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).

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


Me and Her Outdoors were both a bit nervous before our first meeting with Madame le Maire. Hardly surprising. We have no Plan B (just a range of modifications to Plan A), and she has the power to emotionally and financially ruin us.

Which is exactly what she didn’t do.

After an impressive summary of the situation from Daniel the builder, our new mayor revealed that:
o she is open to the project (huzzah!).
o she will find out where the problem was (huzzah!).
o and work with us to find a solution that works for everyone (huzzah!).
o she is not the law, as some people say (ah), but has a degree of flexibility to work within the law as it stands.
o we will not be allowed to live in a fixed yurt all year round (double ah) because it is exempt from tax d’habitation. Her Outdoors asked if we could pay the tax voluntarily, but the system does not allow for this degree of flexibility.
o we might have to build a house (triple ah). I said it would have to be a straw-bale house. She said fine and Daniel said he works with someone who can make this happen (double huzzah!!).
o we won’t be opening this year (quadruple ah).
o we can put up a yurt every couple of weeks, for a couple of weeks, for friends and family (huzzah!).
o she’s going on holiday for a couple of weeks (ah).
o she’ll call us when she gets back, to arrange to see the land with her adjutant (huzzah!).

It all ended with handshakes, smiles, and assurances not to worry. Which is a pretty good re-start.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Service with many smiles

Today, we had meeting at the social security number place. And found out why there are so many cars in the car park.

First we met the receptionist, whose job it was to check a short list and ask us to sit down in the design-filled but otherwise empty open-plan space (think Jobcentre Plus with more style and no people). Oh, and to take photocopies of our passports.

About a minute later, a lovely woman invited me into one of several numbered offices, asked a few questions, keyed a few things into a computer, printed a few things out and told me she'd arranged a meeting with a consultant (heart sinks) in a few minutes (heart re-floats).

She then showed me into a different seating area, where a corporate video about the service we were enjoying played on a loop, and where I briefly saw Her Outdoors, fresh from a simultaneous appointment, before...

Another lovely woman whisked me into another room. More questions, more shaking of the head in response our current predicament, more tapping on the computer, more print-outs (including a couple of seasonal jobs in wine shops that sound quite tasty) and that was that.

We're on the system. Or in it.

I don't think anyone really knows what happens next. There are just too many people in too many departments to know for sure. The last lovely woman said something about coming back in July, but probably to another office and I probably wouldn't be seeing her again. The whole experience was beautifully inefficient.

In other news, we're meeting the new mayor tomorrow. At three.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Déjà-vu. Take two.

Our meeting with the new mayor's now going to happen on Monday.

Or Tuesday.


(Looks like I shaved for no reason. Again.)

Thursday, 10 April 2008

An unexpectedly lovely morning

With the pigs in the wood and Pepito in a field full of grass, we took a morning off hard labour to take care of some unstarted business in Bergerac - armed with nothing more than a file of birth certificates, proofs of residences, and Plenty of Potentially Pertinent Pieces of Paper.

Unstarted Business 1: E106s

Before we left the house, I read this in a letter that came with our E106s (which I think stands for Important Document to do with Healthcare Provision): "We have completed both forms at Part A... Do not fill in any part of the form yourself."

If you were me, you'd enjoy reading that again: "Do not fill in any part of the form yourself."

That's the sort of paperwork I can deal with (although not immediately - the letter is dated December 11th).

After this auspicious beginning, Unstarted Business 1 continued like this: Walk into building, taking a numbered ticket at the door; sit in reception - for just over a second - until Receptionist asks why we're there; a few seconds later, the number counter on the wall jumps to our number and we go into Room 1; the woman asks us our situation (and quickly regrets doing so), then takes half our Pieces of Paper away for copying; the Carte Vitale will be on its way, she says. She is charming and lovely throughout. The receptionist then draws us a map to...

Unstarted Business 2: the Job Centre

Even though we have a potentially blisteringly successful (and I'd like to think, international award-winning) business sitting in our garage, there's a chance we're going to need some kind of job. For money. Soon. I tried registering online the other day, but you need a social security number. And not an English one. (Bring on the United States of Europe.)

We walked into the empty waiting room of the Job Centre and explained our situation to another very nice woman. She told us exactly where to go. (Not far, as it turned out. She showed me on the map.)

Unstarted Business 3: ASSEDIC

The car park of the social security number place is one of two halves. The first is full of spaces for cars driven by people who might want to use the service. The other is filled with actual cars, driven by all the people who work there.

Here we waited for what must have been over a minute, then explained our situation to yet another lovely woman (where are all the men?). She gave us an appointment on Monday, wished us luck with the mayor's meeting tomorrow - and that was it.

Three lovely experiences with government offices - before lunch.

Which was also nice.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Déjà-vu. Again?

The meeting with the new mayor's been postponed.

Until Friday.

No, you haven't read this post before.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Another year, another kids' parade

Last year, as per usual, the Brighton Festival kicked off with the Children's Parade.

(If you don't know it, all the schools in the 'City by the Sea' march through town in themed costumes, with 'big makes' made from willow and paper coated in PVA, ending up on the beach. It's well worth a watch, especially with a street-side seat and a decent cup of coffee from, say, the Komedia coffee bar.)

I didn't see it. Because Clare came up with the theme (which meant the daughter's school was at the front), ran the school's show (often cajoling unenthusiastic parents to DO SOMETHING), and volunteered me to carry the big make, even though the other three dads were about a foot taller than me:

This year, our new village also had a children's parade.

With not one...

Or two...

But three big makes.

A marching band.

An enraptured crowd.

Even a dragon fight.

After which, inexplicably, the dragon burst into flames.

It all ended in a melee near the food table. Much like the many Friday evenings of enthusiastic parental participation in the months leading up to it.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

T minus two days

Originally, we were going to open for business today.

Pepito should, at this moment, be clomping slowly down the drive, carrying suitcases to one of three beautifully turned-out yurts, surrounded by excited adults and children looking forward to their first week of eco-family heaven.

Instead, I just fed Pepito a carrot, bid him goodnight and returned to the rented house which has already swallowed a significant amount of our start-up costs, and we have no idea when or how ecovallee will be open.

Hopefully, we'll know more after our meeting with the new mayor on Tuesday.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Pigs won. Chickens nil.

Clare opened the pop hole of the chicken house for the first time today. But the birds were too chicken to come out.

I dismantled, then re-mantled Ark One in the woods (which was very satisfying) and discovered that children good pig herders do not make. I fared no better. But we had a Clare on hand to coax the animals along the path to (almost) freedom.

I expect they'll be doing this...

...all night.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

We are (almost) not grown up

Theory 1
A long time ago, in a wine bar in Leicester, Copywriter Steve suggested that you become a grown-up only after you have a child.

Theory 2
Less long ago, in a bathroom in Earlsfield, I decided that grown-upness is attained when you no longer run out of toilet paper.

Theory 3
Hardly any time ago, in this house, Matt put forward the notion that grown-ups are the only people with kitchen roll.

I am delighted to announce that, even after having two number ones, we ran out of number two this morning, which would have been desperate if it weren't for number three.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Now I know why he’s called THE GRIM REAPER

It’s got nothing to do with the workload. (Although with the population set to pass nine billion by 2050, a look of grim determination could be forgiven.)

No. It’s the scythe.

I bought one a while ago. But this week I had the excuse to take the wrapping off (plastic film on the blade – very 21st Century) and use it to cut down some grass on an ancient path through the woods above which an electric fence now sits. More on this, later.

Although a novice to the tool, I soon got into the swing of it. The forceful side-to-side action is not one my body has come across before, and I wondered what effect it would have on an upper body that is becoming increasingly triangular. I was, for a while, the Grin Reaper. The Getting in Trim Reaper. The Eversoslightlymore Slim Reaper.

I suspected I would feel the effects the next day. But no. It was the day after that. Possibly exacerbated by the planting of about 60 iron posts (some through limestone), the relocation of several barrows of manure and the doing of many other jobs not mentioned here.

Last night, I slept like the dead. All of them.

It didn’t help. The body aches in all kinds of places. I’m very, very tired. Not tired enough to buy a petrol-driven strimmer (why use fossil fuels when calories will do?), but I can almost see the attraction.

Maybe, like with other tools, reaping is a question of practice. Not too much. Wouldn’t want to do it all the time. That would be grim.