July 2007

This little puppy promises to light an area of 148 square feet (however big that is), for up to seven hours a day (though we’ll be using it mainly at night), includes a bulb with a life expectancy of 3,000 hours (600 days at five hours a day), and has a warranty of 10 years. At a competitive £79.99 from the CAT shop (battery not included), it’s the best kit of its kind I can find. Almost the only one.

I thought it would be bigger.

What surprised me, in my short but very specific search, is the lack of choice on the market right now. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Solar Lighting”.

You won’t find it.

Even in Brighton.

Call me old fashioned if you must, but I wanted a shop where I could go in, look at all the options available, talk to an informed salesperson (I know, I know), get some idea about which set-up is best for our situation, and leave feeling that I knew a little something about this Soon To Be Massive Retail Sector.

But no.

Instead, I must buy before I try. Not, to the best of my knowledge, a wildly successful marketing strategy.

If it works as well as I hope, you’ll be one of the first to know.

Just got this boys’ toy from the CAT online shop.

Another small step towards living off grid.

You know how, most days, all you get through the front door are bills, bank statements, junk mail and flyers for pizza-burger-chicken joints you’re never going to use?

Well yesterday, that didn’t happen.

Instead, we had a letter from our English solicitor, enclosing a formal declaration about the path behind our house, which I had to sign in front of another solicitor, at a cost of £5, because I declined to spend £220 on a bullshit indemnity policy. Behind this, we had another letter, from the same solicitor (always confusing when they do this), enclosing the Contract to sign and return. And finally, a letter from our French solicitor, enclosing a cheque for €350.


A flurry of activity and a few flourishes of cheap biro later, the Contract is with our solicitor, signed and ready to Exchange, with a provisional Completion date of August 8th. Of this year.

If you’re wondering what we might find on the doormat today, the postman’s already been. Nothing but junk.

I spoke to our solicitor yesterday. She told me our buyer’s legal beagle has only raised a couple of issues with the sale of our house, one of which she’s already resolved. The other was an invitation to take out an indemnity insurance policy.

How kind.

“OK…” I said, expecting it to be the same one we were told about a few weeks ago. But no. This was not a policy to cover the missing piece of paper approving the beam that separates our living and dining room. Nor was it a policy to cover the danger of the Church of England tapping our buyers for repairs to a pre-reformation church somewhere hereabouts.

This was a policy to cover the apparent fact that our access to the path running behind our house has no legal somethingorother. The council could, at some stage hereuntowhatever, take the assumed right to use this path away, and the value of the house could, in some way, be affected. (In Brighton?) But look at how much we’re being asked to pay: £220.


That’s my first wrong: Bullshit insurance policies.

Needful to say, we declined the invitation.

My second wrong is this: Taps without washers.

Our bathroom tap’s been dripping for a few days. In an attack of Practical Eco-Manliness, I unscrewed, unscrewed, took off, unclipped, unscrewed, unscrewed and replaced the washer with one of the several that have been floating around the bottom of the Really Useful Drawer in the kitchen these past few years. Prompted partly, it must be said, by the need to prove the shiny new socket-and-spanner set I bought recently was not a waste of cash.

Ten-minute job. No more drip. Didn’t even cut myself.

Then I remembered, those washers were originally bought to fix a dripping kitchen tap. But when I prized off and unscrewed (clearly an easier operation to this point), instead of a washer, I found a Modern Ceramic Piece Of Shit That Was Singularly Failing To Do Its Job Despite Being Only A Few Months Old.

Job for a plumber. No more drip. £40. Which hurt a lot.

Here’s the right: Right in the middle of my manly fixing, glass artist David Watson turned up with the medieval-style goblets he offered to make from some of the champagne bottles emptied during our party in Stanmer Park on Sunday. Two of them now look like this:

With the rest of the bottles, he’s going to make some doorknobs for the doors Mark just finished (see below). Which is about as right as you can get.

And at the very least deserves a link to his website.

This is what they looked like yesterday:


The shoulders drop. The breathing deepens. The heartbeat slows.

Yes – dozens of bank statements, invoices, P45s, bills and all the other tedious bits and pieces that in some way represent a year in the life of a freelance copywriter have been found, ordered and bound into the single lever arch file sitting on my left.

I’ve even put the receipts in month order, in the vain hope that this will shave a few pennies off my accountant’s invoice.

Funny how picking up a piece of paper from a cheap Italian eaterie on Ealing Broadway takes you straight back to the moment. I got a lift home that night, instead of making the two-and-a-half-hour, spirit-numbing journey by bus, tube, train and scooter, only to do some chores, sleep and go back again the next day.

I nearly took a full-time job in that agency. Five hours’ commuting every day, to encourage people to buy more and fly more.


I provisionally said yes. The money was good. The job title was good. The people in the creative department were great. But the closer I got to the final interview with Le Grand Fromage, the pissier and snappier I got. Going out into the Sussex countryside at the weekends to look at houses just bigger than this one, that we might just be able to afford, barely lightened my mood.

Then, over dinner, Clare said: “Don’t do it.”

“OK,” I said. “Shan’t.”

The shoulders dropped. The breathing deepened. The heartbeat slowed.


You instinctively know when something is right.

Firstly, a big THANK YOU to everyone for coming to say “au revoir” in Stanmer Park yesterday. It was an unbelievably perfect day. Barely a cloud in the sky, despite assurances of a 40% chance of rain predicted by my most reliable weather website. Loads of friends from Brighton and beyond. Great looking yurt, after Clare’s recent manic work to finish the cover. Superb food from the Real Patisserie, judging by how fast it vanished. There was only one problem.

Not enough time to talk to you all.

Clare is especially gutted, as she seemed to spend much of the afternoon running after Boy. It’s very hard to have a conversation, with a 14-month-old. (A sentence that is equally true without the comma.) But as you probably know, we’re still here for a few weeks, so maybe there’ll still be time to catch up.

For the record, we’re hoping to exchange contracts at the end of this week, and expect to complete about two weeks after that. We’ve also got a few bottles of fizz and red wine that we don’t want to take with us.

Sadly, for the verbally challenged, we didn’t take any photos. So I’ll have to leave you with one we took a few days earlier…

Not, as you might expect, instructions on what to do if the white and black balls both go down off the break, but something I think you Need To Know About Swimming In France.

Last October, in desperate need of a swim and with all the water parks closed for the season, we drove to Bergerac. (It’s a seriously beautiful place with at least one Ramsay-esque restaurant and several big-nosed statues in quiet, tree-lined squares, but that’s not important right now.)

We found the public pool, parked and paid.

Boys going one way and girls the other, I retrieved my towel and swimming shorts from The Bag and picked up one of those metal clothes-hanger-cum-shoe-basket affairs I haven’t seen since the 70s.

Then I noticed the look of undisguised horror on the faces of the people behind the counter.

They pointed at me and spoke in rapid French. The gist of which was: You can’t swim.

As it happens, I can swim. Not fast, but well. I also have a card that gives me permission to sink, with a tank of air strapped to my back, anywhere in the world, no questions asked.

“C’est pas propre,” they were saying. Which I translated literally.

Seeing my lack of understanding, they pointed repeatedly at the poster on the wall.

There, in black and white for all the world to see, were many illustrations you would expect to see in any public pool. And two that you would not: a pair of shorts with a cross next to them, and a pair of trunks with a tick.

I stood, speechless, holding my shorts.

Fortunately, the French, as you will have read, are not backward in coming forward to help, and after a few moments’ frantic activity, a pair of trunks was produced the like of which I also haven’t seen since the 70s.

They were handed to me, with a triumphant: “Ça. C’est propre.”

You have been warned.

Here I am, sitting at the scribbled-on dining room table, sun pouring in through the lounge window, jeans on the radiator in the hall drying out after the tropical storm that drenched them (and me) an hour ago, seagulls laughing at each other through the open front door, neighbour performing some kind of operation on an acoustic guitar that, in a parallel universe, might pass for music, and this is what’s going on behind my back:

Professional Yurt People will recognise it at once. For everyone else, it’s a yurt cover workshop, and one of the reasons I’ve been doing so much parenting.

Now, if you’re planning on making your own yurt cover, which is a Very Good Idea if only because it pretty much halves the cost of a new yurt, you’ll want to know the details. The main ones are:
Juki industrial sewing machine, from ebay, freshly serviced – should last a lifetime
12oz natural cotton canvas, water-, rot- and fire-proofed – should last five to six years
Anti-wick thread, designed to stop water penetrating holes
Needle, size 19 – tried a 21 but it was damaging the canvas

It also helps to have someone who knows how to use the equipment. Clare used to work as a seamstress in a theatre in California, then as a wedding dress maker, and trained on an identical machine. She tells me it’s not a big deal. It’s just like making a skirt.

Only bigger.

And much, much heavier.

If you have a mind to, you can sew your yurt cover by hand. Dan Frank Keuhn mentions doing this in his book MONGOLIAN CLOUD HOUSES: HOW TO MAKE A YURT AND LIVE COMFORTABLY. He just doesn’t say how long it took.


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