Monday, 20 December 2010

Drip, drip, drip

That's the sound I heard in the bathroom the other day. And no, it wasn't coming from me.

I followed the sound across the room, behind the sink, down to the floor and beyond - out of sight. Fortunately, I took this photo while we were building the bathroom last year:

So I had a pretty good idea what was going on. One of those shiny expensive joints on the left wasn't doing its job. Which meant my job for the day instantly became: Take out the bath, lift the floor, cut the pipes and pull the joints up above floor level, replace the floor and the bath, tighten the joints, buy even more expensive (and lovely because they actually work) push-fit joints and put it all back together again.

It's the kind of unexpected sunny day project that makes writing the book I mentioned in my last post less and less likely (what with building a second guest yurt platform, solar shower, road, sand filter, French drain etc etc before we open again next year).

Ah well.

Friday, 17 December 2010

What a ride

I just read the blog from start to finish, because I've decided to write a book over the winter months.


Talk about a rollercoaster.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Unexpected rainy day project

It's been raining a lot recently. So aside from digging out a few tree stumps for the new guest yurt platform, raking leaves into piles to rot down for a year or two, fencing the horse field, building a brash hedge from blackthorn to keep out the Chasse (after one of our pigs was brought down by two cute-looking terriers), moving gravel to keep down the mud, building kitchen cabinets, coppicing the woodland behind our yurt, collecting water containers to catch the rain, hay to feed the horse and all that fun stuff, we've redesigned and rewritten the website. Which now looks like this.

Dull it never is, this life we have chosen.

Friday, 29 October 2010

End of October update

This week, Her Outdoors has been adding to the clay oven, which had a door cut into the side of it (at the regulation 63% of interior height measurement) and a new layer of clay, this time mixed with straw. Right now it looks like this:

Slightly OCD readers will be alarmed that the image on the Sand Filter Cam has not changed all week. This has been due to a technical fault genuinely beyond our control and - besides - it rained at the weekend and the mud has been too treacherous to dig out. Happily, it's dry enough to move now. Unhappily, it's going to start raining again in the next couple of hours.

But I've kept myself busy clearing a space for the pond the sand filter will run into, turning some overstood chestnut into firewood for next winter, at the same time (and this really is exciting) creating our first coppiced area of managed woodland. It looks a bit devastated at the moment, but will spring back to life in the appropriately named season.

While felling these largely dead and dying trees, I did spend time thinking about the current UK government's idea about selling off half the nation's forests. I didn't come to any conclusions, but think they should have the decency to call a snap election and give everyone a chance to kick them into touch. Buffoons.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Big Project: Big Hole (containing a fiendish revelation about one woman's involvement in building the Great Pyramid at Giza)

If you've been following my tweets over the last two days (and why the hell should you - what's with this twitter thing anyway - I, for one, don't get it), you'll know I've been working on a hole. You don't need to imagine it - it looks like this:

It's not a new hole. In fact, a friend with a JCB started it last year and left it looking like this:

Perhaps I wouldn't have been smiling quite so broadly if I knew about the next few weeks I would spend with a pick and shovel making it the shape it was supposed to be (5m x 5m x 1.10m to be exact) before finding out we couldn't afford the €1,400 of sand and gravel we needed to fill the hole back up again. Which meant leaving it over the winter, and watching the walls collapse a little, and wondering what was going to happen next.

It became one of the Great Unfinished Projects.

What happened next was some excellent news of an inward investment nature. Which meant the Sand Filter (not the Swimming Pool as some guests guessed) could go ahead at last. But before we could fill it with sand and gravel, we needed to know how deep it needed to be. Which meant digging a trench from the sceptic tank...

...and taking a measurement. I then started to level off the bottom of the hole before realising my measurement was 10cm out, and the whole hole had to go that much deeper. Which brings me in a roundabout way to the point I am trying to make about the Great Pyramid at Giza.

When you're digging a Very Big Hole by Hand, you have to minimise the amount of energy expended. I started with the wheelbarrow thuswise...

...hoofing (if I can be technical for a moment) the claysandy soil from 110cm below ground level up into the air to land in the barrow without knocking it over, and without spilling too much outside the barrow which would have to be picked up again.

After a day of this, I thought: Surely it would be better to have the barrow in the hole with me, and have a ramp leading out of the hole. I would expend less energy hoofing the soil through the air and, half-filling the barrow, would possibly save energy in the long run (we're talking about several cubic metres of soil, here). I tried it for a while...

...and realised the ramp would get slippery and dangerous very fast.

Then Her Outdoors suggested knocking a hole through the side of the hole (which needed to be there eventually, for drainage) and driving the wheelbarrow through the wall at ground level. A curiously female and alarmingly sensible idea, which looks like this:

I will never know how long it would have taken for me to arrive at this solution. I was going to go back to the wheelbarrow-on-high and would have sweated and strained until it was time to dig the hole in the wall. Which is why I think a woman must have been involved in building the pyramids.

The first row of stones would have been pretty straightforward, being rolled along the ground in time-honoured style. The next row, I imagine, would have involved dozens of men with some stout hemp rope pulling stones from ground level; straining away, getting awesomely fit in the process. Or maybe someone invented a complex-looking pulley device that struck wonder into visitors from across the known world.

Over dinner, I can picture one woman asking the Chief Engineer why he didn't just build a gentle ramp and roll the stones into place. I know the pause that would have followed this suggestion. I've lived that pause many times.

Fiendishly clever, these women.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

How to make our clay oven

Lots of people build clay ovens. This week, we started ours by marking out a circle on the ground:

Building a circle of stones using dry-stone-wall skills, with a thin layer of lime mortar to hold them in place (and stop hornets nesting in the cracks):

Completing the stone circle (which is filled with rubble that's been sitting around up here looking untidy):

Laying some sand on the top to get it Really Flat, and placing some fire bricks (which have also been sitting around for a while) on top:

Making the inside shape of the oven, using bought sand that will be re-used later:

Covering it with newspaper:

Building up the first layer using our own clay and some more of that sand:

And finishing it just before dark:

We couldn't have done this so fast without our new friends Ben and Anna who, for the second time this year, stayed an extra night because they couldn't tear themselves away.

(Obviously, this wasn't the only thing we did this week. We also cut, split and stacked a huge amount of wood, and dug a Very Important Trench. But it wasn't all lazing around, enjoying the Relaxing French Lifestyle - we also ate great food, drank excellent wine, and stayed up far too late, far too often.)

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

An attempt at natural magic. Drum roll please.

One of this winter's Very Big Jobs is to cut a road through the woods. It's hard for me to spin this as eco friendly, so I won't even try, but almost every tree I have cut down has been acacia, which is very fast-growing, incredibly strong, and perfect for fenceposts, steps etc.

But before we began, we had to locate a disused water pipe running between the Shack and the new pumping station. We should cut the pipe, the man from the Water Services said, on both sides of the access road and take the pipe out of the ground. I failed to find the pipe using their metal detector, so I did what any other rational person would do: I dowsed for it.

To dowse, simply destroy a perfectly good metal coat-hanger, create two L-shapes and stand quietly for a moment, holding a precisely framed question in your mind. (At least, I think that's what you do - I know there are books on it, but I have't read them). Then walk forwards slowly and wait for the rods to cross. Which they do.

(On doing this, I felt sure this is where the 'X marks the spot' expression comes from.)

I repeated the exercise a number of times, asking for the exact centre of the pipe. Then I started to dig for it. Eventually, when I had dug up to my armpit, I found this:

Which is just a hole. Disappointing, sure, but no great loss. Because a short time later, like a DIY episode of Time Team, a JCB arrived:

After just a few scoops, he found this:

Which is just another hole, only bigger. Disappointing, yes - and confusing. You see, I got Her Outdoors to check my dowsing with hers, and her rods crossed at EXACTLY the same points as mine - on both sides of the road. Which begs the question: What had we found?

It certainly wasn't the water pipe, which was discovered about 12 feet away from where we thought it was; and way more than an arm's reach into the ground:


And while we're on the subject of steps

This is what I've been doing for the last two days with our new HelpXer:

I call it: "A path".

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Let's. Do. The yurt. Move. Again.

The yurt we've been living in since Autumn last year needed to make a jump to the left (or a step to the right). Here's how you can do it at home.

Move 1
Put some concrete blocks in place, make sure they're level, and paint some blackjack on them to stop moisture rising. Like this:

Move 2
After the heavy rain, stand on the blocks until they stop sinking, pack out and arrange your joists, thusly:

Move 3
Nail your boards across the joists and treat with oil, this-wise:

Move 4
Screw your marine ply around the platform, hereuntoafter:

Move 5
And stick your yurt on it, like so:

(This last move can take longer than anticipated, as with all the previous moves.)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A bubbling sound and then... nothing.

You may have read, somewhere in the archives, how I killed my tractor. But to save you looking for the details, it went something like this:

o I stalled the tractor while cutting some grass.
o Before I re-started it, I thought I might as well check the oil level, which I'd never done. It read: "DANGEROUSLY LOW".
o I bought some oil. But not straight away. Which meant the tractor sat where it was for a while.
o I added the oil. But I still didn't start the tractor. Because one of the tyres has no thingymajig in the wotsit. Which means it needs pumping up once a month (to save the tyre becoming dangerously low, too). But I didn't have a portable compresser to put the air in. And in an effort to save €50, I waited for my friend Claude (who does have one) to drop by. He didn't drop by any time soon. So the tractor sat there for a while longer.
o I bought a compressor and put air back into the tyre.
o I tried to start the engine. There was a bubbling sound and then... nothing.

Over the next year or so, I conferred with a number of people on what had probably happened. And the conclusion was: rain.

You see, my tractor has a vertical exhaust pipe. It turns out this is a very good way of catching rain. And while the tractor had been sitting there all that time, it had rained quite a lot - as much as several inches, to be imprecise.

When I tried to start the tractor, some kind of suction had drawn water into the engine, mortally wounding it. It might have survived if I'd contacted my friend Claude straight away. But I didn't get him to look at the engine for about a year. By which time, it was a solidly ex-tractor. I felt terrible. The engine is a couple of years older than me. And it had died for want of an empty baked-bean tin (or equivalent) placed over the top of the exhaust.

It is one of the most expensive mistakes I have ever made.

So when I borrowed a tractor from a neighbour a few weeks ago, I was at pains to assure him that I would put something over the top of his equally vertical exhaust, in the event of rain.

Bernard's tractor is magnificent. Me and Ed (one of this year's last and loveliest guests) loaded several tons of rocks into the bucket on the back, which can be emptied by pulling a handle. In one afternoon, we moved the equivalent of about 80 wheelbarrows of rock from one side of écovallée to the other, in preparation for the new road and parking area.

But as I haven't come close to making you aware, that wasn't the only thing we've had to do recently. With the arrival of our two first (and equally lovely) HelpXers, our winter yurt platform leapt to the top of the list.

We cleared the site, dug away some hillside and put recovered concrete blocks into the ground, despite the rain (which was only really heavy one night).

A couple of days ago, I woke up early in the morning. I wondered why I had woken up and then... panicked. Because despite my promises to Bernard - despite a very expensive and easily avoidable lesson - I hadn't put anything over the exhaust of his tractor.

I went down to the field, hoping that I had reversed the tractor into the woods far enough to stop the rain getting in. Or that a leaf had blown down to sit perfectly over the exhaust, saving me the cost of a re-build for which I would have to sell... something.

No such luck. The exhaust was open to the air, inviting all interested precipitation to enter and travel down the manifold straight into the engine.

I worried.

I resolved to call Claude and get his advice. But I still worried. And I thought it would be outrageous for me to get my tractor doctor in to strip someone else's engine, without that someone knowing anything about it.

So I took half a dozen eggs round to Bernard's house and confessed my stupidity.

He took it very well, as it goes. He told me not to worry and said he'd come round the next day and have a look. Which was yesterday.

We walked across the field towards the potentially stricken machine. He climbed in, sat on the tractor, turned the key and... no problems at all. Started first time. (TFFT.)

I think I've learnt my lesson now.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Canvas yurt covers: The disappointing truth

Let's go back for a moment to 2006/7.

Her Outdoors put a lot of work into finding the right kind of canvas for our yurts. She talked to lots of people (they weren't always very forthcoming about their suppliers - not surprising as yurts were really taking off at the time and canvas was in increasingly short supply). She looked at lots of websites. And she settled on the unbleached 12-ounce 'waterproof, rot-proof, flame-proof canvas' everyone was using.

Sounds very reasonable. I can't see why anyone would do anything different.

We ordered hundreds of metres (yards) of the stuff, from two different suppliers. Her Outdoors made a cover for our first 18-foot yurt, we put it in the trailer and off we went.

If you've read this blog from the beginning (or the end, depending on which way you look at it), you may remember that August 2007 was very wet when we arrived in France. Very wet - outside and inside the yurt. So wet, we sought shelter in a house and Her Outdoors began to doubt her skills. Which are considerable (and award-winning).

Time passed.

We built the 12-foot Play Yurt and Her Outdoors made a cover. We moved into it. It rained. The cover leaked. And started to rot. (Waterproof, rot-proof, flame-proof, remember?)

We put the original 18-foot up for extra storage. It leaked a bit less. And was a bit less mouldy.

We put a new 18-foot up on a lovely dry beaten earth platform, with canvas from the second manufacturer. Just before a rainstorm. Which went straight through the cover, almost like it wasn't there.

Her Outdoors made a few calls. Here's one:

Professional yurt cover maker 1: 'Ah yes - 2007 was the worst year to buy canvas - the rot-proofing was water soluble. They've made some improvements.'

Here's another:

Professional yurt cover maker 2: 'Oh yes - you need to re-proof your canvas before you use it. Twice if you can. Otherwise it leaks. We'll send you some proofing, but you won't need any seam-sealer.'

More research revealed people who live in yurts full-time do not use canvas. (Which, among other things, needs replacing EVERY COUPLE OF YEARS.) Everyone's using some kind of manmade material, like polycotton, which costs many, many times more but will last for up to 10 years. (If you really need to know, use the comments thing below and I'll get Her Outdoors to give you all the details.)

Now, call me old-fashioned if you must, but if you sell something as 'waterproof' and 'rot-proof', it should be those things. The 12-foot cover rotted so badly, Her Outdoors had to make a new one before we could open this year. It lasted a few months (which would have cost 1250 GBP if made professionally - no wonder other yurt camps cost so much).

Last week, it rained for the first time since July. Again, inside as well as outside our yurt (we re-proofed the guest yurt and Play Yurt at the start of the season and they held up pretty well. We couldn't re-proof our yurt 'cos the material was so new, the proofing ran off - yes, it's actually proof-proof).

We found how the water was coming in - and will be ordering some seam sealer in the next few days.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The month ahead

Lots of excitement in the coming days and weeks:
o The return of a Big Machine.
o A lunatic up a tree.
o Some natural magic.

Not necessarily in that order. But all (which will come as a relief to the hard of reading) with pictures.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Two secrets of the meedja

A few months ago, I learnt something about those moving overseas-type TV shows. And the thing I learnt was this: They're filmed in reverse.

(Don't worry TV people, hardly anyone reads this blog.)

Essentially, the programme makers find someone who's recently moved into a new property; films them there, having settled in; films them looking at other properties in the same price bracket; films them umming and ahhing; films them in England, going about their previous life; and cuts it all together backwards.

Makes perfect sense - you could probably do the whole show in a weekend.

(This is where any TV producer reading this spits their extra-shot latte over their keyboard, exclaiming: 'A weekend! I haven't had that much time since the 80s!')

It amuses me to wonder how often the TV companies find more attractive properties than the one people actually chose - look in their eyes next time you see a show like this. I would, but we don't have a TV any more.

Today, I learnt something about the newspaper game. And that thing is: They make it up as they go along.

Some Sundays past, a journalist from an English language newspaper in France asked to come round for a chat. They were writing about yurts and wanted to talk to someone who lives in one, and has come up against some of the bureaucratic issues involved.

So I chatted. We chatted. We drank elderflower champagne. It was nice.

Today, my inbox shows me a pdf of the article that's already gone to press. Not the discreet, background information, no-names jobbie I was expecting. No. Quite a large piece with two photos of me (including one with Her Outdoors), riddled with inaccuracies and generously garnished with words I never said. Or more accurately, words I never said in that order.

I have to say, it doesn't amuse me very much at all.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Life without refrigeration

It was probably my fault.

Last week, I remember cramming some rabbit halves into the downstairs bit of our fridge-freezer, ignorant of the fact I was supposed to leave space clear around the fan at the back. (I didn't even know there was a fan at the back. I've written instruction manuals from time to time, but haven't read many.)

The device made uncharacteristic noises for a day or so, and then began to lose its cool.

Of course, I panicked.

I shot into Bergerac and spent a large-ish amount of money on a small-ish A+ chest freezer (which we needed anyway, having taken up space in two friends' freezers since butchering the last pig in the Spring). Then I read (see how quickly things change - suddenly I'm reading already) that our new freezer needed to sit for 24 hours before being turned on; and left for another 58 hours to get down to temperature.


So I borrowed some space in a neighbour's freezer (they're on holiday and I had the key - they'll never know) to save our precious meat and started to cool down myself.

Since then, we've re-discovered how dependent we are on refrigeration. The emergency coolbox and freezer blocks have been fine up to a point, but without a spring nearby, there's no ready supply of cold beers and instantly drinkable rosé. Carrots go off remarkably quickly when left on the kitchen table. There's no sense in buying dairy products in any quantity (once again, exposing our lack of goat or access to cow). And the dumping ground on top of the freezer is valuable space our small kitchen feels even smaller without (especially as the new chest freezer is in there, behind the door, where a useful work surface used to be).

The good news is, the fridge-freezer has probably been fixed and may even be sitting in the kitchen right now (I'm at work for the day). The other good news is, we have the chest freezer that marks another step (bizarrely) down the road to self sufficiency. And finally, we had enough money to get through the emergency.

Now, if I can only get the phone working again, we'll have it all.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A down-to-earth celebration

Surely there should be some way of marking the fact that we arrived in France three years ago today.

A spectacular meal with all our own food, perhaps; to show how far we've come down the road to self sufficiency. Pate with home-made bread to start, maybe, followed by pork bolognaise with pasta made from our own eggs, then tart with home-made jam, summer pudding, or crepes flambéed in a friend’s do-not-drink-under-any-circumstances eau de vie?

Sadly not.

You see, we’re a bit knackered today, after a yesterday spent canoeing down the river from Siorac to Limeuil, followed by dinner in the square at the marche nocture in Mauzac, followed by a film outdoors next to the abbey in Cadouin (all after taking care of our own animals and the neighbour’s veggie patch and house while they are away).

So we’ll have to make do with a bottle of our own very excellent elderflower champagne. The good life's not so bad, really.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Stay in a yurt for free*

*But only if you're prepared to wake up at a reasonable time of day and work surprisingly hard, digging, weeding, pushing wheelbarrows, making paths, clearing woodland to encourage healthy growth, fencing, yurt platform building and doing some of the other jobs that need doing over the autumn and winter months.

Yes. After the last guests leave on September 18th, the guest yurt will be free for you, people like you and people you like to come and help us continue to build écovallée. Youth, fitness and strength would all be a bonus. But seeing as we started this with none of those things, are not compulsory.

As soon as we get the paperwork sorted out, we'll be registering as WWOOFing hosts. But as there's a very good chance you'll be reading this before that happens, you're one of the first to know. We can put you up and feed you but, as we're still fantastically poor and you're probably English, couldn't possibly pay your booze bill. Fortunately, very good wine is available from the "Cave" 500 metres (yards) away.

If you're interested, send us an email. If you know anyone who might be interested - especially tree surgeons, gardeners, geologists, carpenters, biologists, blacksmiths, scythers (I can dream, can't I?) - send them an email instead.

(In the time-honoured traditions of anglo-saxon advertising, here comes the time-limited bit...) But don't leave it too long. From April 2nd 2011, we'll be welcoming the first of next year's fabulous paying guests.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

More on heating

Obviously, with the sun shining and the prospect of months of beautiful weather ahead, we're thinking about heating the guest yurt. (Although maybe it would be more obvious if you knew about the guests we might be having in November.)

Her Outdoors did a bit of research and came up with this little beauty from Windy Smithy:

(I'd have given them the order for the name alone.)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

More time, please

You're probably wondering what's going on in écovallée at the moment. And the answers are, we are:
o enjoying an unbroken succession of fantastic guests
o responding to up to six availability requests every day
o clearing ground next to our yurt so we can add a second yurt before winter sets in (yes, it's the middle of July and we're thinking about cutting wood and insulation)
o still working on the play yurt banister (which will look amazing)
o organising a JCB to finish the access road
o sourcing and refurbishing beds just in time for people to use them
o looking forward to even more fantastic guests
o working for money occasionally (which always feels like a complete waste of time)
o planning the next yurt and yurt camp improvements
o wondering where we can find some more time

Which is why I haven't been blogging much at the moment. Plus, it's the school holidays and I hardly ever get the chance to sit at my own confuser.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Grey water treatment 1-2-3-4-5

Some of the hardest work we've done will never be seen by anyone. (I'm not complaining - it's just one of those things.) The grey water treatment from the outdoor kitchen sink is not a good example - it was really quite easy.

We took a (free) bath and put a load of washed gravel in it:

We laid some (found) weed matting on top:

Then some washed sand:

Some top soil:

And finally some mulch from the other side of the valley.

More mulch was added, and some plants. But you get the gist. Before it gets here, water drains from the sink, through some straw in a box, and along a pipe under the kitchen paving. (The kitchen paving - that was hard work.)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The power of the press

A couple of weeks ago, Her Outdoors got a phone call from a journalist: Would we be interested in being featured in The Observer Magazine on July 18th as one of Europe's new eco campsites?

HER OUTDOORS: Um... Yes. (If we had money, we'd be advertising in The Observer fordeityssake. If we were going to choose one paper, that would be it.)

JOURNO: Could you email a few photos over tomorrow?


Cue montage of scenes the following day, rushing around, spreading sand, weaving wood, moving and erecting the yurt, tweaking the porch, strimming, tidying, putting the cover on, then shooting the pic two posts below, which hides the fact that the wall wasn't even roped all the way round, the kitchen wasn't plumbed in and the compost toilet interior hadn't been built.

We sent the shots over.

I figured I'd have this week to take more shots, add them to the écovallée website, post them on (who've very kindly done a deal with us) and have everything ready for the suspected deluge of interest on the back of said article.

But I was wrong. The deluge started last Sunday, when the article actually ran.

As of this moment, we have one week available until mid September (July 31st to August 7th if you're interested.) I know (aah bless, he's fallen in love with the italics button) that wouldn't have happened off the back of an ad - whatever the size. I am stunned, grateful, excited and a little scared (Her Outdoors will be pleased by this - she says my blog lacks emotional content).

It's a powerful thing, the press. And in the case of this particular newspaper, which I've read has been under threat over the last few months, long may it continue to wield it.

(Oh, I don't know if it got lost in the ether, but they didn't use the photo; just grabbed one from the website. Never mind, it meant I had time to plumb in the kitchen and build the toilet before our first guests arrived. Which is a relief.)

UPDATE: That week's gone now, sorry. No room in the yurt now until mid September - and two people have asked about then!

Monday, 12 July 2010

And finally

On July 11th 2010, écovallée was open at last.

There's that tractor I killed:

That mirror used to be in our yurt:

This guy can hardly draw at all:

Wait until you see the compost toilet. No, I mean it.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Thank you Dan Kuehn

Here's a shot of me just before the guest yurt arrived, preparing the site:

If you've read "Mongolian Cloud Houses" by Dan Frank Kuehn, you'll be forgiven for thinking it bears a passing resemblance to page 62:

I forgive you. (See?)

Credit going where it deserves, I'd like to thank Dan for saving us hundreds of euros we don't have, by demonstrating how a yurt platform can be made from earth. (I am convinced this is the building material of the future.) We did splash out a few euros on some sand to make it super flat, and we've topped it off with a plastic vapour barrier and some carpet, neither of which you can see in this shot:

Thanks also for giving me permission to use the image from his book. A bottle of something special will be waiting for you in écovallée any time, served in the kitchen on the right of this shot:

I love how the yurt sits into the hillside from this angle. Even though I say so myself, it's superb.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hard time

Some of these days we think are going to be easy. Like last Sunday.

All we had to do was swap the (Yurtshop) yurt we’d been sleeping in for the (Future Roots) yurt standing outside the kitchen. Why? Because the Yurtshop yurt is a guest yurt and needs to be up on the platform in the guest field (see below), and the Future Roots yurt was made for us (see a long way below). It’s the way it was always supposed to be. An exciting day – a big step closer to écovallée proper.

So we took the roof cover off the Future Roots yurt and took down the frame. Then took the roof and walls off the Yurtshop yurt and took down the frame. Then realized (see as we were moving house) we might as well take up the carpet and live on the groundsheet for the summer, and have a good old sweep and a mop. It wouldn’t take long to dry – it was probably around 30 degrees at that point.

By lunchtime, the walls of the Future Roots yurt were in the right place and we realized time was running out. Because this wasn’t the only thing we had planned for Sunday. The school fete was on and both kids were performing on stage, and we were going round to a friend’s for a barbecue later.

Which is why I put the roof poles in under the now blazing sun, while Her Outdoors hammered grommets into the wall panels. And why we had to leave all our stuff lying around in the open all afternoon. And why we only had a few minutes to feed and water the animals, and to hide all our stuff inside because the forecast said it was going to rain overnight. And why many other things.

Like why we woke up on Monday, tired. Which is how we’ve woken up every day for as long as we can remember. (I’ve been saying I need a day off for days – and I mean it.)

The barbecue was lovely, though. It's nice to take it easy once in a while.

Monday, 21 June 2010

This year's pigs

We went to the north of the Dordogne today. Met new people. Drove on new roads. And brought back two castrated males who have taken up residence in the still-going-strong Ark One. Here's a picture Boy took of me, looking alarmingly like my dad:

And here's one I took of him in revenge:

One interesting thing (of many) that came out of this most relaxing ever of pig preparation times was this: When I finished fencing in a fairly random piece of woodland, I immediately saw the enclosed trees as individuals (eg, 'Oh, wow - there are six large pines here') instead of just a bunch of trees in the woods.

It may have something to do with the 'can't see the wood for the trees' expression I'm still trying to understand. It may not. Like I say, I'm still working on it.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Note to self: Rain

Last night, me and Her Outdoors had a look at the blog posts from this time last year.

What I was looking for was reference to the three weeks of rain we just had (we're on the last day of it now, with sunshine arriving tomorrow and stretching off into the distant forecasts). I wanted to see if this is normal, or a one-off.


Based on two years' data, it rains for the first few weeks in June 50% of the time.

You read it here just now.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Spoiling écovallée

Work continued on the guest yurt platform yesterday, which now looks like this:

It represents, without doubt, the most sustained period of physical hard work I have done this year. But, with the addition of Her Outdoors' signature woven fencing, gets more beautiful by the hour. (This fencing also has the benefit of cleaning the woodland without a bonfire.)

But, as may not be clear from this shot, the platform has created a lot of spoil. Which has made a platform for the compost toilet:

A raised bed in the veggie patch a couple of hundred metres (yards) away:

A pile of earth in the poly tunnel even further away:

Some infill for a flower bed in front of the outdoor kitchen (please ignore the mess - we haven't tidied up out there):

And a small bed in the kitchen for herbs:

And one of the best things about it - we haven't spent a centime.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Unnecessary biographical detail

It will interest almost no one to know why I never fell in love with money or capitalism, but it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway. (There’s a lot about money in the news at the moment – and it’s about time I got a few things off my chest and onto yours.)

In July 1989, two days after my university final exams, I went to London to be a rock star. I felt 18-something years of education was long enough and had a life to get on with. London was the centre of the universe and so that's where I went. I was deadly serious. I’d joined a band and everything. Unfortunately it was a shit band.

My debts were modest, at around £2,500, almost exclusively a result of running the car, then van, I used for band practices, gigs and recording.

But the debts didn’t stay low. Finding a job with an arts degree is notoriously difficult – and the NatWest Bank was charging me, if memory serves, £2.50 per day, plus 29% interest, plus other charges. Every cost, from the £220 a month rent, to the £2.60 a day Travelcard I bought to go into Soho to look for a job, to the £10 spent on pizza to feed me and an even more broke friend all came out of my overdraft.

(One of my greatest mistakes was to not sign on at the job centre or claim for housing benefit – information I feel strongly should be part of the school and university curriculae.)

Letters from the bank, which came often (at a cost of £25 each to me, plus interest), were left unopened. What could I do, when I was already doing my best? I tried eight jobs in seven months, all of which cost more money than they earned me. Finally, by Christmas 1989, I got a job in Ratners for about £95 a week - the first serious money I had ever earned. By this stage the debt had grown to an impressive £10,000 (at 29% interest, plus charges).

To put this in perspective, a three-bed house with garden in Fulham cost around £40,000 at the time.

Eventually, the bank called poor, young, jobless me in for a meeting and I signed papers to turn this overdraft into a loan. Very nice for the bank. Seven long years of paying back £250 a month for me.

Two years later, I remember talking to a Financial Adviser in a bar in Leicester, where I'd gone to find a full-time job in advertising. I said all I wanted was to be rid of this debt. That’s easy, he said. Take out a life insurance policy with me today, and kill yourself tomorrow. OK, I said with a strained smile. All I want is to be rid of the debt and still alive.

Four and a half years after that, back on the outskirts of London, I received a statement from the bank that I thought said I had paid off the debt. I remember sitting there, looking at the paper, nearly crying with unexpected relief. Then I saw I had another six months of my sentence to go. No change there.

Six months later, I resigned my job. I’d gone into advertising to pay off the debt, and the debt was paid. It was 1997. I was 30.

So, for the almost no one still reading, it should come as no surprise why I never bought into the acquisition of stuff thing. I never had the money. Nor did I put money into a pension (despite attempting to sell life insurance, commission only, during that summer of 1989), because the bank took it. A bank I believe acted with criminal negligence that, if I had followed professional advice, would have cost me my life.

As a completely unforeseen side-effect, the bank’s unforgiveable behaviour has led to the life I have now. It’s a good life (except, one day a week, when I have to put on a suit and earn money to pay for diesel and insurance – because I can’t barter eggs and sausages to fill the car yet), and one that I see increasingly being promoted as the only way forward.

I suppose you could say I was lucky. Because I was never seduced by the owning of many shiny, new, precious things, and never had the prospect of a pension at the end of it all, I could walk away from capitalism with ease. But I can tell you, it hasn’t always been easy. And as you may or may not know, there’s no such thing as luck.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The earth is round AND flat - official

There I was trying to make a yurt platform out of earth and look what I found.

There was one there all along.