Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Hopi Crossed Mast

Having been here well over a year, you'd think my conversational ability in French would have improved dramatically. I clearly do, despite some evidence to the contrary.

A couple of weeks ago, my dentist asked me if I was having any more trouble with the tooth he's in the expensive and involved process of fixing. I smiled reassuringly and said: 'No, not at all. I have pretty much forgotten the pain.'

Or rather, that's what I thought I said.

What actually came out of my mouth was: 'I've made a mistake with the bread.'

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Trading post

This office isn’t like the others I’ve worked in.

Instead of extra-shot lattes, almond croissants and airborne viruses, my colleagues bring in things like eggs from their own chickens, rabbits (dead or alive, for table or children), ducks, turkeys, sausages, an impressive variety of fruits and veggies, and an almost constant supply of meat-free kitchen scraps for our pigs.

I've got to say I prefer it this way.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Why I need to watch my words

When we were buying the land a couple of years ago, we were standing where the orchard is now, looking at the boundary several hundred metres (yards) away. ‘Next year,’ I said letting myself get carried away for a moment with the whole land-buying thing, ‘we’ll buy the bit beyond that – then more and more until we own everything!’

When we were selling our house last year, various people were talking to us about the sizeable amount of cash we were about to receive. ‘Yeah, but next year,’ I said, ‘we’re going to spend the lot. Every penny.’

On the Friday before last, during a meeting a few doors away from when I am sitting right now, we signed a contract for our next bit of land and handed over a cheque representing our last bit of cash.

So excuse me while I think about (and not say) what’s going to happen next...

Back on the farm, a while back

Pepito ran away a few times. Which meant the fence became Priority Numero Uno for a while. The ground was perfect for these posts and it was a joy to swing a sledgehammer again.

Coming soon, our first attempt at post-and-rail.

We also ate our first wild mushrooms. We didn’t do this stupidly, but bought a comprehensive book on the subject and had them checked by the local pharmacist (a service provided free around these parts). Cooking and eating them was still pretty unnerving, although bluddie delicious.

Here's a mushroom we didn’t try, although I think you’ll agree it’s pretty wild in its own way.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The nice woman at the abattoir

So, I had the right pig in the right place. All I needed now was the right method.

For my first trick, I tried apples.

On the day before our next planned trip to the abattoir, I walked past the pig field rustling a bag of apples. I tossed a few into the back of the trailer (I’ve become quite an impressive tosser in the last year – more on this, later) and went off to feed the chickens. Out of the corner of my eye, with much pleasure, I saw the pig climb into the trailer and go about his breakfast.

The next day, I repeated the exercise: I rustled the bag; I tossed in more apples; and after the pig climbed in, I shut the door.

Ta-da. (Thank you very much.)

Minutes later, Sonia turned up with her 4 x 4 and pulled the trailer out of the field. We gave him some extra breakfast to calm his nerves. Then drove, with the mixed feelings that come with taking full responsibility for your decision to eat meat, the 25 minutes to the abattoir at Bergerac.

Which was a surprisingly nice place.

We buzzed at the big metal gate, which slid open to receive us (at 12.05! Lunchtime in France!) and checked in with the receptionist. She put down her roll-up and welcomed us in.

She: (in French) ‘How old is the pig?’

We: ‘About a year.’

She: (looking relieved) ‘He’ll be a good size, then. (PAUSE) There have been lots of pigs in lately who are only six weeks old. For Christmas in Paris. They’ve had to put boards around the bottom of the pens to stop them escaping. It’s absolutely savage.’

This was literally the last place you'd expect to meet an animal lover.

Next, we went through another push-button gate to the dropping-off area. Past the entrances for cattle, sheep and veal, to pigs. A rather impressive piece of reversing followed and we were set. With a little help from a very strong (and equally nice) man, we walked the pig through a shed that felt and smelt very much like a farm, into a waiting pen.

At that time of day (five minutes after opening) there were only two other pigs in there. Two pigs that, "coincidentally", had been delivered moments before by one other than Gary and Marlene – the people we bought our pigs from in the first place.

My first trip to the abattoir had an immediate effect on the way I look at meat.

When I opened a packet of mince that evening, I didn’t just see a pile of diced beef. I saw a living and breathing animal that had been taken to an abattoir, walked through the same kind of shed and waited in the same kind of pen as our pig was waiting in. It completed a picture I’d never had reference for before.

(Vegetarians will enjoy a small break from pigs while I catch you up with some of the many other ecovallee jobs that are making our lives so unbelievably full at the moment. Then it's butchery. Without the pictures.)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Not a blog post from me

I just read this comment from 'peterbaldwin' on Robert Peston's blog. It's very well written - it's even spelt correctly:

"It is understood I hope, that Capitalism as it has been known during the last 30 years is all but dead. An immensely painful transition is about to get underway in the western economies. As a nation we can embrace the changes and help it along, or we can resist, thereby making the transition even more painful than it needs to be. At the moment, and I fear for the next few years, it looks like we are going to resist. We will keep borrowing, keep pumping money into a dead economy, and we will keep digging this hole deeper and deeper.

An enlightened government however would see the crass stupidity in this action and take a look to 10 or 20 years ahead and see where all this is leading and start planning for it now. For that is really what governments are for, the long term and not the short term, as unfortunately they all seem to be these days.

In 10 or 20 years the market economy must cease to exist. If we artificially keep it alive, then as a nation, and as well as a race, we will plunge headlong into total economic and social collapse as the accelerating environmental changes take hold and demand impossible resources to deal with them, especially if we want to keep our present day levels of consumption and living standards. The eco system can no longer support us.

So the future is a known quantity. It is a hot, hungry, dry and hard place to be. If the present way of life is to change, as it must, then it must change in a controlled way to meet the future we see coming. Economies, production methods, social systems and personal needs all have to be directed to a way of life that can be sustained.

Money as King is a corpse. Profit as prince is dead. What we are seeing at the moment with the tax payer directly and visibly supporting the economy and thereby our society. This will continue and become the norm, expanding into all areas of money and material production. It will not be called Communism, but rather Socialised Capitalism.

The trick will be to stop the taxpayer realising his power and keeping it in the hands of those who currently weld it. Until that trick is achieved, then the current pain will continue and deepen because the power welders will be scared of letting go and scared of change to the status quo.

When the transition is completed, then accelerating competition can ease and our focus can be turned to the real issues. Our very survival."

More on this, later.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Stick and a board, my arse: Part III

(It gets worse.)

A few days after we divided the pig field and successfully confined one porker with the trailer to sleep in (an idea generally deemed Well Worth Trying), Her Outdoors was late picking me up from work. Unusually late. And when she arrived, she was unusually agitated.

‘Black pig’s gone,’ she said.

These three little words may not seem much to you, but this close to slaughter they have a relative value of over 230 euros (about 230 pounds). Each.

‘F*c*i*g pigs,’ she said. (She doesn’t swear like me.)

Apparently (and this will come as no surprise to pig-followers of this blog), Her Outdoors had turned up for the evening feed to discover all was not as we had left it. On one side, in the trailer part of the pig field, the smallest (but most inquisitive and food-led) pig slept comfortably in the trailer. But on the other side of the field there was... just a field.

Maybe the fence had shorted out on the trailer. Maybe the battery had failed. Either way, at some point since breakfast the two big pigs had gone trotabout.

Only slightly disturbed (so far) by this turn of events, the Pig Whisperer armed herself with a bucket of feed and went hunting. Her weapon of choice: ‘Piggy-piggies!’

It half worked.

After a few moments, the White-Faced Pig came trotting through the long grass and, true to recent form, obediently returned to the big pig area. Which was when the pig from the trailer side of the field made a dash through the un-electrified fence, instantly undoing our previous hard work.

A few more volleys of ‘piggy-piggy’ were tried. But night fell fast and heavy, and Her Outdoors came to pick me up.

‘He’s probably already been shot,’ she suggested as I pulled my seatbelt on (a high probability, given the number of hunters in these parts and the very-much-like-a-wild-boar appearance of the missing pig).

When we were nearly home, Her Outdoors remembered she’d left the battery in the field and forgotten to pick up some bread.

Like I said, she was unusually agitated.

It’s at times like these (and I know I am not alone) that I like to play what Edmund Blackadder might call the ‘Blind Optimism Card’. I selflessly volunteered to return to the land (ooh, about a kilometre away), collect the battery and see if there was any sign of the pig.

At first, it didn’t look good. Two black shapes moved around in the dark where two black shapes should have been. ‘Piggy-piggies’, I said.

A snuffling sound off-stage right, near the compost. I turned. The wind-up torch revealed none other than Troublesome Pig. The pig we originally wanted to get into the back of the trailer in “Stick and board... Part I”. (Can you see where I’m going here?)

Some deft fence turning off, food tossing, door laying down across wires to create a clear path and the pig was where it should have been all along. All with time for me to pick up the battery, some bread, a four-euro bottle of fizz to celebrate a 700-euro saving, and return home a Pigging Hero.

(It gets better.)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Stick and board, my arse: Part II (May contain swearing.)

‘Fucking pigs!’ (OK. Does contain swearing.) This is me last Monday, large stick in hand, running, again, after a large porker that is completely out of hand. I approach from one side; Her Outdoors from the other. Together, we steer the semi-feral beast towards a corridor made by veggie patch and pig field. I think we’ve got him this time. But at the last moment, he breaks left and legs it past the polytunnel, up the hill, across the track and into the woods. All I can say is: ‘Fucking pigs!’

The day had started so well.

After the school run, we popped down to Beaumont to borrow a trailer from Michelin-star Steve. Had a quick coffee and a chat. Lovely. English-mafia friend, Sonya, arrived with a 4x4, and drove said trailer through the slightly soggy field and into position. All we had to do was persuade one of the pigs up the ramp into the back and off we’d go to the abattoir.

Plan A only started to go wrong when it swung into action. Her Outdoors’ freshly finished ramp was tossed to one side by one pig. Another started eating it. The third smashed the food bucket, spilling the incentive all over the ground and started tucking into breakfast.

Plan B was quickly improvised. This involved an electrified path leading up to the trailer, and the separating of one pig from the other two. A number of other Plans followed, all designed to guide the one escaped pig back into the pig area we started with.

Time is no friend in moments like these, and eventually Sonya had to go and collect people from the airport. Which meant the trailer had to stay in the field, ring-fenced to stop greedy pigs eating tyres, wires, or anything else they could lay their teeth into. Thusly:

When I went into work on Tuesday, a colleague asked me how the trip to the abattoir went.

I told her.

‘You didn’t have a method?’ she asked. ‘You have to have a method.’

‘Fucking pigs,’ I replied.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Funny linguist

The people I work with are bilingual to varying degrees; the resulting Frenglish resulting in the occasional ms understanding.

For instance, on Monday I was telling a fully fluent-in-French English colleague why I’d been so brutally hungover the day before.

‘Saturday evening’, I explained, ‘turned into a bit of a band-member reunion drinkathon, with me, my last bassist, our drummer and a friend of his from England who was keen to experience a typical evening in France.

‘It began’, I began, ‘with Ricard and nibbles; followed by a surprisingly offensive drinking game involving gin, tonic and an olive strapped to a cube of sugar (I won’t explain – probably ever – but j’ai gagné!); then a sampling of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau; followed by a very good red; and some Bergerac I brought with me.

(All accompanied by an excellent selection of music on youtube – I saw Deep Purple and Uzeb for the first time!)

‘At around midnight’, I went on (we all did), ‘we had some freshly made and seriously garlic-y soup, and then l’eau de vie.’

She looked at me. Shocked by the last bit and, I thought, slightly awed, with tinges of new-found respect.

(Now I know eau de vie – a brandy-cum-Polish-jet-fuel-like substance, in this case made from prunes – is strong, but it doesn’t warrant that kind of expression. Maybe I was misreading her and she was wondering why such piffling quantities of booze would render me so nostalgically hungover.)

‘I think,’ I said, ‘it was the l’eau de vie that did for me. I really shouldn’t drink the stuff.’

‘Oh’, my colleague said, much relieved, leaning on the table in the kitchen for support. ‘I thought you said a load of e.’

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Stick and board, my arse

For the last many months, our three formerly little pigs have been living in semi-feral conditions in well over an acre of mixed woodland (largely oak, pine and juniper), North and North-East of the workshop. Accessible only by foot, hoof and trotter.

Last week’s question was: How do we get them into a trailer for the next stage of their journey?

The answer, inevitably: Dismantle Ark One and re-mantle in the field next to the veggie bed; create an enclosure, thereby letting the pigs turn the ground that will be ploughed and sown for next winter’s animal feed; wire up a path from the woods to the new enclosure; and move the pigs.


As long as you have a Secret Weapon.

Past pig manoeuvres have involved me rattling a food bucket and bellowing at animals who pig-headedly refuse to cross the invisible line where the electric fence was just moments ago; followed by Her Outdoors wafting the same bucket in the general direction of the porkers, who trot obediently after her, grunting with approval.

Perhaps it would be the same this time.

Last Thursday, we moved Ark One and marked out the enclosure in the morning. Then, after our long chat with our new butcher friend, we wired up the path and let the porkers make their move.

Two of them trotted happily after Her Outdoors all the way down the (very long) path. I was discussing the absence of the electric fence with pig three, when a cry from the field made me turn the current off, so the first pigs could enter the field enclosure.

That done, the Pig Whisperer came back up the path to help me.

After a little effort (and with school pick-up time approaching fast), we got the pig onto the path and I made my Second Mistake of the Day: I followed it.

Not ten metres (yards) down the track, no doubt disturbed by me, the pig touched the electric tape with his back leg. Backing over it, he revealed my First Mistake of the Day: I hadn’t turned the fence back on.

It all went quickly downhill from here.

Or more accurately, across the hill and into the woods.

I ran after him, waving and then throwing my stick. Which had the effect of making the animal run faster towards our unfenced boundary – and freedom. A loser in many senses of the word, I almost immediately gave up the chase. I thought, ‘At least we have two pigs.’

Her Outdoors walked past me without a word. Minutes later she returned, somehow, the pig trotting along in front of her. My bacon was saved.

Only to escape in another direction.

Following an impossible-to-refuse request to do some running, I became Alex the Hunter. Pig in view, snuffling when possible (him, not me) I circled wide to force the animal towards the neighbour’s fence (the fence I said couldn’t be run through this kind of woodland – remember?). He went up to the fence. Then turned and ran toward his old enclosure. Then along it and back towards the outstretched arms (and stick) of Her Outdoors.

Finally, he went towards the other pigs.

Eventually, he was next to the field enclosure.

Then inside it.

This was them just four days later - look what they've done to my grass.

We’re still looking for an animal trailer.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The sausage factory

If you’ve been counting the moons, you’ll know that our three formerly little pigs will soon be big enough to be become a selection of hams, roasting joints, salami, chorizo, bacon and anything else that takes our fancy.

Of course, we’ll be doing as much as we can ourselves, with only Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Cookbook” and “The River Cottage Family Cookbook”, and John Seymour’s “The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency” for company.

Unless you count a bottomless glass of wine.

Or two.

(More if necessary.)

It’s a bit intimidating. Three pigs is a lot of meat. It’s got to last us as much of next year as possible without spoiling. And before the Wednesday before Hallowe’en, neither me nor Her Outdoors had ever even made so much as a sausage.

If you want to repeat our experience (and I wouldn’t recommend it, as you'll see in a moment), this is what you do:

Buy a hand-cranked sausage-making machine from your nearest sausage-making machine retailer (passing on the motorised one which, at 200 euros, is four times more expensive and many more times likely to break).

Spend a long time washing what looks like engine grease off it, fix it to some wood and clamp it to a large farmhouse table (or similar) in your kitchen (or equivalent), thusly:

Mince 1kg (2.2lb) of boned shoulder and the same of pork belly freshly bought from your favourite butcher (who even sells you the sausage skins and laughs reassuringly when you tell him what you’re doing for the first time), using the attachment with the big holes:

Then mince again with the smaller-holed attachment.

Mix with breadcrumbs and herbs, à la recette (recipe):

Fry a quick pattie to taste (and find it’s bluddie delicious):

Put it back through the mincer, with the sausage attachment on now and the sausage skin carefully shimmied on (feeling a bit tired now – beginning to wonder if the one with the motor may have been a better idea) to create One Willy Wonka of a Stonker.

Spend a few minutes twisting The Enormous Sausage this way and that...

until your plate runneth over:

Relish the delight, awe and advanced orders heaped upon you by guests at your Halloe’en party.

Then meet an English butcher. During your conversation, realise that you can mix your diced pork with your breadcrumbs, herbs etc, BEFORE YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE MINCER THE FIRST TIME. Which means you can attach the sausage teat right at the start and do it All In One Go.

Seems obvious. But so does using a Gripple.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Without meaning to be political, congratulations to everyone on the planet.

My next post will mostly be about sausages.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Four-trouser day

On Thursday, I changed my clothes more often than Shirley Bassey on a Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.

First, there were the smart-ish work trousers for a meeting in a bank. It went quite well. They offered us a mortgage to cover the new land, and said we can increase it to cover the work necessary to turn the Shrieking Shack into a luxury(ish) shower and toilet facility for our lovely future guests.

(Let me put this another way: I, a Bluddie Peasant on minimum wage, working 30 hours a week, supporting a family of four, have secured a 100%+ mortgage for a bizarre and extremely tiny house with around 8,000 square metres of land, fixed for 20 years at just over 5% interest, for comfortably under 200 euros a month. In late October 2008!)

Then I switched to some fencing trousers. Not the shiny white skin tight jobbies you see in James Bond movies. The dusty black and (now) laughably baggy jeans I used to have to undo when watching the telly.

Yes, like I promised many blogs ago, I’m fencing the land against wild boar and other unwanted incursions and excursions.

After lunch, a change to chainsaw trousers necessitated by the running out of suitably thin acacia fenceposts. Fortunately, the previous owner had cut down many of the acacia in The Guest Woods (it’s seen as a pest around here – almost entirely poisonous, fast-growing, light-stealing and only really useful for... fenceposts). All I need to do is cut them to size, sharpen them into giant pencils and SLEDGEHAMMER them into holes made by a heavy, pointed crowbar (how fit am I going to be at the end of the winter?).

Finally, after cutting more wood for the voracious woodburner (having finally summoned up the courage to change the chainsaw blade for the first time - which I did successfully, the second time), back into the first set of trousers to pick up some pig food from a co-worker on the evening shift (more on this, later), feed the animals, collect kindling and write this.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to settle down in front of a good movie and a crackling fire, with a reasonably good glass of wine. No change there, then.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

You know that scene in Shawshank Redemption?

The one where Morgan Freeman is asked if he's rehabilitated and he goes off on one about what it means to be rehabilitated?

We had a meeting with the mayor last night that was a bit like that.

Before going in, Her Outdoors said she had Absolutely No Confidence that anything good was going to come out of it, even though Our Hero Daniel has managed to persuade our neighbour to part with two pieces of adjoining land, one of which has a kind of shack thing on it, and that's why we were seeing the mayor.

Then the mayor said: 'OK. You can do everything. (Everything! Live in the yurts on our land! Have up to 20 guests in yurts next summer!) My team will push it through and Planning can't refuse.'

It's a good scene. Mind you, it's a good film.

Friday, 3 October 2008

A month passed...

In the last 30 days, I’ve had a birthday (again? I’m beginning to see a pattern here), we’ve packed up and moved into a beautiful farmhouse a couple of kilometres away (and are currently enjoying a life filled with breadmaking - that’s why these kitchen tables are so big – wood cutting for the log-burner, fruit picking for jams and jellies, not answering the non-existent phone, seriously high levels of peace and quiet, and a whole lot more), driven to the bottom of Spain and back for the wedding of one of the Daughter’s soul mate’s parents, returned to discover I’m not allowed to use the Interweb at work (and seeing as my lunchbreak coincides with that of the Interweb place in town, blogging has become nigh-on impossible), overdone it with the strimmer, had to cope with a broody hen, paid a couple of speeding tickets (gotta watch that road from the Spanish border back to Bergerac), and witnessed the end of the beginning of the end of capitalism.

Oh yes, and I saw a snake.

I was taking the dog for a walk round the fishing lake (did I tell you about the fishing lake? I’m sorry – you’ll be telling me I didn’t mention the swimming pool next - or the orchard) when I came across it. Or more accurately, it came across me. Don’t know what kind it was, but it was dark, fast-moving and about five metres (yards) away. Seeing it was easily as shocking as accidentally touching an electric fence, and makes you realise that shorts and silly rubber clogs are not ideal for a stroll in the garden. If several acres can be called a garden.

Whatever next?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

What are you looking at?

If you ask most people (and when would you find the time to do that?), they’d probably say you only need a spade to find a hole. But then, most people wouldn’t find a hole like this.

It has four walls. No doorway. And no obvious reason for existing. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Backward steps

Our steadily failing technology (first the phone – thanks for the replacement Café del Nightmare – now the ethernet port on the Mac)is forcing us to return to the Old Ways of Doing Things.

Which is why I find myself sitting on the sofa over here, typing as hard as I like, instead of perched on a chair over there, delicately tapping the keys, desperately trying not to lose our interweb connection.

I have to say, I prefer it like this.

But this is just one of many backward steps we are making.

In a few weeks, we’re moving into this winter’s accommodation of choice: a beautifully decorated farmhouse with wood-burning stove, TV, bath (we’ve just survived a year without a bath! – us! – a year! – with no bath!) that is both remote and devoid of landline.

Yes, people. If you’re friends or family, it’s time to break out the pens, pencils, crayons and paper, and rediscover the joy of writing long hand.

This seems like a good time to mention a very bloggable moment from a few weeks ago: A friend asked if we still needed a place to stay over the winter, as she knew someone who needed people to house sit. Her Outdoors said we were sorted, thanks all the same. I’ll just show you a picture of it, our friend said (this is not the picture, but this is the place):

I couldn’t help thinking about The Shining, and Her Outdoors couldn’t stop thinking about two young kids, cats, a dog and expensive furniture.

We said no.


It’s nice to be asked.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Long time no blog

I've got plenty to say. But with a Mac that's finally lost the ability to go online, no way of saying it. More on this, later.

Thursday, 7 August 2008


First there was one.
Then two.
Three for quite a few days.
And today, for the first time, four.

We may never buy eggs again.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Once. Twice. Three times a maybe.

I thought you'd want to know how Daniel the builder's getting on with persuading our neighbour to sell us her land (so we can build an access road the fire service will approve, so the mayor can give the go ahead, so we can apply for planning permission and get the eversoslightly different ball rolling that might - just might - have a chance of being approved in time for...).

It's very French.

(All of this was reported to me third hand. I'll paraphrase to save virtual ink.)

First, Daniel phoned the neighbour and asked if she'd be interested in selling the land.

'Non,' she said. She was very emphatic. The French often are.

'Can I phone you back?' he asked. (In French. Clearly.)

'Yes,' she said.

A week later, he phoned back. A lengthy conversation. Was she interested?

'Not really. It's been in the family for years.'

'Can I phone you back?'


The third conversation (two more than we would have made) went along the lines of:

'Are you interested?'

'Well... I'll have to talk to the rest of the family... Find out how much we'd want for it... Can you call back after August 15th?'

'Yes,' he said.

Gotta love the French. (Especially when you have one of them on your side.)

Monday, 28 July 2008

Spring! In July!

For months, I've been looking forward to writing a blog about the time we asked a water diviner (sourcier) onto the land, to find the spring that would make self-sufficiency much, much easier. And cheaper.

It was going to be called, punnily enough: Diviner intervention.

But the spring couldn't wait and it sprung up right in the middle of the long field, near the veggie patch, the other day.

It'll be a long time before anything wipes the smile off our faces.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The hole story

At the top of écovallée is a country road with a small lay-by big enough for a couple of cars and a trailer.

For the last many months, we've been extending the lay-by, by filling in the holes in the soft verges. First, we did this by hand and wheelbarrow. Then, by taking trailer loads of soil from a friend's building plot - again, by hand. Most recently, by filling the trailer using our friend's mini digger.

(Now, operating a mini digger is not as easy as personhandling a shovel. Which is why we parked the trailer in the lay-by on Saturday evening, full of soil, sporting a shiny new dent in the tailgate.)

On Sunday morning, after spending the night in Yurt One, I went up to the car to retrieve some bread to make eggy bread (not pancakes as previously promised - recipe for both now to follow).

Back in écovallée, this bread was found to be mouldy.

After pausing only for a coffee, I returned to the car to discover a new, unexpected and entirely unwanted hole in the lay-by. A hole exactly the same shape as a trailer full of reddish, clayish soil.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Build it and they will lay

I managed to put this together before the rain stopped.

Then put this together.

Before the eggs started (but only by a few hours).

By Sunday, we might have enough for pancakes.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Bring back the pigeons

Our communications are based on a series of assumptions:

o That electricity will keep flowing into our wireless domestic over-the-internet telephone.
o That we will have enough money to replace our mobile phone when it ultimately fails (taking with it those photos I couldn't possibly delete) - although having a friend like Café del Nightmare, who sends a whizzy new-used phone through the post, is a definite bonus here.
o That we will have the money to replace our computer when its sockets start failing and it's too slow to run the needlessly updated operating systems that spawn the needlessly expensive software upgrades that mean we can no longer open the old-format files we couldn't bring ourselves to throw away.
o That our online keeper of emails and other digital trivia we cannot live without will not, in a needless attempt at making our lives easier, replace their perfectly functioning system with one that does not work - without warning - days before it's time to renew - thereby making our inbox disappear - and leaving us to ponder the untrue statement: "There is a problem with the credit card on this account".

I'd love to have read what Douglas Adams would have said.

So if you're ringing me on my old mobile number, please bear in mind I may never answer it. If you're waiting for a response from an email, please understand I may never receive it. In case of emergency, you can leave a comment here and hope the computer will live long enough for me to read it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Daylight non-robbery

I went into the wine shop down the road last night, walked up to the counter (careful not to let Boy touch any of the Expensive Things) and waited for someone to realise we were there.

We waited for a few more minutes.

Then a few more. It's not unusual for the owner to be round the corner filling up someone's car with wine, or having a chat with someone outside the nearest coffee shop.

Eventually, I turned towards the door at the back of the shop and said (loudly): "Bonsoir!"

Then, after a moment or two more, slunk out of the shop, empty handed, a little guilty that I had looked in the corners for the non-existent CCTV cameras.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

It must be fête

Last weekend (week-end) was the village fête (fête).

There was a car boot sale:

A demonstration of laying mats:

And people:

A football match followed by prizes for all players (that's the Maire):

Various stalls, including face painting (that's Her Outdoors, holding a brush):

The school show (costumed by Her Outdoors):

And much more I didn't shoot. Unlike The Daughter.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

My mobile has decided not to be

I don't know how long I've had it. I don't even know how rubbish it is compared to the latest thing. But the fact is, my mobile phone is dying.


I get brightly coloured Damien Hirst-alike vertical lines on the screen, instead of the picture of The Daughter and Boy that should be there. (Not that Hirst's work is necessarily beautiful - not that he even does his "work" - although I did like the diamond-covered skull - her indoors thought it was crap.)

Everything should die beautifully.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The écovallée museum opens at first

I always wanted to be an archaeologist.

Not enough to be one. But enough to dig around in the garden looking for Roman roads (finding only those bits of blue and white plate that must be everywhere and some kind of battery I keep in a box). To have wanted a metal detector more than once (including now). And to have "Time Team" as one of my Must See TV shows for many years.

Which is why I said: "Wow!" when one of this blog's regular readers told me her parents were taking their metal detectors on a Time Team dig. Maybe they'd be interested in coming down here (maybe even packing one old non-ferrous one they'd like to sell), to scour land that must have been inhabited off and on for tens of thousands of years.

Maybe they would, she said.

So, to whet their appetite, I thought I'd publish the first of my Interesting Rocks. I think I found it lying on the ground outside the workshop, looking like this:

My untrained eye tells me it must be napped by human hand. I tried holding it in various ways, then handed it to my daughter this evening who immediately held it like this (my hand, not hers).

It even has a sharpened edge for scraping.

I'm calling it a "scraper" and shall look up other examples at once. Before using it to open - officially - the écovallée museum.

You saw it here first. (You just weren't the first to see it.)

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Monday, 23 June 2008

USA & France: Separated at birth: Exhibit 3

The United Statesians are well known for their one-size-fits-all: "Have a nice day". Usually at the end of a retail-related conversation or transaction.

Over in France (a country that seems to pride itself on unnecessary complexity) the expression is the equally simple: "Bonne journée".

Unless it's the evening, in which case: "Bonne soirée".

Unless it's Friday evening, when you say: "Bon week-end".

Though on Sunday morning: "Bon dimanche" is the way to go.

And just before any meal: "Bon appétit".

Whatever have-a-nice expression should always be followed by: "Au revoir" (or "à bientôt" or "à tout à l'heure", depending), with each person playing the game, thusly:

PERSON A: "Bonne journée."

PERSON B: "Bonne journée."

PERSON A: "Au revoir."

PERSON B: "Au revoir."

Needful to say, Person B has the opportunity to say (instead of "Bonne journée"): "également".

Or "pareillement".

Monday, 16 June 2008

USA & France: Separated at birth: Exhibit 2

This one I call: The "Mailbox".

Which also comes with a way to tell if you've got mail.

Typing 'Mailbox' instead of 'Postbox' reminds me of a scene from my time working in the US.

ME: (TO DEPARTMENT SECRETARY & OTHERS NEAR HER DESK) Where can I post a letter around here?


ME: I've got some post to send.


ME: (SHOWING LETTER) Where do I take this?

SEC & OTHERS: (BRIGHTENING) Oh. The Post Office.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Pig difference

On the right: What happens after you leave three pigs alone in a 143-pace piece of woodland for two and a half months. On the left: What happens before.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

A meaningful coincidence

Yesterday evening, we admitted to ourselves that we have - officially - Nearly Run Out of Money.

That wasn't supposed to happen.

If all had gone to the original plan (hereafter Plan A), we would have been open at the start of April, with three yurts full of fabulous eco-friendly families, paying enough to cover the various bills and taxes that come with 21st Century nearly self-sufficiency, and ploughing what's left into further improvements, reforestation schemes and the like.

But Plan A, as you know, only worked in a parallel universe (where, I trust, it's doing fantastically well).

Plan B (and you may remember, there was no Plan B) is unfolding by the day.

My job pays just enough to cover the rent and fill the car. Bills, insurance, food, tools, animal feed and the myriad costs that come with non-self-sufficiency are all paid for by the house we sold last year. There's not much left.

So you'll understand why we went to bed a little bummed last night.

We're at one of those points where you need something - anything - to let you know that you've been doing the right thing (before I go any further, I'm talking about something from my belief system, not yours - unless you share mine - in which case: "Hi" - and ignoring the fact that it's impossible not to do the right thing and that there is no right... I'll get my wine).

Clearly, we need to increase our income, reduce our outgoings, and/or have some kind of meaningful pat on the back.

So when the cheese woman in the market said, this morning: "Is your wife looking for a job?" and gave me the phone number of a rich person who lives nearby (who may have a gatehouse to rent - you never know), I could have taken that as a sign.

I didn't.

Nearly did. But it wasn't funny enough. Or coincidental enough.

Like the coincidence I didn't tell you about from a few months ago, where our neighbour on our land is also our neighbour in town - not a nearby neighbour - I'm talking NEXT DOOR.

Cheese stashed in the fridge, we had work to do. Proper work. Moving the horse field (again - the plastic fence posts must hate us). Taking the temporary chicken ark away so our two flocks can become one. And clearing a path for a new pig enclosure in the woods.

Impressing Her Outdoors (an Aquarian, for those who see meaning in these things), I (a Virgo, which will be shocking, interesting or intriguing for those very same people) chose a meandering route through the woods. A sharp turn here. A straight bit there. A little wiggle between a couple of pine trees in that bit.

After I'd cut my swathe and put in my metal posts (don't use anything else, seriously), I paced out the new fence so I'd know how much wire I'd need. It came to 143 paces.

Arse, I thought. That's loads more than the old fence. I'll have to do some arsing about with the wire. To see how much arsing I'd have to do, I paced out the old (current, excuse the pun) enclosure.

At 100 paces, I started to smile. At 120 paces, the smile grew broader. My last pace came down exactly where I suspected it would. A completely random, but reassuringly exact 143.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

USA & France: Separated at birth: Exhibit 1

This is the first of my least popular (with United Statesians and French people alike) series of posts on the astonishing similarities between the US and France. (The title is a bit of a giveaway here.)

I call it: The "Stop" sign.

Photographed moments ago at the end of my street. In France.

I know.

Wait until you see the others.

Global warning

One of the reasons I went for this piece of land was that it's about 40 metres (yards) above the level of the river nearby.

So I figured, even if Greenland and both poles defrosted at the same time, we'd be flood-free.

Turns out, water falls from the sky as well as rises from the sea.

I just wish we had some more containers to catch it all.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Council Cameth

We were only expecting to meet the Maire and her Adjutant.

So we were a little surprised when two unexpected Council members came into the boardroom and sat down, looking like they belonged there (which, to be fair, they did), casually flipping through flipping enormous ring binders that drew my attention to our ongoing lack of A Mighty Dossier.

Me and Her Outdoors smiled nervously, relieved that we had changed out of our muddy clothes, and that Managing Director of Périgord Développement, Marc, had agreed to come along.

We were a little more than a little surprised when all the people standing in the car park turned out to be the rest of the Council, who jumped into their cars and followed us to écovallée.

Laughing manically now, we led the extravagantly large convoy, more than relieved that Daniel the builder said he would come too.

The Maire - a very enthusiastic and supportive woman who loves the project - got straight to her first point. The access road from our car park to the land - a shabby, half-finished, track that zig-zags through the woods and is steep and slippery in all kinds of places - is a "non" starter. The firefighters will never go for it.

No problem, we say. There's another road a few neighbours away at the other end of the site. Maybe we can use that in emergencies.

The rest of the tour went well, me telling the Maire things and she repeating them loudly to everyone else. Council members in dressy shoes didn't complain too much about the boggy fields they had to tromp through to reach the other road (at least, not to us). And conversations continued for some time.

Next steps on the road to écovallée are:
o Asking the firefighters what kind of access they'll need.
o Asking the neighbours for permission to use their land for access.
and maybe even
o Buying the neighbouring land off the neighbours.
so we can
o Build an access road.

Like I said: It's complicated. And it's going to take time.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

It's complicated. And it's going to take time.

This is looking increasingly like the title of a book (unless it's already been written - I'll google it later). Perhaps with Her Indoors' observation, in parentheses, that: 'The only thing they do fast, in France, is drive'.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

There isn't a word for being this tired.

Yesterday, after my second full day of strimming, I lay in a half-damp hammock and realised I was too tired to walk across the field to retrieve an empty petrol can and a bucket.

But I did.

Because I also had to feed the chickens, put them to bed, feed the pigs, tidy up some electric fencing, and walk home, to cook dinner for everyone and I've forgotten what else.

Today, all I had to do was take a yurt from the trailer in the car park (trailer park would be more accurate right now) to the field at the bottom, by hand (you'll know how far this is when you come), put it together, then have a meeting with the Entire Council, (more on this, later - I'm too tired right now), and feed the animals, put them to bed, walk home and cetera.

It's Extremely Likely I'll be in bed before ten for the second night running - and not for the right reasons - we're both far, far too tired for that.

I just have the energy to leave you with the Monumental News that, finally, to the surprise of chickens, pigs, horse and, to a degree ourselves (although, to be fair, I'm only adding this, as you may realise, in a half-hearted attempt at creating a sentence with more commas in than others on this blog), there is a yurt in écovallée. It's a beautiful thing.

Monday, 2 June 2008

River vallée

Read a couple of amusing bullet points (in a very American book called: "You can farm") the other day. They were, and remain:
o Unseasonably wet or unseasonably dry is normal, not exceptional.
o "Normal" weather is exceptional.

So I bring news that a period of normal weather has filled up a Very Deep hole on our land...

Showed us where the lower points are in the long field...

And identified a good spot for a ditch, which I will dig as soon as exceptional weather returns...

In other news, the mayor is coming to see écovallée on Thursday, so I've just booked two of the main benefits in having a job - days off.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

This will have been a true story.

I still remember the first time I used a petrol strimmer. It was back in the days when every family had at least one car, two phones, and people thought nothing of flying to other countries on holiday - or even for work.

Did I ever tell you about aeroplanes?

I did?


Ooh. Tea. Lovely.

I was trying to cut four acres of grass with my old scythe - on my own

Any chance of a biscuit? No, that one. Thanks.

The weather had been very wet, and very hot, and the grass was growing about four centimetres a week. I cleared about 10 square metres in about 15 minutes when my old secateur injury started playing up.

The smart money would have been to get some sheep and goats in, but we didn't have the fencing for it. And we weren't particularly smart. So we bought a new STIHL with a metal blade, which came with a free pair of gloves - you can never have too many gloves.

I strapped the thing on, and laid waste to some unwanted woodland vegetation. Then I cleared a path around the old pig woods. And made a path from the old workshop down to the veggie patch. All this took minutes, I tell you.

Then I went insane.

I was having so much fun, I stopped thinking about what needed cutting and started looking for what could be cut. "I'll just keep going until the fuel runs out," I thought. I was drunk on the power of it, aware that I had somehow become a metaphor for what was happening in the wider world around me.

Fortunately, it didn't last long.

I walked across to near the orchard/chicken run/orchid meadow and started fragmenting a patch of particularly long and hard-to-reach grass, and the strimmer found a length of string and some wire I'd left there months before. It stopped dead.

Ironic, really. Seeing as how things turned out.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Flocking surprise

I was going to write a post about F***** Telecom. About how, when we arrived in this country and needed communication with the outside world (communication that could only be provided by F***** Telecom), everyone (EVERYONE) shook their heads and tutted and said: F***** Telecom - ******* arseholes (yes, American readers, there is an "r" in "ass"). The post would have been prompted by a loss of service last week that coincided with Boy's birthday and meant he couldn't speak to his grandparents. A loss of service following a bill dated the 4th, received on the 14th, to be paid by the 15th. A transparently criminal strategy for extorting a(nother) €10-euro late payment from us, that was met with knowing tuts and wry shakes of the head from my co-workers, while I said: F***** Telecom - ******* arseholes.

But I won't.

Instead, I will share with you the delightful news that The Daughter has gone into the free range egg business. She has bought three six-week-old Light Sussex hens who are now sharing the orchard/chicken run/orchid meadow with our own feathered flockers.

Is she doing this out of a sense of social responsibility or ethical obligation? Because she is inspired by all things écovallée? Because she has identified an egg-shaped gap in the local market?


It's because she wants to buy a new game for her DS.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Mid-May snapshot(s)

The chickens have grown:

And happily free-range in the chicken run/orchard meadow:

Which comes complete with its own orchid:

(One of seven different types Her Outdoors has found in écovallée this Spring.)

The pigs have grown:

And still plough into food as though they've never seen it before:

The veggies are growing:

(These beds account for the majority of our work right now. It's hard. But it'll never be this hard again.)

And yesterday, we started our rainy day project, which involves turning this shabby old caravan:

Into a wet-weather heaven for kids.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

What's wrong with capitalism

I don't want to give too much away about my job, but I work in a kind of Call Centre involved with money. Usually smallish amounts (£500-£2,000), but occasionally largish amounts (£12,000-£500,000). Calls are distributed by hand among our four-person team and a commission of £1 per £1,000 on top of our minimum wage applies.

Got it? Don't worry. You only need the gist.

Now, before we began, the issue of the larger amounts came up. 'I know,' I said (literally). 'Why don't we pool all the amounts over £10,000 and split the monies equally between the team?'

'Pah!' was the response. 'Where's the sense of competition? The hunger?' (etc)

I went along with the team. We're all new, see, and what do I know?

On day two (Tuesday), it came to pass that I had a run of large calls (about £600,000 worth).

On day three, I was told there was disquiet among the team. Talk of me, somehow cheating the system. Of being, perhaps, in cahoots with the hander-outer. Or just being some kind of Crook.

Day four was a day off, which I spent stressing about how to handle the situation. As far as I could see, we had very quickly discovered the Fatal Flaw of the capitalist model. In just two days, it bred fear, greed, discontent, malice, stress and nameless other amounts of negative energy (tsk - imagine what would happen if it was applied on a broader scale).

On day five, I re-proposed what I call, simplistically, the socialist model: The all-monies-over-£10,000-are-split-equally idea. This time, the rest of the team went for it and peace has been restored.

Good job, too. My first call was for £240,000 worth. That wouldn't have looked very good at all.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

All bad things come to an end

Today has not been the Best of Days.

I'm not talking about the waking up at five in the morning for an hour and a half, knowing I'll fall asleep again only just in time for the alarm to go off.

Nor am I talking about the text I got from Her Outdoors saying she'd just left Boy crying at the childminder's (we've employed someone - amazing what you can do in France on minimum wage), and the cats crying at the vet's (where they've been efeminated, much to the chagrin of the vet, who'd rather they were left to produce kittens that can be drowned as is the way in These Parts - more on that, later).

Or even the fact that the tractor is now Officially Broken Down.

I'm talking about how my the very small commission associated with my job has created some very large resentment among other Team Members (I love that quote from THE OFFICE I saw on a colleague's wall a few years ago: "There's no 'I' in team, but there's a 'Me' if you look hard enough") after I lucked out a few times yesterday - and now people think I am a Cheat or a Thief or Both (much more on this sooner).

But as I've said before not here: "As one door opens, another one shuts."

I came back from my mowing-free evening to cook the best Steak I have eaten in France so far. The mushroom sauce wasn't too shabby. The wine's always good. The French fries were a bit limp. But the company was wonderful.

And it's not over yet - dailylola has posted another episode of Grey's Anatomy for Me and She to watch on youtube.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

I am become the destroyer of worms.

After three days in an office, I went back to work today.

Spent the morning feeding animals, shovelling what happens after you feed animals, and digging one of many new veggie beds, on slightly sloping ground that must have been a river bank at some point in the last several million years.

This last task raises an Interesting Question I Would Like to Put to the Interwebnet (or IQWLPI).

How do Buddhists eat?

I don't mean do they use cutlery or fingers? But with so many worms mutilated in the course of planting, how do they deal with their intention (as I understand it) not to kill? Is there an acceptable Worm Footprint for a bowl of soup? Is there a moment's thought before each mouthful? Or do they stick to rice?

It's not important. I'm not even expecting an answer.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Every silver lining has a cloud

Yes, the new job (which starts tomorrow morning at nine) means cash coming in instead of going out without so much as a 'by your leave' (whatever that means).

Yes, it means we get a Carte Vitale after a month, which gives us access to possibly the most impressive healthcare system in the world without paying very much for it.

Yes, I'm only going to work four days a week because I think five days is inhuman and I don't want to lose my fantastically enjoyable level of fitness.

Yes, it means we'll get subsidised childcare, so Boy can get to know more people and learn more French while Her Outdoors can do more work (on the land).

Yes, chances are, we'll be able to survive until we open for business.

Yes, the job involves speaking English to English people in England.

Yes, there's a very small commission which will lift the wage off the minimum.

And yes, it's not copywriting (although the boss has asked me what I can do with his websites).


The commute is only 100 yards, so I'M NOT GOING TO GET MUCH READING DONE.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Speak French like a native: Lesson 2

A few weeks ago, I went to "Success in the Dordogne" - an event organised by Périgord Développement designed to help British people establish businesses in these parts.

On the way out, I was accosted by a beautiful young French woman who invited me to enter a Free Prize Draw for a weekend for two in a French Chateau Hotel. In the spirit of 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained', I entered the Draw and walked away.

This morning, two people from a local bank came to the house to tell me I'd won.

Which leads me nicely into today's French expression, which you'll hear shouted out by children in playgrounds around the country, and by me in rooms all over this house: "J'ai gagné" (pron: Dzay gan-yay). J'ai gagné.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Gate, gater, gatest?

Working with wood is a bit like reincarnation. If you don't get it right the first time (and that's assuming there is such a thing as a 'right', which I won't go into here - it upsets people), you can always go back and have another go.

For instance, I put this gate up yesterday:

Looks OK from a distance. A bit of a gap on the right. But let me... No, I won't even begin to tell you how much hassle I had with these hinges:

So today I went back with these hinges:

And had a much, much easier and more satisfying time:

The real beauty of it is, I know the next gate'll be even better.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Moving forward, then

Even though we have nothing on paper, it finally feels like we're going to get this project on the ground. Which means we haven't been completely wasting our time putting up a polytunnel:

Digging our first veggie beds:

Thinking of a way we can use the water that appears at the bottom of Pepito's field, flows along under the blackthorn, and disappears into a hole in the ground that, bizarrely, we don't own:

Or getting a job. Like I just did (more on this, later).