Monday, 14 December 2009

Blog off

If you're interested in following what happened next, you can always read my new blog here: here

Monday, 30 November 2009

Death of a yurt camp

I happened to meet the mayor today, while picking up some papers to scrap or sell the car. 'Work (on the house) coming on?' She offered.

'Yes,' I said. 'But not so well with the business.'

'Why? What?' She said.

I told her that: 'People have told us it can go ahead with only a Simple Declaration in the Mairie; Her Outdoors picked up the papers and went to the DDE (Planning) to get help filling it in; Madame Couderc said it couldn't be done with a Simple Declaration and had to be a full CU...'

She didn't even let me finish. 'If the DDE have said no (they haven't - one woman has said no and not even on paper), I can't change it. I'm not going to fight for you. If they've said no (they haven't), it can't be done (it can).' Then she walked away angrily, muttering something about yurts.

Which, I must admit, left me feeling more than a little pissed off.

With good reason.

Here were are (actually, I am - Her Outdoors gave up the fight a few weeks ago, in tears after that meeting with Madame Couderc), trying to launch a sustainable, forward-thinking business IN ORDER TO PAY TAXES, create employment in an area which is bereft - and not just for the over-educated, formerly well-off English population - and promote environmental tourism. And here is my mayor, whose duty it is to support her constituents, telling me she won't support me - mere months after giving me her word that everything would be OK.

The apparent futility of trying to get the yurt camp off the ground - or rather, onto it - and the pissed-offness it caused all morning made me realise I don't have the strength to fight this any longer, either.

I give up.

We came to this country to live self-sufficiently because land in the UK was too expensive. We are still utterly behind that decision. It feels right. It is right.

Trying to get the yurt camp on the ground has caused endless amounts of grief, sapped us of our capital and, at times, made us resent our land - our 14-odd acres of woods and meadow - which is insane. I have often suspected that we would only succeed in getting past all the rules and regulations one moment before the global economy crashed and all the rules would be thrown out of the window anyway. So I'll stop early and save my energy for some much-needed focus on self-sufficiency.

We're a long way from it. But we're a hell of a lot closer than we were.

Oh yes. I nearly forgot. For sale:
o Three 18-foot coppiced chestnut yurt frames (with or without covers), two of which have extra-wide doors for disabled access.
o One 12-foot coppiced chestnut yurt with extra-wide door for the same reason.

If you or anyone you know has the land and the stomach for a fight, do get in touch. Friends and friends of friends, worry not. There'll be a yurt for you here and we'd love to see you. We've got a few stories. Let me tell you.


A very short time later, we had a visit from the mayor, we ungave up, we built a yurt camp, opened for business, were listed as one of the top 10 eco campsites in Europe by The Guardian, were filmed by ITV1 for a series called Little England and a whole lot of other stuff. More recent posts explain how.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Crime against humanity

I've learnt a few things since the car's been out of action.

Thing one: You meet a lot more people when you don't have a car. (Although most of them are either helping you out, or trying to.)

Thing two: Suggesting you can live without a car has the same reaction on people as suggesting you can live without a house. (And here we are, basking in a very warm and cosy yurt, tossing the occasional piece of free wood into the Yotul, feasting on venison given to us by another parent from school.)

Thing three: A crime against humanity seems to be being (a rare construction, that) perpetrated by at least one Western government. Here, it's called Prime à la casse. The guy in the breaker's yard told me...

I went in to find out if I could have a new-old engine put in the car. Fine, they said: Engine €300. Fitting it, an extra €1,200. Bugger, I said. That's the same as the Renault garage. Too rich for my blood. How about trying to sell it without a working engine?

Non-starter, I was told.

During the following conversation, the very nice man pointed out of the window at a car very much like mine. Only in perfect working order. It was sold to the breakers for €70, on condition that IT MUST BE SCRAPPED. Me and my friend who drove me there were open-mouthed. The very nice man said he had a Golf IV - €70 but must be scrapped. Apparently, it's to create a shortage in the second-hand car market so people are forced to buy new.

It makes me want to cry, I said.

Me too, he said.

You probably know about this from the telly - sadly, like the tractor and now the car, our fantastic small TV/DVD player is out of service - but it's news to me. In a world where there are clearly enough cars, governments are encouraging the scrapping of perfectly good vehicles to make room for even more.

I don't know what to say.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Oh, the irony

Her Outdoors drove down our lovely new road the other day and said the car had lost power and started making a horrible noise. So I took it to our usual garage.

'Ooo,' he said. Only in French. 'Sounds like it could be the timing belt.'

Hoping not, I left the car there and awaited further news.

The next day, I phoned several times and was told something about letters in the post.

The day after that, I got the letters. Actually, bills that appeared to be for someone else. The name was right, the street was very like one we used to live on, but we'd never lived in the village. So the whole family walked into town and I questioned the invoices. Surely they are for someone else, I suggested.

She showed me the dates: 2007. My bills, unpaid, forgotten about, sent to an address that didn't exist. Bills for about €300.

'OK,' I said. 'I'm pretty sure I paid them. I'll have a look at home (yurt). But what about the work to fix the car now?' She showed me an estimate for €2,200. Could be less, but they'd want €840 before even looking at the engine.

We have less than €20.

At yurt (home), I found another invoice that seems to be unpaid, for €145. (Stay with me here, if you can be bothered.) Another thing: The heater doesn't work. Other things: The back door holder-uppers don't work (and one of the invoices from 2007 was to replace them when they broke last time). Which would be about another €450.

So it's beginning to look like we're not going to repair the car. Or even replace it - an idea that would save us around €250 a month in fuel and insurance. Which would also draw a line through (not under) our €150 a month overspend.

The only real difficulty is going to be getting the kids to school.

More on this, later.

Friday, 20 November 2009

How to build a road on a road

Turn up unexpectedly with some big machines.

Scrape back the crummy old road and add a fresh base of pale stone... Wait for a while (or some time, whichever is more random)... Then turn up unexpectedly with more big machines and add a layer of black gravel.

Roll flat (at this stage I didn't think the new road would be up to much).

Bring in more big machines.

Spray what we used to call tar (I think it's called tar now).

Add gravel, looking thoroughly bored by the whole process.


Repeat until the sun fades.

(Needful to say, Boy no longer wants to work in the garage where they test cars for road-worthiness. Now he wants to drive a blue roller.)

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A farewell to Bob

Bob moved on to pastures new today, but not before leaving permanent marks all over écovallée, many of which will never be seen. I've got to say, he's a very handy guy to have around. Because it's true. Look:

Here, Bob's hands are applying lime mortar on top of Isochanvre - a carbon-positive, hemp-based insulation product we used to block up a gaping hole under the bathroom window. My mistake. (Note to people ordering windows over the phone in France: They always give the height before the width in this country. Even if you say, '115 centimentres side to side' just to confirm. Don't say I didn't tell you.)

As with all Bob's work - and now his time with us - it was beautifully finished.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Remember Square One?

After a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago, we discovered that all we needed to do was make a Simple Declaration at the Mairie and our yurt camp would be up and running. The Maire wouldn't even need to send it for approval from the regional capital.

So we picked up the forms for a Simple Declaration from the Mairie. (Imagine here a photo of many, many sheets of paper, all numbered, in triplicate.)

Her Outdoors filled it in.

She took it back to the Mairie to ask if she'd done it right.

The Secretary looked shocked. How the hell would she know? The only people who know are the Planning People (remember them). We must phone them and ask. They answer the phones from Tuesday to Thursday, she added helpfully.

Today is the next Tuesday. Her Outdoors phoned and was invited to a two o'clock meeting.

She went and saw a very familiar face, and found (among other things):
o We could apply for permission using the Simple Declaration but there is no point, as the people in the regional capital will only reject it.
o Buying the Shack didn't change our case in the slightest - why don't we buy a piece of land with camping already on it? Or apply to have our land re-zoned?
o The Maire can't decide on camping using Simple Declarations any more - everything has to get sent to the regional capital.
o The regional capital has just decreed (by 'just' I mean "just" - the woman Her Outdoors spoke to was the only person in Planning to know this) that all camping must now be applied for formally, with a CU (regular readers will know what this means).

So it seems we've come full circle. Back to the beginning.

It's OK though. I have a few ideas.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I told you I'd tell you

The Very Exciting Idea I had the other day is a way of raising money to make écovallée even more fabulously eco.

It's called: "YURTOPOLY".

As might be expected from the name, it's a Game/Prize Draw/Thing where players pay €2 for the chance of winning a week in écovallée in July 2010. Having investigated it a little further, it might well be illegal.

But the possibility of super-eco-luxury having raised it's beautiful head again (rather than the less glamourous although less expensive and therefore open to more People Like Us alternative), I carried on thinking.

And my think went like this: What we're doing here, fighting the French system to open a sustainable, forward-looking etc etc business, is a bit like cycling from John O' Groats to Land's End and back again - several times - only more demanding. And people get sponsored to do that kind of thing. Which is how "FRIENDS OF ECOVALLEE" came to be.

It would cost €10 to become a Friend; for €50 you could become a Good Friend (and have a free massage when you're here); for €100 you could become a Great Friend (and get two nights free when you book a week); and for more than that you could become a Soulmate and enjoy our unending love and appreciation (two people have already done this).

My question to you is: What do you think? All comments welcome.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Tweet, tweet

Not that I'm lazy or anything, but I've just joined Twitter. And it's got nothing to do with Search Engine Optimization or Driving New Traffic to this site, or to for that matter.

(That last sentence is a lie - we've got a business to open next year fordeityssake.)

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Plagued by fires and floods

You'd be forgiven for thinking that all is not well in the vallee of eco.

We've been spending our days rushing from one fire-fighting job to another: a(nother) escaped pig who needed capturing with the aid of yet more fence and a(nother) expensive battery; a sick child, then ten days of school holiday, then the same child sick with a different illness; a car with no heater at the start of winter, necessitating trips to breakers yards in search of parts that, like black cats in dark rooms, aren't there; multiple trips to builders merchants to express surprise at outrageous French prices; escorting an injured Bob to hospital after a few strenuous days burying a sceptic tank; and much more besides, like today, which we spent moving our treasured belongings from the basement which Her Outdoors discovered to be flooded first thing this morning, to the attic space, where they will hopefully stay dry tomorrow.

In fact, I don't think I would be exaggerating to suggest that we have, at times, been a little upset.

HOWEVER (and it's a big however if you didn't notice), thanks to something Bob said the other evening (I know, I still haven't told you about Bob), I've had a very exciting idea. Which I will tell you about. Soon.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Too busy to blog

I can’t even begin to tell you how busy we’ve been. (Which is a bit sad. Because in my dotage, I won’t be able to look back, over my enormous wine-and-duck belly and say: “Blimus. I’m glad I’m not as busy as that any more.”)

But I can tell you about the day we were supposed to pick up the rabbits. For some reason, in the Present Tense.

Drop the kids off at school and go to pick up friend’s trailer in Lanquais. Drive into field and take down 18-foot yurt (aka Guest Yurt One), where Bob’s been staying for a few weeks (I haven’t told you about Bob). The wind is strong and Things Fly Around Annoyingly. Return to Shack and take down 18-foot yurt, the roof cover for which was beautifully made by Her Outdoors in time to beat the rain and protect the pounded-earth floor, but which leaked like a sieve because of Something They Don’t Tell You When You Buy Waterproof Canvas (more on this later) and necessitated the Abandoning of the Adobe Floor Concept for 2009. Put up Guest Yurt One on Near Shack platform (which isn’t easy, I won’t tell you). Cook lunch. Add groundsheet under frame. Add insulation to groundsheet. Move furniture from field to Near Shack platform. Pick up Boy from school. Pick up Her Outdoors’ parents and bring back for dinner. Move furniture from 12-foot yurt (aka The Play Yurt) where we had been sleeping, to make room for Bob (who I still haven’t told you about). Phone Richard the Butcher to say we won’t be able to pick up the rabbits today. Pick up The Daughter from school. Return trailer to friend so it can be used by them the next day. Have dinner with visiting family.

And that wasn't an especially busy day.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A bit of a rollercoaster

The last couple of weeks have had their downs and ups.

One down was a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce, which started well. The very knowledgeable and energetic woman said this should be easy enough - a yurt camp on our own land. Several phone calls later, she left us with a very familiar look on her face - a kind of resignation meets bewilderment, crossed with a well-it's-to-be-expected - and the words: Bon Courage.

Good luck.

Another down was a further trip to the Social Services. You may remember, we have completed many, many pieces of paper with a view to having some kind of housing benefit. I'm on the dole. You'd think we'd be entitled. (I know I did.) But it seems the system is still hung up on the money I earned as a self-employed person in the first six months of 2007. We "don't have the right", the woman said. "It'll be different in January."

"I'll be going self-employed to open the campsite," I said.

"Don't do that!" came the reply. "You'll lose all your rights."

It's complicated. Many things are.

On very big up was a very generous donation from an anonymous source that will allow us to complete work on the Shack before winter. Which meant we could buy a load of wood and put that up:

And buy a load of tiles and put them up too:

You'll see our bedroom yurt in the background which has also gone up, so we can put down the adobe floor which needs a couple of weeks to dry before we can move into that.

Monday, 28 September 2009

What a difference a day (off) makes

A couple of years ago, when we first started doing this manual (and womanual) labour, we realised that you need one day off a week to let your body rest. Otherwise you become a Dr Who-monster-like being trudging very slowly from one monumental task to the next.

We'd forgotten this.

With winter coming and so much to do, we've been working every moment to Get Things Done. Especially necessary when, without electric light, our day finishes when the sun goes down (currently around 8.20).

Until yesterday.

After spending a very pleasant evening with some new friends, I awoke feeling a little fragile (I tell you, that eau de ville is to be avoided at all costs). I suggested that I go and work on the yurt platform until I felt a bit better, but Her Outdoors bade me (I'm reading that book set in the 19th Century, remember?) lie in the hammock and rest.

Work was off the menu for the day. The sun shone. It was glorious.

Time off also meant we could get through a hillock of paperwork that had built up over the last few weeks, have a Proper Wash (which entails much boiling of pans on the camping stove) and generally Get Things In Order. The day ended with a few beers with some other friends, before returning to cook risotto in the dark (picture me, candle in left hand, spatula in right, peering into pan to see if the stock has been soaked up - you get the idea). Then more "Jonathan Strange..." by candlelight.

Today, I feel relaxed, rested and ready to take on the world. Good thing too. You have no idea how much work there is to be done...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Small beer

After Dave and James left the other day, having posted the previous shots, I was supping a beer and looking at all the fine work we had done. A little nervous, to be fair (excuse any slightly whimsical or Victorian turns of phrase - I'm reading "Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell" at the moment, which is rather fabulous, and I've always been prone to a little literary influence), about what I could possibly achieve and how soon.

Our neighbour dropped by on the way to his polytunnel (the neighbour who leant me the scaffolding, you may remember) and I offered him a beer. Which he took. He used to be a builder, so I also offered him the ladder to see what we'd done.

Beer in hand, wearing flipflops, he positively glided up the ladder and had a good look round. Then he pretty much danced across the 4cm joists in the bathroom-to-be ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the 12-foot drop below, and had a good look there, too.

Me: (in French) I'll probably have the wall finished in about four days.

He: I could probably do that in a couple of hours. Three tops.

Me: No. Seriously?

He: Oh yes. I could come along tomorrow at eight if you like.

Me: I abso-bluddie-lutely would like.

There was only one small problem. I didn't have enough blocks up there. So I spent the next day (yesterday, if you're still paying attention) moving about a ton of concrete onto the roof (my own blocks and a load of free ones from Dave), shifting sand and generally getting ready.

The neighbour showed up at eight today and did this:

It was a joy to behold. I told him so.

He: (Still in French) Ah, but put me in front of a computer in an office and I can't do anything.

Me: Yes, but I don't think anyone seeing someone working in an office would say: "Wow. That's amazing!". (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

It wasn't even a very large, or expensive, beer.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Winter doesn't stop for lunchbreaks

In an ideal world, you probably wouldn't leave it this late in the year to build your winter home. But for various reasons, known and unknown, we have.

After a further visit from our friend with the JCB, who dug a nice big hole for our sceptic tank, we began our bedroom yurt platform, which currently looks like this:

Right next to it, our bathroom-to-be looked like this when the sun rose today (yes, I carried all those blocks up there, which is one of the many reasons I'm so bluddie tired at the moment):

And after being savaged by English mafia Dave and James without the benefit of a lunchbreak, looks like this as the sun begins to set:

Let's see what we can do with the next few days of glorious weather, shall we? No pressure. Winter's only six weeks or so away...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Another (load of) brick(s) in the wall

English mafia Dave and James came back yesterday and did some frankly beautiful work while I shovelled sand, lime and cement, and shifted blocks. I ended the day feeling a little bummed, not able to thank them enough for working for no money - although I should have been elated now the Shack looks like this:

Interesting Fact: That chunk of wood above the bathroom (-to-be) window is the first natural material in this whole structure, which formally held up some asbestos roofing material in almost the same place.

Utterly Irrelevant Fact: Those bits of wood sticking out of the wall that you can't see in this picture... you wouldn't believe how hard they were to get out.

Something else for nothing: The scaffolding. (Lent by a neighbour.)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Back on Shack

Here's a picture English mafia Dave took the other morning:

The bottom two courses visible were almost completely done by English mafia Nick. The others are all mine, laid one row at a time all the way round in a nice straight-ish line. (Seems logical, doesn't it?)

Here's a shot Dave took that same afternoon.

I'm the one standing next to English Mafia James, who laid all the other courses - building up each corner, then filling in the middle (like I'd been told by English mafia Lee). Guess what? It's a helluva lot quicker. Another couple of days and it'll be done.

Saturday, 22 August 2009


I could get used to this.

Two weeks ago, we were at the point of wondering if we could afford toilet roll or whether we should put the appallingly low-quality junk mail to re-use. We had €3.15 to last until September, with bills to be left unpaid, a mortgage to put us overdrawn - all that not-so-fun stuff.

Then my older brother arrived and, very generously, stocked us up on beers, juice, wine and sundries. Then I opened a letter with belated money back from the solicitor, as you know. Yesterday, I opened another letter with a tax rebate from my paltry income last year: €1,000 euros.

'Yes,' said the fairly godless mutha, 'you shall have the sand for your second-stage sewerage treatment before winter.'

I feels very much like we've hit financial bottom and bounced back up again. Again.

(One day, if you're very good, I might even tell you the story about how the criminal banking practices of NatWest at the end of the last recession nearly killed me; a tale which, although disgraceful, criminal and almost unforgivable, put me firmly on the anti-capitalist, anti-materialist path that will have me and my family living happily ever after.)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


You know when you get some unexpected money and then something comes along, like a car service or a broken boiler, and takes your excess spondoolies away almost to the penny? This has just happened the other way round.

Last week we got a letter from the social services telling us we're entitled to €280 euros to send The Daughter back to school (which means we can pay the mortgage and phone bill).

Today I opened a letter from our solicitor with a belated rebate cheque that will not only pay the outstanding (and very impressive) water bills, put petrol in the car and juice on the breakfast table, but could even pay for the upcoming Controle Technique (MOT equivalent).

Minor miracles, but we take them where we find them.

(Just came back from the social services in Bergerac, where the woman who's given us months of grief has been replaced by a young, good-looking, very helpful temp; I had a feeling things were going to go well when I found a free parking space outside the office. On the way home all the traffic lights were green - if I didn't know better, I'd go out and buy a lottery ticket.)

Friday, 14 August 2009

(d)ossier help wante(d)

I have to compile a large and detailed dossier to present to the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mairie, banks and anyone else who wants to see it. Part of this dossier should, ideally, contain Market Research on our Target Audience, which could be done by phone.

Or blog.

If you have a moment, I'd be very grateful if you could send me your thoughts on the following to When you come down and see us, I'll pour you an extra large glass of wine and let you try some of our outstanding prosciutto:
o Are you intending to travel to France in the next 5 years?
o Do you consider yourself an ethical or responsible traveller?
o Do you have children under 10?
o Have you visited one of those kids' farms in the last 12 months?
o Which parenting magazines do you read?
o Would you consider a yurt camping holiday?
o How long would you want to stay on a yurt campsite?
o What facilities would you want in to see on the campsite?
o What animals would you want to see in/around the campsite?
o How much would you want to pay per week?
o Would you travel by plane, train or automobile?
o Anything else you want to add (other than I'd never get a job in market research)?

Thank you in advance for you help. Would you like some cheese to go with that glass of wine? I can recommend the camembert (although it is a little runny).

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


We had a meeting with the mayor yesterday to talk about next steps.

You may remember, this is the mayor who told us that, if we bought the Shack and got permission to enlarge it, we could live next door to it in our yurts and have up to 20 people in yurts on the land next year. The mayor who, when I asked for that in writing, gave us her Parole.

Her word.

Her solemn oath.

So I was more than a little surprised when she told us yesterday that we couldn't live next door to the Shack in our yurts. That we had to show we were living in the Shack (external dimensions to be 7 x 3 metres when finished - which is something we can't currently afford to do anyway and winter is approaching fast). She told us, in fact, we couldn't live in yurts for more than eight months in a year. And that we couldn't have three yurts on our land for guests next year. She suggested putting up one yurt and, if no one says anything, putting the other two up in 2011. Problem is, we can't live on one yurt's income. We're already overdrawn (which is very inadvisable with a French bank). And we'll never raise the money for the showers and toilets if we can't pay the loan back.

The French word for this situation is translated as: Shit (hence the headline).

Friday, 31 July 2009

Chicken (d)evelopments

The chickens have noticed a few changes since we moved onto the land full time. They enjoy even fresher cuisine.

Free range even more freely.

With access to ball sports.

Spend time with the dog.

Sleep in a newer, bigger, nearly finishter chicken house.

Just up from the chicken nursery.

Where five fluffy chicks (and hopefully more to follow) are now going cheep.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Devolution accomplished

The last few steps down the devolutionary ladder were expectedly frantic.

We attempted to build the bathroom extension and, thanks completely to English mafia Nick, made an excellent start. But we didn't have enough time, so we focused our efforts on: waterproofing and laying a floor in the Shack basement for Stuff Storage; putting a joisted floor in one half of the tractor shed for Yurt Storage; sanding and oiling an 18-foot yurt frame and setting it up in the field for Other Stuff Storage; building an emergency bucket compost toilet; taking yet More Stuff (we seem to have a lot of it) to Jackie and Chris' barn; turning the caravan into a kitchen; and keeping two small children relatively happy.

Then more of the English mafia (and one Belgian: 'We don't have mafia in Belgium') pulled together to help us move - despite the heat (high 30s and beyond) and we drove away from conventional accommodation for the foreseeable future.

It's only taken three years since having the idea, two years since moving to France, countless drops of blood, floods of sweat and the occasional tear, but we've done it. Finally, legally, we're living in a tent in a field. (The devolution is so complete, I'm actually writing this on a piece of paper on a table in the shade, in biro. It probably should be a pencil. Give it time.)

Obviously, this would be an excellent time to bring this blog to an end. But I'd only have to start a new one to tell you what happens after the devolution. So I've settled instead on a simple name change. You know how I love parentheses.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Running on empty

This is the bit in the reality TV show, just before the ad break in Part Two, where the indomitable couple have run out of time, money and energy. The presenter looks at what’s going on, turns to camera and says: ‘From where I’m standing, I can’t see how they’re going to pull it off’.

But if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know we’ve been here before.

Let’s look at what would have happened in Part Two:
o We bought The Shack and celebrated with home-made elderflower champagne from HFW’s recipe; one of two batches Her Outdoors made worked and it was excellent, if a bit sweet.
o We laid into The Shack with Tools; the internal chimney dropped off the ceiling in one huge piece, just missing my leg and nearly causing A Nasty Accident.
o Our world was rocked by the devastating news that one of our key allies and Genuinely Lovely Bloke, Marc Mercier of Developpement Perigord, died during a rugby match. He was the same age as me; had two young children the same ages as ours; and he will often and always be in our thoughts.
o We took it in turns to exhaust ourselves making and moving rubble (of which there is a staggering amount, even in a small ‘house’).
o I made a chainsaw-mate and we turned an inconveniently placed, overstood chestnut coppice into compost, kindling and firewood for winter 2012.
o Our tractor doctor surgically and brilliantly unseized our tractor in the field, which sadly re-seized and will never tractor again.
o Following an impressive piece of reversing, we took delivery of a sceptic tank and load of plastic pipes for a sewerage system we didn’t want, but which made it possible for Planning to say ‘Oui’.
o We asked the bank for ten grand so we can build the extension we now have permission for. It was a long shot (I don’t have a job). They said ‘Non’.
o The tractor doctor returned with this awesome machine...

...and we sat in the shade and watched as one small scoop for him saved a giant heap of digging for us.
o I then borrowed this machine from English-mafia Lee... dig a trench for concrete footings (at which point the presenter, headshaking, would have said out of the corner of his mouth: ‘And they call themselves environmentalists...’) for the bathroom walls we’re buying with money borrowed from our kids.

Tune in soon for what would have happened in Part Three.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

I told you it was small

This is a picture of what we lovingly refer to as The Shrieking Shack (The Shack for short). If there were any lingering doubts about our sanity, the fact that we bought it on Thursday afternoon for around 30,000 euros of the bank’s money in a flat market should settle things.

It measures almost exactly four metres by three-point-three-five and is smaller on the inside than it looks from the outside. (Even smaller when this photo was taken, before we went to work with Tools.)

In its defence, it has a basement, water and electricity, and comes with 7,100 square metres of woodland garden; a long stretch of which conveniently joins onto our existing 40,000 smallholding.

The plot widens...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Champagne cocktail

So we got Planning Permission last week. Which means we can now buy the smallest, ugliest 'house' in the world (‘now’ in a pretty loose sense – ‘on Thursday at 2pm’ being more precise). Which means we will soon be moving into our own yurts on our own land (we have some fairly major reconstructive surgery to do first, including adding an unnecessary sewerage system and building a kitchen and bathroom) and open the business we brought with us nearly two years ago.

(How time files, as our paperwork will testify.)

Hardened drinkers will recognise that a bottle of cheap sparkling wine-type stuff was definitely in order. Which I discovered to my surprise and delight can be made more enjoyable and longer lasting with the addition of some equally cheap mixed fruit juice. Who knew?

Orchid watch

I've been very, very busy. And I'm going to get a lot, lot busier. But as the saying doesn't go, you should always make time to stop and post the orchids.

This one, which has a name not revealed here (too busy to look it up - see above) appeared over the road from ecovallee:

This is one of the Lizard Orchids just down the road:

And here's one of the orchids we were expecting this year. The inaccurately named Red Helleborine:

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Unexpected cock

English-mafia Sarah phoned this morning, after being woken at five by a Light Sussex cock that's just found his voice. For the second day running. What with a cat who's just had kittens and a poorly child, things were getting on top of her. So we agreed to take the cock off her hands.

Looks like we won't be buying any more chickens any time soon.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Playing music finally pays

I didn’t tell you, I’ve got a gig on Saturday. Using Man Maths, the most highly paid gig I’ve ever had: 40 bales of hay.

(Forty bales at five euros a bale from the local agricultural co-op... blimus, that’s 200 euros!)

I could say the last gig I played was first support for Iggy Pop at the Brixton Academy in 1991, which I agreed to do for the princely sum of £20.

But I’d be lying.

I did a couple of gigs in Minneapolis about ten years ago, for free.

Iggy Pop was the one before that.

And I’m still waiting for the £20.

Back of an envelope chicken house

Her Outdoors has been bugging me for a while to build a new chicken house. A chicken house that will have enough room to accommodate the Light Sussex cock and two more layers she was given for her birthday, months ago. A chicken house that will allow the current pallet chicken house to become a pallet guinea fowl house. A chicken house we can actually stand up in.

Finally, I came up with a design...

And started putting it together...

Then we had to order a chicken-shed-load of wood, which won’t be ready until June.

The bee is not a bee

Yesterday, I told you about a bee orchid I found over the road. Well, Her Outdoors went on an orchid walk last night and discovered it’s not a bee orchid at all. I don’t have the name for you now. Just the name it’s not.

I can tell you that this orchid also grows in écovallée:

But I can’t tell you its name, either. Tsk. Some bloggers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Orchid watch III: One in, one out

This one came as a surprise to Her Outdoors the other day. "I want to find a new orchid", she said to herself. Then looked into the woods and saw, not one of the orchids we've been waiting for, but our very own Greater Butterly Orchid:

I couldn't wait for a Bee Orchid to show up. So I nipped across the road at the top of our drive and shot this one. I think it's quite nice:

(Oh, I never explained the change of format for the photos.)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009 world record attempt

Last Tuesday afternoon, around 6.30 French time, version 2.0 was introduced to the world.


There were a few bugs to begin with that needed squishing (including an outrageous horizontal overflow nightmare in Internet Explorer) – and there are still a few crawling round – but it’s now in a bloggable condition, which is why I’m subjecting you to these pixels today.

Credit for can, will and is flowing to the following excruciatingly fabulous people (self excluded). For a more cinematic feel, you could turn off the lights, put on some music and tread some ice cream into the carpet.

In order of appearance: version 1.0
design and code
Café del Nightmare version 2.0
Julia Aldington-Hunt version 2.0
words and design
the devolutionary
Her Outdoors
Dave Quinn version 2.0
Jo Burley
the devolutionary
Her Outdoors version 2.0
Dreamweaver operator and uploader
Dave Quinn version 2.0
Cave de Cyrano, Lalinde

Dave tells me that the search engine rating will be improved depending on the number of external links I have to – but I can’t for the life of me work out how this can happen (if you’ve got any ideas, send them to the email address on

Oh. One other thing. Readers of will notice that we’re opening to members of the public in March 2010. This is so we can: make the site as beautiful as it deserves to be; not kill ourselves with impossible deadlines; and see something of our children while they are small.

If you want to come and see us this year anyway, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.

Orchid watch II

Been away from the confuser for a while, so these piccies are a little late.

To give you some idea how close to Orchid Central we are, this sign was nailed to our postbox a few weeks ago:

Recent additions to our own collection include the White Helleborine:

And the Pyramid Orchid:

We're still waiting for two Her Outdoors remembers seeing last year. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Pepito goes to work

No. Not the title of my latest unpublished children's book; my soon-to-be-published post on our not very hard working working horse.

Besides turning acres of pasture into wheelbarrows of manure, Pepito has recently started proper work. First he pulled a tree out of the woods (that I'd failed to cut down successfully). Then he did some harrowing practice on what was the old pigs' last field.

Here's me having a go:

And here's Her Outdoors (note the look of concentration on the face - and the lack of gloves - she's hard, she is):

Monday, 20 April 2009

Orchid watch

The orchids are back. So far, between the tractor and the veggie patch, we've found these (shot like this for reasons that will become clear when you see the website):

Early purple orchid:

Lady orchid:

Fly orchid:

Burnt orchid:

I'll keep you posted as the others come up.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Almost the most useless dictionary definition in the world

I bought what I thought was a duck breast last week. It certainly looked like it from the outside. (And it was in the right fridge in the supermarket.)

But when I opened it, there was no skin. Not a hint. Equally unexpectedly, the meat was in strips. I looked at the label on the packet for the first time and discovered I had bought some aiguillettes.

Not having a clue what these were, I turned to our biggest French-English dictionary and found this definition: aiguillette (cul) aiguillette.

Being none the wiser, I turned to our biggest English dictionary and found: aiguillette [2] a variant of aglet.

Obviously I wasn’t letting it go there. And, beginning to feel like there was only one word in all our dictionaries, I found this on the previous page: aglet [2] a variant spelling of aiguillette.

I put the packet back in the fridge.

I mentioned my problem on Sunday at a friend’s house. She, her husband, a friend and her husband all said: “Aiguillettes! They’re delicious, they are.” I was even given this recipe:
Pan fry the aiguillettes for a couple of minutes on both sides, then remove to a plate.
De-glaze the (very hot) pan with brandy, set on fire and reduce.
Add crème fraîche and reduce again, before returning the aiguillettes to the pan.
Serve with rice.

I did this on Sunday evening for me and Her Outdoors. I still don’t have a clue what we ate, but it was bluddie delicious.

Friday, 10 April 2009

No, I didn't

It was more like half a centimetre. I would show you, but Her Outdoors has gone to England to see the newest member of the family - with the camera. Leaving me with potato beds to dig, a website to write, life to manage, all that fun stuff.

If you're desperate for something interesting to read, the formerly boy-genius Cafe del Nightmare has started blogging again.

UPDATE: It still looked tight, so I cut another half centimetre of it the other day. It still looked tight. I blame the drip edge. Few wouldn't.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Day of the Play Yurt

I left you with some joists and noggins. All that needed doing next was laying the floor. Which seemed to go OK...

Before putting the frame on (with the help of some redundant former work colleagues)...

And the cover on the frame...

Which looked a little tight at the bottom thanks to the marine-ply drip edge.

Tune in next time to see if I took the whole thing down and trimmed 1 cm off the platform all the way round - by hand.

(Is there any other way?)

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Boring planning status update

I’ve been doing the occasional Planning Status Haiku or Reversed Haiku in the side bar over the last year or so, to keep myself amused and you informed (how time files when you’re having paperwork).

But poetry’s never been my strong point, so here’s some rather tedious exposition.

Daniel ‘The Hand’ Lamin, having steered our new land and old shack purchase through the CU, has prepared all the documentation for the Permis de Construire. He was supposed to have a meeting with the man from the newly created SPANK last week, who’s just back from a week’s holiday, about exactly where our sewerage will go. Then the paperwork will go off (if this is too boring you can go off and make a cup of tea if you like – oh, you’ve already gone) and, with a follow-up phone call from the mayor, come back in about a month. Approved. Hopefully.

(I ran into the mayor in town the other day – she looking very smart, me covered in the various layers of mud that say ‘English’ around here. She looked and said she was very happy for us, that it was all coming together at last. “Do you have a yurt up yet?” she asked. “No,” I said. “I’m just putting up a platform for the kids’ play yurt,” I added, thinking my platform may have been reported to her by an ill-meaning local. “Do whatever you want,” she said. We love our mayor.)

When we have the permis, we will have a meeting with the Notaire (solicitor), and the shack and land owner, buy the land and shack, put down adobe floors for a 26-foot and 18-foot yurt, and move in. It’s only taken just over two years at this point to go and “live in a tent in a field”. And we’re not even going to be in a field. Observably ridiculous.

There. I can get back to more interesting posts now. How was the tea?

On butchery

The vegetarians have had a few weeks off pig talk (during which time one of them has reverted to carnivorous mode). But as we draw near to the end of processing our second and third pigs, I’d like to share a few thoughts before they slip my mind in favour of walling, carpentry, ditch-digging and other skills soon to be coming my way.

In no particular order, then:
o If you pick up your pig in two halves, head off and heart, lungs etc in a bag, you should realise that half a 90-kilo pig is still not half heavy. And a bit slippy. Not all that easy to take up the narrow stairs to the spare room. It’s probably worth having a strong friend round to help – or having your pig cut up into more manageable pieces that will fit easily into your car.
o Allow a week to process each pig from kitchen table to freezer. Bollocks to Hugh’s ‘Pig in a day’. His pig arrives cut into handy sized pieces. You’re doing it all yourself. Admittedly, this week includes slicing bacon, lardons and making sausages, but let’s be realistic. With our first pig, we ended up going to bed at 3am to finish doing the sausages – not great on a school night.
o Note to self: Process the abats the day they come back from the abattoir. Don’t wait, thinking there’ll be time in the next few days. There won’t. (Same goes for processing bacon that comes out of the brine.)
o There are some pieces of equipment you will need ready:
- a butcher’s saw
- a large machete-type knife
- a medium knife and a small boning knife
- a knife sharpener
- lots of medium to large hooks (suddenly those old nails sticking out of beams in country houses look seriously useful)
- an unfeasible amount of sausage skins (say, 30 metres per pig) and access to more at short notice
- half a dozen trays and/or washing-up bowls
- a six-foot section of kitchen side
- anti-bacterial cleaner
- an apron
- lots of freezer bags (mainly medium-sized)
- a plastic dustbin full of brine (allow half a day to make the brine and a day to let it cool)
- freezer blocks to keep the brine cool
- a bacon slicer
- a sausage machine
- a few wooden wine boxes for prosciuttos
- salt
- mace
- breadcrumbs and other sausage ingredients
- a serious weighing machine (going up to at least 10 kilos)
- butcher’s string, medium thick
- lots of freezer space
- and someone who’s done it before – at least the first time.
o Do not try to process more than one pig at a time. Especially during the half-term holiday. Even if you’re mostly making sausages – one front leg takes one and a half hours to bone out. Tunnel boning for dry cured hams even longer. Just don’t do it.
o When a recipe says: “Simply cut the head into four using a saw”, ignore the “Simply”. You’ll never want to be an Elizabethan ship’s surgeon again.

All the lessons learnt can’t be put into one post. I’ll just say that, our next pig will be killed on the land and processed immediately. Probably starting on a Monday morning towards the end of the year, during term time.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Footings note

Really busy at the moment, doing an insane number of essentials things. Like digging these footings for the covered eating area:

And working out how to cover it (currently stripping pine for uprights and visualising the framework that sits on top). And moving pigs into the woods (TWO DAYS it took them to move along our beautiful electrified path - scaredy pigs). Et cetera.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Take your pic

I don't know what you'd be more interested in at the moment.

The pigs...

The kids' play yurt platform...

Or the footings I'm digging for the covered eating and BBQ area...

Because I'm not you.