Septic Tanks, COVID-19 Antibodies & The August Effect

“En raison de congés nous serons fermés du 5 Août a 27 Aout inclus ”
(Due to vacation we will be closed from 5th August to 27th August)

Crap…..the August effect.

Life comes to a standstill in France in August

It’s been 9 weeks, 4 days and 5 hours since our septic tank broke (not that anyone is counting or anything like that), and after several official visits and over 40 pages of submitted documentation, we were finally, blissfully at the last stage of the approval process to get it replaced. All we needed was a signature from the Mairie, and sign-off from the SMDEA. But alas, I’d made a terrible mistake. I’d managed to forget one of the most important tenements of French life, the fact that everything comes to a complete screeching halt in the month of August.

Double crap….so to speak.

This is life in La France in August. It’s vacation time, the annual shut-down where everyone flees to beach & lands afar, a sacred time that’s so ingrained it’s practically part of the French Constitution. It’s the one month of the year you never want to plan anything important at all.

Window signs in town (this is our optician)

Your local baker might decide to take off, or your optician, likely your banker, your insurance agent and your doctor too. Even our psychologist is gone for the month, which does probe some deep and philosophical questions for our local mental constitution. But perhaps depression is on vacation too.

Either way, in Août our village becomes a quasi-ghost-town with endless doors closed and signs of “congé annuel” stuck on the windows of shops. Should you require anything urgent during this you’ll likely be met with a generic Gallic shrug, and the all-encompassing explanation of “Mais, on est en Août” (but, we’re in August…).

Surely it can wait….

So, We Have A New Septic Tank Now (Just Not In the Ground)

Admittedly our proposed schedule was probably a little rushed. We’d only planned two months for our septic tank replacement, thinking that would cover all the basics, and we thought we were well ahead of the game too.

Apparently our septic will look somewhat like this…someday (image from

As you might recall our old septic consisted of two basic concrete tanks where all the “waters” from the house collected, filtered through a bucket of lava stones, which then magically seeped away into our drain field. Pretty simple and perfect while it worked, but also deeply flawed. Our clay soil here is not nearly porous enough to allow proper drainage (filtration rates are simply way too slow), so even though the system appeared to work while my dad lived here on his own, it quickly started to overload and show it’s flaws when we turned up and added to the total.

Our new septic will fix all that and more. It is going to be spectacular, as far as septic things go, and will handle the errmm required load with the ease of a spring breeze.

It will be the state of the art in poo management, the very pinnacle of human output processing. We’re going to have the equivalent of a mini-aquarium that’s both compact, simple, and elegant. All our household stuff will flow into a large tank where a series of 3 compartments will treat it, first through anaerobic breakdown, then through an aeration chamber with a specially designed honeycomb bacteria bed (sustained by a low-power air compressor), and finally through a settlement chamber. The resulting output will essentially be clean water that can be ejected directly into our garden or any regular water outlet.

Our new septic system is basically a mini-aquarium (from

It’s going to be a big one too…

The new system will be simple, and elegant (as far as septic goes…)

The way septic tanks are sized in France is very specific, as all French things are. It all relates to how many pièce principales (rooms) your house has, which in turn determines how many people could potentially live in your house. So, for example if your house has 5 rooms (kitchen & bathrooms excluded) then it’s considered a 5 Équivalent-Habitant (5 equivalent-person) home. It doesn’t matter what the rooms are currently used for. They could be living rooms, bedrooms, offices, gyms you-name-it. What’s important is that your house has 5 rooms that could potentially be used to house 5 people. So, your septic tank needs to be sized for that too.

Yes, that’s the law….

In our house we have 9 pièces principales, so despite the fact that there’s only 3 of us living here, our new septic tank will be sized for 9 people using it full-time, 365 days/year. That’s a lot of potential you-know-what. Or if you want to be specific it’s exactly 4,731 litres of “stuff” that requires a tank around 3.10m long and 1m64 high. A beast of a system!

We went with an Irish company

The unit we went for is from a Irish company, Tricel that’s well-known and well-used in our area, backed by a 20-year guarantee (the more the better, as far as poo is concerned IMO). The only “active” part of the tank is the above-ground compressor which uses the electrical equivalent of a 60W light bulb, and the only required maintenance is pumping out the sludge that eventually accumulates at the bottom of the primary compartment once every 4-7 years. Easy peasy.

Our tank was delivered by a large crane last week, and is now sitting prettily on our lawn for our viewing and admiration pleasure until such time as the paperwork gets finalized….which might well have to wait after the end of the month.

On est en Août, tu sais? (we’re in August, ya know)

Our new 9-person septic tank, sitting prettily on our lawn

In The Meantime, Dad & I Got Tested For COVID-19 Antibodies

In the meantime life goes on and COVID-19 (the curse of 2020) is ever on our minds, especially as cases are starting to rise again all over the Europe. So, over the past few weeks I’ve become increasingly interested in SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) antibodies, or rather the potential of them.

Expected IgM and IgG antibody response for SARS-CoV-2 (image from

I’m not the only one.

Scientists all the over the world have been studying this intensely. You see antibodies are molecules that are produced by the immune system to fight infection, and if we can get the body to trigger the right ones and enough of them, we can effectively neutralize the virus all by ourselves. Basically your body just fights it off all. Amazing, and fabulous….

But of course it isn’t that simple. Folks who’ve had the virus will naturally produce antibodies in their blood, but what we don’t know is what quantities they produce, why some people produce more than others, and more importantly, how long the antibodies last? The latter is critical, not only for the general population (we can only gain “herd immunity” if antibodies, or the memory B cell of them are lasting), but also for the effectiveness of any eventual vaccine.

Dad getting ready for the test at our local pharmacy
We both tested negative for antibodies

Which is why, as soon as I read you could get an antibody test in France, I called up my local pharmacy to ask…

“Est-ce que vous avez des tests d’anticorps pour le COVID?” (Do you have any COVID-19 antibody tests)?

I could tell the question took them a bit by surprise. There was a pause and then some furious discussion ensued in the background, in which they tried to figure out if they did indeed have the tests and then whether or not I needed an appointment to get tested (French process and all that). Apparently I was the first person who had asked (I’m a bit of a pioneer in that respect, in our little rural hamlet), but eventually they did come back and confirm. Yes, they had them and I could just drop on by.

So the next day, dad (who was also rather curious) and I went down for the test.

And yes it was very simple, just a finger prick and a drop of blood, and ~10 minutes later we had the result. The little test measures both IgM and IgG, so you get an indication of whether you’ve had the virus recently, or longer ago. The test can give false negatives & positives of course, but it’s pretty sensitive, and more accurate the further back you go.

We both tested negative.

We didn’t think we’d had the virus, but we had been in contact with someone who thought they did back in Feb/March, before everything blew up. Plus it was interesting to chat to the pharmacist who confirmed that they too had seen a lot of strange symptoms in that same time-frame (they too, tested negative). So, is it because antibodies disappear after a few months*? Or because no-one has had the virus in our area? The search goes on…and for only €15 (~$18), we’ve contributed our data.

*Note/ The prevalent thinking is that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last 3-4 months, which is obviously not great. But there’s also mounting evidence that T-cells are involved in battling the virus too, which may make the whole waning thing less of a issue. Plus, the “memory” of the infection may be enough. Either way it’s all very interesting from a science point of view.

And The Heat Goes On

The other August effect we’re enduring is the heat, that ever-there, ever-unrelenting summer chaleur.

And it’s official now.

This week they announced a “canicule” which is described as “un épisode de températures élevées pendant plusieurs jours consécutifs, de jour comme de nuit”, which basically means it’s hot as a Carolina Reaper both day and night, for multiple days in a row. So, we’ve been living inside our house-caves, watching the plants broil, and basically just trying to hold out until cooler temps prevail.

It’s officially really frikkin’ hot, and will be for a while…

Perhaps it’s a good thing France shuts down in August, as it’s literally too hot to do anything at all. And our septic situation? I figure all our overflow “stuff” is just naturally combusting out there at the moment, which may actually be quite eco-friendly. It’s as it was all meant to be. “On est en Août, après tout” (we’re in August, after all).

So, my dear readers, how’s your August going? DO tell and share in the comments. I’m always interested 🙂

And the heat goes on….

Older Post Newer Post