As always, I imagined the worst. Thinking we'd need a completely new system that met the exacting standards recently introduced by the French government, I scoured the internet and eventually tracked down a relatively local fosse septique installer. Asked them to come round, look at the problem and suggest a solution. Very nice lady turned up and advised that the best course of action would be to fit a new fosse at a cost of around 4000 euros (about 3750 quid). Hmm, pricey. Or maybe not. Maybe that's the going rate. Might be worth it if we're going to stay her forever but, as we still don't know what our life plans are, maybe it's not worth doing. There again, if we're going to sell up in the relatively near future, a new fosse might increase the house's value by more than the cost of installation. Or maybe not. All very confusing.
Then I thought, right... if a new fosse is necessary, I'd better get the old one emptied, otherwise sewage will be strewn all over the place when the diggers start digging. So, once again, I scoured the internet for a local (Creuse region) septic tank emptying company. Couldn't find any apart from a couple miles away beyond Gueret. Then tried the Correze region. Found one in Ussel, about thirty miles away. Gave 'em a ring. Explained the problem to a very helpful lady who didn't speak a word of English (my old French teacher at school would have been mightily impressed at how my French, although far from perfect, has improved since I failed my 'O' level French - outlining a sewage problem is a demanding test of one's ability to parlez-vous francais, I can tell toi). Very helpful lady said she'd send someone around next Monday.
Sewage wagon duly arrived. About an hour earlier, I'd dug out more wet earth from around the cracked drain cover in preparation for their visit. Briefly explained the problem to the man and his assistant and they set to work by removing the cover, emptying the contents and then shoving a 'blaster' hose up each of the three pipes in the newly revealed 'junction' box. Their fine efforts cleared the blockages and resulted in more smelly liquids (and rocks and stones) being transferred to their wagon. Then they explained the exact position of the fosse (just by the apple tree about ten feet from the front door and about eight feet down - no wonder I couldn't find an inspection cover) and the reason for three pipes in the junction box - one from the fosse (loos), one from the waterways (sinks, shower, bath and washing machine) and one (it may divide into three) which drains away down the garden. All very enlightening. Job done, they set off on their merry way.
Since then, the loos seem to flush more efficiently and, so far, there's no further overflow from the cracked drain cover over the junction box. Joy. And yesterday I had my first bath in ages and did a load of smelly washing. Am still putting dishwater in buckets though. Seems rather a good habit. Saves money when watering the plants. Talking of saving money, maybe we won't have to shell out on a new fosse after all.