Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

OUR SEPTIC tank needs two new soakaways, which is likely to cost us the best part of £3,000. If it rids the air of the faint whiff of sewage that arrives on a westerly wind then it will be money well spent, although there's something about waste disposal that makes me resent shelling out, perhaps because it is all too literally like flushing tenners down the loo.

If I were to offer advice to anyone buying a big old house in the country, I would tell them to consider the roof and the waste disposal system above all else; what's over their heads and what's under bottoms, in other words.

These have constituted the two biggest headaches since we took up residence four years ago, although finally there's light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not sure there should be, but that's a job for the septic tank man.

Unfortunately, the newly refurbished septic tank will be of no use at all to the newest member of our family, a West Highland terrier puppy to be collected this weekend. We have in store all the joys of clearing up puppy poo from the hall rug, and the fact that I was the only person in the house to oppose the new arrival will not, I suspect, exempt me from poo-clearing up responsibilities.

Jane, who had a much-loved Westie when she was a girl, set her heart on getting another one when she met a pair of characterful little fellows who stayed in one of our holiday cottages a couple of months ago. I was much less enthusiastic, not least because our last retriever-terrier combination proved deadly, when Milo, the retriever, and Paddy, the Jack Russell, together slaughtered a field full of sheep.

Still, our new retriever, Fergus, is much warier of sheep than Milo ever was, and we will try to make sure that he and the Westie never go off on adventures together.

As for her name, we're thinking of calling her Bonnie. We decided that after Milo, Paddy and Fergus, it had to be another vaguely Gaelic name, and after flirting with Flora and Heather, we chose Bonnie after Prince Charlie. I know that Bonnie Prince Charlie was more garlic than Gaelic, after growing up in France, but let's not quibble. Fergus and Bonnie go rather nicely together; they sound like a couple who might have run the village pub in Ring of Bright Water.

Speaking of names and, indeed, bright water, Jane and I had a giggle this week as she continued her efforts to clear the swimming-pool of the algae that had built up while we were away on holiday.

I say "swimming-pool", but in fact it is above ground and more of a huge paddling-pool, 4ft deep, 10ft wide and 30ft long. Anyway, the water was clear when we left for Cornwall, but green when we returned, and Jane has been on the internet morning, noon and night trying to find the answer. Apparently, there is a website called, which lists 100 reasons why a pool might be cloudy, and offers 100 solutions, most of them costing £24.99.

The giggle came when we decided that some of those solutions, Polyquat Algaecide, Sparkle Granular Flocculant and Algae Water Clarifyer, sounded like the stupid names that rock stars give their children. I can quite easily imagine Polyquat Algaecide Geldof posing with Sparkle Granular Flocculant Bowie in a Hello! magazine photo-shoot.

As for the pool, it has benefited enormously from what Jane herself concedes is an obsession on her part to restore the water's crystal clarity. She used to be a BBC news producer and much of her work was crisis management: whispering into Jim Naughtie's ear that he was about to interview an American senator expecting to talk about nuclear missiles, not a Welsh farmer expecting to talk about bovine tuberculosis, that sort of thing.

She sometimes frets that all those skills acquired at the BBC go to waste in her current job - which she recently described on a form as "house-elf", after Dobby, the flighty drudge in the Harry Potter books - but I think she's wrong. In fact, I'm not sure why we're paying someone else to sort out the septic tank problem. It's right up her street.