May 2007

We did look at land in the UK. But even though we were selling a house for what I consider a decent chunk of change (£100,000 profit, such is the madness of the housing market in the last seven years), there was no way we could afford to buy a field big enough to live on.

We reckoned we’d need two and a half acres of woodland to be self-sufficient, and at least an acre for cultivation.

Clare’s always had a hankering to live in Italy. But neither of us speak the language and it’s a very long way in the car.

We thought about Northern France. But someone told us it was wetter there than it is here and, although great news in terms of water continuity in decades to come, not particularly conducive to living under canvas right now.

To the bookshop!

A good map and a few guide books quickly narrowed our search to Aquitaine. More specifically, the Dordogne. More specifically still, a triangular shaped area between Bergerac, Sarlat and Périgueux. And even more specifically, near a couple of breast-like bends in the river, just off the D29.

A quick web search revealed a piece of land that looked perfect, up for sale by an agency called Orpi. I sent them an email and, naturally, received no reply.

Already fully committed to the project, with no doubts lurking in the shadows, we decided to take a closer look.

The cost of housing
Every extra bedroom currenty costs an extra £100,000. What am I supposed to do – win the lottery?

The state of schools
Can’t afford private schools. Can’t be guaranteed a place at a decent state school. Don’t have time to wait for the Government to introduce the Baccalaureate.

MRSA in the NHS
Hospitals used to be somewhere you’d go to get better. Turns out contracting out cleaning wasn’t such a smart move.

Fare increases on public transport
Every few months the train fares go up. My day rate hasn’t gone up since 1989.

Council tax
Again, every year an increase. Every year the same headshaking incompetence. Let’s hope the new Green counsellors in Brighton & Hove can make a difference.

Residents’ parking zones
Unwanted. Unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, creating problems that didn’t exist before.

Who watches this stuff?

Job insecurity
A typical year sees me employed, unemployed and freelance. One day the phone will stop ringing altogether.

Foreign policy
The vast majority of this country’s populatin say no to the latest Iraq war and we go to war anyway. And Tony Blair is not impeached and imprisoned for treason. I don’t get it.

They’re everywhere. On TV. In newspapers. On blogs. Who comes up with these things?

One of the first things we needed to do was find the land. So we decided to order some yurts, instead.

FLASHFORWARD: I know this is all historic stuff and a blog is probably supposed to be about what’s going on Right Now, but I thought you’d be interested to know how and why we got to where we are today. Besides, Right Now, the project is largely waiting for permissions, as we’ll get onto later. And Right Now Right Now, I’m sitting on a train that was built for people even smaller than me, pulling out of Preston Park station. Which we’ll get onto later, too. END OF FLASHFORWARD

We’d decided to live in a four-yurt structure: a 24-foot living space for lounging, dining and kitchening, 18-foot bedrooms for us and the kids, and a 12-foot bathyurt that will look something like this, from Yurtworks in Cornwall:

We’d also decided to have three 18-foot yurts and another 12-foot bathyurt for eco-minded guests.

So we needed a lot of yurts.

A few hours’ googling revealed two local yurt makers: Future Roots in Stanmer Park, and the Yurtshop in Hastings. Not wanting to miss the chance to keep our yurt miles to the minimum, we started in Stanmer. (If you haven’t been, check out the hill behind Stanmer House – especially if you have a rug, a picnic, a dog and/or some kids.)

The Future Roots workshop is tucked away at the top of the park, near Stanmer Organics and the Brighton Earthship. They have a rustic 24-foot yurt on site and everything you need to make a yurt: ash for coppicing, water, a box of matches (dry) an assortment of benches (some improvised), and a few simple tools.

They also have a genuine passion for yurts.

Although Matt and Mark had decided not to make any yurts for a while, wanting to concentrate on their yurt-building courses, they loved the Big Green Idea and were happy to make our home. We loved their attitude, their ideas and their craftsmanship. So they got the job.

Or half of it. We still needed yurts for our guests.

To the Yurtshop!

And there’s something you don’t write every day.

With a little help from our mobile phones (how much quieter the world must have been before they were invented – how much noisier the world will be in the future), we found Matt and Chris’ seriously impressive yurt-building operation, just outside Hastings. (Do all yurt-building teams include a Matt? When I was a musician, most bands had a Steve – I could have put an excellent band together called “Steve” – but then, I wouldn’t have been in it.)

Again, the level of finish and attitude was exactly what we were looking for, and we plumped for the Kyrgyz-style yurts made from coppiced ash. Yurtshop also offers yurts in sawn timber but, for us, straight edges don’t do it. We want to see the wood as it has grown. It has a beautiful, organic quality we want to wake up to every day – and why should it be any different for our guests? So they got the job, too.

Now all we needed to do was everything else.

If this short entry will prevent one incorrect apostrophe from entering the world, then it will have done its job. Look at it as some kind of typographical birth control, if you like.

“It’s” is ONLY EVER the contracted form of “it is” or “it has”.

It’s (it is) NEVER possessive (ref: “its job”, above and “its box”, below).

Whenever you find yourself writing “it’s”, and it does happen, just take a moment to think: ‘Is this “it is” or “it has”?

If it’s neither, leave the apostrophe in its box.

I don’t know where it came from, but I remember where I was. Sitting on the sofa watching TV. The programme can’t have been very interesting (don’t get me started on the state of British TV these days – it – no – just don’t get me started), because me and Clare were trying to solve our Most Pressing And All Encompassing Ongoing Problem.

It went like this:

Where th* fuck are we going to find the money to move from our small-but-beautiful two-bedroom mid-terrace house in one of the best parts of Brighton to somewhere bigger, with a garden big enough for chickens and a polytunnel, a solar panel or two, and maybe, at some point, a natural swimming pool, so we can live the sustainable life we’re always talking about, without me taking on a higher salary with more responsibility that would mean spending even less time with the family? Oh yes. And we’d need to be close to a good school.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve read the same books as me. I could give you a reading list, but some of them might be a bit New Age for your tastes. But if you have, you’ll be familiar with the idea of manifestation. And what arrived at that moment, me in front of the telly in the lounge and Clare standing next to the cupboard in the dining room (they’re in the same room – I told you it was a small house), was the first stage of a manifestation.

It was an idea.

It was big.

And it was very, very green.

Instead of spending years trying to make the at least £100,000 we needed to buy a bigger place, we could just sell the house we had and use the profit to buy the most beautiful piece of land we could find, and a polytunnel, solar panels, chickens, a trampoline, maybe a natural pool, and live in… yurts. We could even have some yurts for eco-friendly people who are looking for a carbon-neutral (or even carbon-positive) holiday.

That’s what this blog is about. I may wander off the subject every now and then, and please excuse any self-indulgence in advance, but I promise I will always come back to the theme. Because it’s what’s going on right now. So far, we’ve bought the land, bought the yurts, sold the house and are applying for permission to create a campsite using the very latest green technology available.

And we only had the Big Green Idea ten months ago.

Apart from a few comments on the cafe del nightmare blog, run by a very tall and brilliant friend of mine, I have never blogged before.

I was going to.

Was going to at some point soon. I thought it would be a good way to explain why someone who earns good money, works in an apparently aspirational business in one of the world’s most exciting cities, and lives in a small-but-beautiful house on the coast with my partner and two young children, would decide to sell up, move to France and become a peasant.

I was going to use words like: yurts, land, polytunnel, chickens, solar panels, solar showers, composting toilets, wild boar, reed bed, grey water, recycling, self-sufficiency, trampoline and hammocks.

I just didn’t know it was going to be today.

Funny how things turn out.