stupid TV property shows, that's the reality in the 21st century. The countryside smells of poo, and always has done, except the neighbours are now likely to dish out legal threats first and think later.
Remind me why I keep going back there? Oh yes, I'm one of very few left born into it who didn't follow the script and move out to make way for people from the cities without a clue.