The three of us stood around the concrete slab which seemed to be the source of the unpleasantness. This slab was rather more than a yard square and consisted of a concrete-filled metal framework which had then been lowered into another metal frame set in more concrete. A metal ring in the middle was obviously intended as the means of lifting the slab from its bed, but the inner and outer frames were a tight fit, and looked to have rusted together over the years. Furthermore, the slab itself was badly cracked and looked none too safe. It all looked suspiciously like the entrance to a septic tank - but the estate agent's particulars had indicated that the house was on mains drainage. Could there be an old septic tank through which waste flowed before reaching the public sewer? We would have to lift the slab to find out.
Ever optimistic, we found a stout screwdriver, inserted it in the ring, and I tried to lift the slab. Needless to say, I failed. While I stood massaging my aching back, Chris and Alan had a go with the two of them holding the screwdriver. Still no sign of movement.
The rust was obviously too strong and we would have to break its hold on the metal. The wallpaper scrapers we had been using on the hall floor were the obvious answer and we set to with a will. After working for half an hour or so we tried the screwdriver again. Still no sign of movement. We decided to try a chemical resolution of the problem and the three of us piled into the car - still in our rather dirty a somewhat smelly working clothes - and drove to the small garden centre in the nearby town where they stocked a small range of DIY tools and materials.
It would have been easier if we had thought to check the dictionary before driving off as none of us knew the French for penetrating oil. Unable to see what we wanted on the shelves, we approached an assistant to ask for it. The combination of sign language and Franglais left him somewhat bemused, but we eventually found what we thought was what we wanted.
Alan slopped the oil over and around the rust while Chris and I washed and prepared the lunch. After a suitable rest we would attack with the wallpaper scrapers once more before trying the screwdriver again.