Saturday 22 April 2017


<Hazards of country living alert> A while ago, I referred to the worrying welter of scandals in the Gardai as a shit-storm. That would be a metaphor! But it was in my mind because, as I finished the first draft of that essay, we took delivery of 250kg of manure from Bolger's our agricultural supply people. That's not a quarter tonne of slurry or FYM but rather 5 handy 50kg plastic bags of 18-6-12 in the form of white pellets. The numbers on artificial fertiliser always refer to the % of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium NPK  so our 18 - 6 - 12 mix is heavy on the ammonium nitrate which we hope will give the grass a boost.  We have abandonned our naive aspirations to run the place organically, as the yield of hay was dwindling year on year. We had a very dry and windy week before the delivery day which meant that the truck could pull up our 300m of dirt and gravel road without difficulty. Jimmy the Driver kindly delivered two bags to the top field which saved me having to push 100kg up a 10% slope in a wheelbarrow.

I reflected that the lane was behaving itself and that it wasn't always like that. 4 or 5 Winters ago, my neighbour-above heard that Veolia was offering free sewage sludge to anyone who would cart it away. Part of what Veolia calls Sustainable Management of Public Assets is a sewage treatment plant outside Kilkenny about 40km from us. Neighbour had contracted to have 100 tonnes = 5 x 20t loads of sludge spread on his fields.
The first load went up the narrow lane and past our house without tooooo much trouble and only a little slippage. 2 hours later, the truck had completed the round-trip for another load. She slipped more in the same place that had caused trouble the first time and the slipping displaced more road-surface so the hole became deeper and smoother than before.  The third load arrived as darkness and the lightest of drizzle fell. This time the truck just wasn't able to get past the sticking point at all at all.
As well as the delivery truck, the contractor had a tractor with a front-loader [as Left] and another tractor to drag the spreader [as Right]. Seeing the traction trouble, they attached a chain from one of the tractors to the front of the truck and tried pulling. That arrangement made but little progress and further gouged the road.  They weren't going to be beaten because there was no profit in returning 20 tonnes of sludge to its point of origin. As a last resort, they decided to try pushing the truck up the hill with the front-loader behind and the other tractor pulling like a dog in front. Progress! the train inched up hill until the back axle of the truck hit a bump and lurched upwards, the front-loader lost its purchase and went downwards sweeping off one set of back-lights . . . and fatally knocking off the clip that held the back gate of the truck closed. Somewhere between 5 and 10 tonnes of black sludge spewed out in a heap on the roadway.  It was now full dark but the lightened truck was able to get up into the field to dump the rest of its load. On a nice concrete standing, with a tractor and front-loader at hand, clearing up a few tonnes of sludge is the work of moments. on a wretched uneven gravel road the front loader is of little use. I had to get to work the next morning and the heap was between me and civilisation, so me and the three lads set to with shovels cleaning up the mess. I got some exercise and they got some overtime so nobody was too pissed off but the contractor refused to deliver the remaining 40 tonnes to such a benighted destination.

Jimmy the Driver liked my story but, of course, had a better. It was about his neighbours who had a septic tank blockage. We've had one of those - the first symptom is that the toilets don't flush because the whole system is backed up.  They called the slurry-spreader guy who came with his rig. He decided that the first step was to suck the pipe-work clear and then empty the septic tank. So he fed his input/output hose up the 10cm Wavin pipe from a convenient inspection chamber, went round to the PTO and switched it on. There was a simultaneous cry of alarm from inside the house but it took the slurry guy a couple of seconds to twig that his rig was on blow rather than suck. A second is a long time when you're blowing sewage: the ceiling, the walls, the floor of the bathroom were "festooned". Jimmy finished his tale with an ominous " . . . and the bathroom door was open".

That's the trouble with technology and convenience: it's all good fun until it isn't. If you live like Thoreau, or a family of home-educators, under a simplify simplify regimen and independent of the flush-toilet then you can face the planet each morning without feeling a twinge of guilt about contaminating clean drinking water with coliforms, bleach and toilet freshener every time you flush. As I've mentioned before, you can have an accident with the shit-bucket - an argument against having an upstairs bathroom - but that does not require an industrial level of cleaning up.

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