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The Great Stink – Victoria’s blog – November 2020

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“Gentility of speech is at an end—it stinks, and whoso once inhales the stink can never forget it and can count himself lucky if he lives to remember it”.

Never, ever, underestimate the value of drains just because you’ve never properly looked down them. Civilisation is built on decent sanitation. It would be nice if it was civil rights and moral outrage … but it’s not – it’s sanitation. People really don’t care so much about their right to the quiet enjoyment of a domestic life when their drinking water is infected with faeces – it’s a priority thing. Longevity is increased and child mortality reduced when you can safely separate your clean water from foul water.

In the 17th Century, whilst doing all kinds of swanky things to the house at Trelowarren (1626 A bill for the building of the Chapel – £986) someone deeply sensible must have said, ‘I’ve got this mad idea that drinking the water we empty the pot into is making us sick. While the floors are up why don’t we …?’ And they did. Run-off from the under the Pleasure Grounds gathers in brick lined tanks under the house, the stream from the overflow was channelled through under the house (we can still hear it sometimes), and the spring water was given a proper well, with a decent pump, to bring up the clean water right into the house – well just outside the kitchen anyway.

And most importantly, the sewage was given its own brick lined sewer with a sufficient fall to make sure it didn’t back up, and some of the water from the other part of the garden was re-directed into it so that there was ‘flow’. Very important concept, ‘flow’, when you’re dealing with effluent.

All kinds of problems were thus solved. The house is not damp because it isn’t sitting in a puddle, the water needed for daily life was clean and the sewage was safely swooshed away. It must have made a seismic change to the health of everyone living in the house. Once they’d got over the five years of living up to their necks in mud obviously.

Let me tell you about unblocking drains, because it’s on my mind. It starts quite high up. A slow sink, a shower where the water isn’t quite disappearing as it should, a loo that fills to the brim when the flush is pressed, a dish washer that isn’t draining quite as it should. When reported, a blocked drain acquires an agency of its own, ‘the sink isn’t draining’, ‘the loo is blocked’, ‘the dishwasher wont drain’. Most of these can be solved with a battery of plungers, possibly some kind of visor as well as the rubber gloves, real determination (known as True Grit in this house) and nerves of steel. A vacuum must be formed you tell yourself.

But sometimes the loo isn’t blocked – sometimes it has done something much more ominous … it has backed up.

Then we must put away sensibilities. Practise a separation of the body from the soul that would be the envy of a Zen master and go to get The Drain Rods, a length of hosepipe with the correct fittings (to create ‘flow’ remember), the meanest looking gloves and then some under gloves, and finally a helpful child for moral support.

A little tip. If, within hours of arriving at your holiday cottage you have created or discovered a blocked drain, and within an hour or so of reporting it someone turns up in a truck to fix it – be nice. When someone, anyone, is about to spend half an hour with their head very close to the contents of your drain a little less condescension and A LOT more gratitude is appreciated. We know you didn’t set out to block the drain, and we know that you feel hideously embarrassed, because you weren’t exactly expecting to see it all again … in company, so there’s no need to be hostile or rude. These things happen.

And when a blockage is cleared and swooshed (don’t forget the hosepipe and the flow), and the drains of civilisation once more run as they should, there’s no need to be cross – we are all beneficiaries.




2 Responses

  1. Jane says:

    Found a set of drain rods in the shed when we moved in (1872 built house) and thought oh oh. I’ve got 2 helpful attachments since (?) one of which is a viscous looking curly hook that is very effective, I can recommend investing in one if you don’t already own it, sometimes a vacuum isn’t enough !! Best wishes love the blog

  2. Catherine says:

    Our London house is 200 odd years old, a small terraced house which has very small drainage pipes. We have had to have the drains power hosed only once, but there has been numerous times a loo brush inside a plastic bag (good vacuum) has been deployed. Very interesting Blog.

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