“WHAT are you like when it comes to exploring underground?” Simon asked, while working his way through a bowlful of porridge.
“I've been caving a couple of times. Why?”
“The old underground water tank in the yard is in danger of overflowing.”
I looked at him in horror: “You don't expect me to climb down to have a look, do you?'”
“No, just stay at the top ready to haul me out if necessary.”
An hour later, along with farmworkers Alan and Nick, we stood looking down a manhole into a 10,000-gallon underground tank which had water lapping just below our feet.
Put in during the late 1800s, the tank collected rainwater from downpipes on the house and buildings. This water was then hand pumped up into a tank in the top of the house where it was used for flushing toilets.
Simon perused the situation: “I think there's a pipe which takes away excess water to the ditch at the back of the farm which must be blocked. Alan, can you pump out the water with the slurry tanker so we can see what’s up.”
With the water level lower, we all peered again into the cavernous tank with a torch, looking at a pipe on the far wall.
“There's no way you'll reach the pipe from here with the drain rods,” said Nick.
“Hmm, think I'll have to climb down,” said Simon, glancing down at his wellies. “Looks like I'm going to get wet feet.”
Now, one thing I've always been criticised for in 15 years of marriage is that I've a tendency to hoard things on the basis that you never know when you might need them. When the Hovis advert was filmed on the farm last spring, they left behind a pair of unwanted waders which have spent the last 10 months stuffed away in a corner.
At last, their day had come. Strapped into the waders and armed with a torch, Simon climbed down the ladder with all three of us staring down after him.
“It's huge down here, you know. Must have taken them ages to dig a big enough hole for it”, he said, as he sploshed about while we handed drain rods down to him. After 10 minutes of clearing the pipe of a build-up of thick, orange, ochre deposits I was quite pleased to see him climb back up the ladder. I was less pleased when he returned to the house and smeared ochre on the door handles and wall from where it had come off his hands and overalls.
However, the tank is now working again and should hopefully stay that way for at least another 10 years. It might also help to remember that there's another manhole in the garden which allows easy access to the outlet pipe, but which had been covered over. But, if we'd remembered that in the first place, I would never have been able justify keeping the waders!