Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The fall of commune-ism

Leaving Brighton was not as relaxed as we wanted. Even though there were four days between the movers moving most of our stuff and the rest of it heading for the ferry with us, we ended up running frantically from house to car, desperately trying to find places for yet more final bits and pieces (I blame the pieces – it’s hard not to), before finally waving goodbye.

Forty-five minutes later than planned.

True, we spent more of that last day chatting than we could have. But they were worthwhile chats with worthy people. Like Alphamum, who took a heroic amount of stuff (obviously) off our hands. And Yurt Professional Matt, who saved us a trip to Portslade with electrical things the ordinary charity shops won’t take. And all the fabulous friends and neighbours from our fantastic street, who helped turn around a stupidly heavy trailer, threw presents at the kids, waved us off in the rain, and even shut the door I left open. (Thanks Kristiaan.)

On the A27, drizzle turned to deluge, and I was more than relieved that Clare had spent ages wrapping the roofwheel on the roof (where else?) in all manner of plastic. Slowly, the stress of packing up began to wash away, and we started looking forward to our new life in the sun.

Which didn’t start as we drove south from St Malo (a brilliant way to come, by the way – highly recommended).

Or even when we arrived in the Dordogne (apart from a few hours in which we put up the yurt).

About that.

You remember my Really Rather Brilliant Idea about turning three grand a month of your Strange Earth Pounds into nothing? Clare researched and found an organic farm half an hour from our land. It had a compost toilet, a reed bed grey water system – all that fun stuff. She told them we be staying for a few months and we had our own yurt. She was told no problem. Come any time. This seemed a little too relaxed for our liking, so she checked again. We’re a family. We’ll be staying quite a while.

No problem. Come any time.

We came on Wednesday afternoon, in our new-used Scenic, dragging a new-used trailer, fresh from a night in an Alistair Sawday B&B, to find a hand-painted transit van with a family of eight, assorted caravans and home-made homes.

Instead of a functioning reed bed system, we saw what looked like an open ditch leading to a partially fenced pond. The compost toilet felt like the floorboards would give way at any moment. The cats and dogs were jumping with fleas. And dinner wasn’t served until after dark. Not ideal for a young family.

During my last week working in London, I joked that we were going to live on a hippy commune. I just assumed I was exaggerating.

The people, as any non-Daily Mail reader would already suspect, were lovely. Warm, welcoming, friendly, helpful. I quickly picked up my expression of the week: “Ce n’est pas grave” (pron: c’est pas grave). It means “No problem” – I use it every day. But the environment, to us cosseted city folk, felt fantastically unsafe.

Yes, we’re going to create those same elements on our land. But we’re going to do it Carefully. Beautifully. Safely.

It seems we’ve become too middle aged (and Middle Classed) to be hippies. To coin a phrase, we were a bit freaked out.

What led to the fall of commune-ism, however, was the Wrong Kind of Rain. Not rain that crept in around the door, where we could use our towels as sandbags. But rain that dripped from many of the 40 roof poles. Inside. Our waterproof canvas turned out not to be so waterproof. And the only way to fix it was to take the yurt down. Which we were not going to do... in the rain.

You’ll remember (or discover) from an earlier posting that Clare’s Brilliant Idea was to rent a place near our land while we were waiting for planning permission to come through. It suddenly seemed even more brilliant.

So the next day, we drove through the rain to Lalinde and, with the help of another branch of our estate agent, Orpi, performed a miracle.

It went like this:

Orpi: It’s you!

Us: Hi.

[Many kisses and much happiness]

Us: We’re living in a field. It’s raining inside. We need to rent a house. Two or three bedrooms. Preferably with a garage.

Orpi: There’s not much. [Pause] Apart from this one.

[90 seconds’ walk later]

Us: It’s perfect.

I’m sitting in the corner of a downstairs that’s bigger than our old house. It has three bedrooms and a garage around the corner. It costs 600 euros a month. It’s raining, but only on the outside. Here’s a picture:

The hot water doesn’t work. Ce n’est pas grave. A new boiler’s arriving in the morning.

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