Susie Fowler-Watt: Paying the price of country living

PUBLISHED: 16:50 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:50 21 May 2018

A new septic tank for Susie

A new septic tank for Susie


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

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 half-jokingly 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!


BBC TV’s Look East presenter Susie Fowler-Watt shares a little of her family life every month

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