October 2007

If you’ve been following this blog lately, you’ll know we’ve been looking for a tractor.

Not just any tractor. That would be easy.

We’ve been looking for an achingly cute antique (red) tractor that can cut grass, drag fallen trees, and (eventually) transport guests’ suitcases from their car to their yurt.

And we’ve failed.

True, we’ve been offered an excellent John Deere. We’ve answered a few classified ads for 1950s Masseys. We’ve been to the tractor garage a few kilometres (couple of miles) away. Twice. But they all wanted more euros than we were happy to part with.

If you know anything about coincidences, you’ll know that if they’re not happening, something needs to change.

So we changed our minds – and returned to another of Clare’s ideas that I dismissed early on (I really must stop doing that). It’s an idea called horse.

Here are a few of the advantages of horse over tractor (in alphabetical order, for no apparent reason):
More sustainable
Produces emissions we can actually use

Besides, what could be cuter than arriving on holiday and watching a horse clomping up the drive to collect your stuff?

Having made up our minds, I just asked a man about a horse. A man who runs the Pony Club where Clare and the daughter have their lessons (see below – “on riding” which, in retrospect, should have been called “on horseback”).

Coincidentally (other than knowing the previous owner of our land), this man has several horses that are suitable, for sale, five years old, with years of experience towing gypsy caravans. For 500 euros less than our tractor budget.

Which might be enough to buy the cart.

There’s one for sale in this week’s free paper.

But I’m not sure we should be getting the cart before the horse.

For the last couple of weeks, apart from clearing woodland, trundling wheelbarrows full of rocks/soil up steep driveways, having the occasional bonfire (or should that be “goodfeu”?), wrestling with a borrowed strimmer, and person-handling twentysomething fenceposts out of the ground, I’ve been tentatively exploring the blogosphere.

I started with the Other Blogs section of my excellent and insanely talented friend Café del Nightmare (check out the archives for ceaseless interest) and, through RockMother, found interest and amusement at long-term bloggers Patroclus and Grammar Puss.

Interestingly (to me), a name I recognised kept cropping up in the comments sections. Last time I saw him, he was on Mastermind. (Although that’s not listed in his Wikipedia entry.)

Yesterday, I added “smallholding” to my profile, clicked on that, and have discovered an even newer world of blogs that include Hedge Wizard’s Diary and Self sufficient ‘ish’.

I’ve got to stop. I’ve got so much to do.

French riding lessons differ from English ones in two ways.

First, the content:

You have to find your horse…

Collect it…

Using reasonable force…

Where necessary…

Take it to the stables…

Clean it…

Sit on it…

Play tag with it…

Spin on it…

And stand on it…

The second difference is the price:

For two hours of horse contact, including one hour of riding – nine euros, twenty. Remarkable.

Our local eco-minded builder (who is Belgian, wiry, has seven children and sports an excellent moustache) did give me something for nothing.

It was advice.

And it went like this: I must go and see the Service Des Eaux. It is important. Fantastically important. I must go before any plans are drawn up. While we are waiting for our first-stage planning permission (CU). Serious ennui is certain to follow any failure to do this (which my dictionary translates as “problem” as well as “boredom”). I should go at the earliest opportunity.

The earliest opportunity was the following morning.

At the Service Des Eaux, a very nice man listened to my talk of yurts and compost toilets, reed beds and solar showers. Then expressed surprise that our CU had been submitted in July. He said he should have had a copy. And clearly, he hadn’t.

A very nice man of action, he phoned the Planning People immediately and spoke to the woman dealing with our case. She told him that someone from Planning had been to our land and said they were not favourably disposed to the project.

Not good.

But not a no.

He then assured me that, when he receives his copy of the CU, he will tell Planning that he is favourable (eau yes). He then suggested that I go and see the Maire (mayor), and get him to push our project.

After some to-ing and fro-ing, I have just returned from the Mairie, where the Maire isn’t, again, this afternoon. They phoned the same woman at Planning, who said she’d just had our estate agent on the phone with the same question.

Perhaps because the pressure from us is now sufficiently great, the woman at Planning revealed she is waiting to hear back from several people (including the Service Des Eaux). And we should have our answer by the 20th. Of next month.

A date that has appeared on this blog before.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a local eco-minded builder (who also runs one of the two local ostrich farms) to come and look at the work that needs to be done before we open.

In brief, this includes:
o digging out a six-car car park (for “écovallée parking”, as my friend Café del Nightmare suggested)
o improving the driveway down to the field (so it can actually be used)
o terracing about an acre of land for our poly tunnel and organic crops
o digging out a large pond for use by the fire service (that will eventually become a natural swimming pool)
o constructing a 60 x 40 foot deck on a steep slope (for our four-yurt home)
o and three platforms for the guest yurts (including recycled floorboard interiors)
o and another one for the yurt kitchen
o constructing a building for our Swedish compost toilets
o and another one for our solar showers and sinks
o digging a big hole for the septic tank(s)
o and a trench for the horizontal-flow reed beds
o burying the mains water pipe that currently swings from the trees above the drive
o creating a kids’ playground with a strong Peter Pan theme (ship, beach with palm tree, living willow crocodile etc)
o fencing 40,000 square metres of land against wild boar and even wilder hunters
o and other odds and sods

I’m a little worried.

Not by the amount of work that needs doing. No. (We still hope to open in April 2008, though this may slip for want of planning permission.) What worries me is the quote he gave me for cutting the waist-to-neck high grass in the field: 500-600 euros.

You can buy a tractor for that.

You won’t find this in any of our dictionaries:

When you’ve been out and seen one of your townsfolk (eg, the owner of the Petit Casino where you went for milk and orange juice), and you’ve said “Bonjour”… and you see them later (when you go back for the butter you should have remembered) don’t say “Bonjour encore”… Try: “Re-bonjour” (pron: rrrub-o[n] jour).

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a lot of posters advertising the Tree Fair in Le Bugue. Being photocopies, these posters all said the same promising things about trees, an exhibition of antique tractors and duck fishing.

With a hedge and orchard to plant in the next two months, and a tractor to find, this was clearly the Fair we’d been waiting for.

Yesterday was the Big Day. We went out to Le Bugue. Drove past the big sign that said Tree Fair (in French). Through town. Over the bridge. And stopped at the mini roundabout in the centre. With no further signs for the fair (incomplete signage no longer comes as a surprise to us), we turned right. Drove past the aquarium, past a yurt that, for some reason, forms part of a prehistoric exhibition. And past the back of another big sign for the Tree Fair.

We turned round. Went back into town. And drawing on tactics developed while playing 1990s video games, turned right again. Drove out of town. Came back in. Past the tiny Flower Fair (complete with full-colour signs) and parked.

After a short stroll around the Flower Fair, I asked an exhibitor where the tree fair was. “This is it,” he said. “So, where’s the tractor exhibition?” I asked. “It should be over there,” he said, pointing behind a small copse of fairground attractions. “But it’s cold,” he added, with a shrug.

The kids had a short-but-expensive go on the strange Disney inspired merry-go-round thing (next to the duck fishing stall). And, following a lunch in Les Eyzies where (in need of a coincidence) we sat next to our architect, we went here instead:

Which we’ve wanted to do for ages – even longer than the tree fair. If you’re interested in French website design, you can find out more about it, here.

As you can see (if you’re looking), I’ve added a poll to the blog.

Please take a second to help us create the Family Friendly Yurt Eco-campsite with the widest possible appeal, by answering the question. Today it’s: “When would you like to check in?”

Initially, we were thinking Sunday. It’s a great day to drive in France. (Great for guests.) But it’s also one of the only days we get to spend as a family. (Bad for us.) It’s also bad for people who choose to fly, as the fares are higher.

Looking forward to seeing the results…

There are two reasons why I haven’t blogged for a while:

1) I’ve been working.


2) I’ve been working.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, tired of waiting for any kind of permission from the DDE, we started working on the land.

Day One saw me, medieval-style slashing weapon in hands, pruning saw in belt holster and secateurs (sécateurs) in pocket, clearing space in the woods where the guest yurts will be. If you find yourself doing this, I recommend cutting the small trees as close to the ground as you can – to save cutting them again when you discover the tripping hazards you’ve just created.

After a few minutes, I was interrupted by the thundering of hooves.

Hunters, I thought, already wary about being shot at (not wearing orange, on unfenced land, unprotected by “Hunters will not be invited to dinner” signs).

The noise got closer. The ground shook. Then several adult deer, including a stag with serious antlers, burst out of the woods about a hundred yards (metres) away, charged across the field, and disappeared into the woods on the other side.

Our field, I thought. Our woods, I thought. It was a perfect moment.

And one that definitely beats staring at a computer screen (he says, staring at a computer screen).

Now we have become more organised, me and Clare take turns to spend half a day working on the land, and half a day looking after boy (I don’t know which is harder). Leaving the rest of the time for chores, although many evenings have been spent indulging in Season 3 of Greys Anatomy, recently bought from UK ebay.

Wednesday afternoon (which, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know is no-school day) and Clare has taken the daughter to her riding lesson (more on this later, with pictures), a load of nappies is being treated in our washing machine (all our stuff arrived from England recently – more on this later), and I’m about to spend some time staring at a computer screen.



But there are two reasons why this is better than the copywriting I was doing before:

1) It’s about some kind of climate-control device, translating from the French into English for an Indonesian audience. (I know.)


2) I’ve already been paid. (A whole bottle of wine.)

It wasn’t so hard.

All we had to do was go into the Tourist Information Office in Bergerac, get directions for the Préfecture and pick up a form.

Which had to be completed and submitted along with another form from the Hôtel des Impôts, on the other side of town. (“Impôt” is French for “tax”. I love the idea of a hotel for taxes. Gives you the impression you can check in to pay any time you like.)

And a valid Contrôle Technique (if you’re British, the French equivalent of an MOT).

Which necessitated a rendez-vous (meeting) with our local Renault garage, a good 300 metres (yards) from our house.

Where our car got a “CT” sticker on its windscreen, and an invitation to return in two years for another one. (I have no idea how much this cost, as the garage seems unwilling to give us a bill.)

Which meant I could go back to the Préfecture and hand over the completed form I got from them. And the one from the Tax Hotel. And the CT. And my passport. My proof of address (this is called a “Justificative de Domicile” – with a soft “J” – took me about a week to say it – you try). And the British Registration papers. And the car’s first registration paper, which was from the Charente, just North of the Dordogne.

All of which was carefully photocopied and handed back to me, along with my Carte Grise (French registration) tantalisingly partially filled out.

Then I waited.

Until someone called me over to say that the Préfecture in Charente had no idea the car had been taken out of the region, let alone the country.

I should return when this was sorted out.

Which I did. And, after handing over the same documents for further photocopying, walked away with a completed Carte Grise – and the impression it takes 48 hours to make a number plate.

Fortunately, as I picked up the daughter from school and mentioned my success, another English parent said I had to have the number plate made within 48 hours. Or face a fine.

Needful to say, I went to a garage near our house and had the plates made. Which took about 48 seconds.

I’m glad I went.

Turns out the woman that works there is our neighbour from where we’re going to live. What seems more bizarre is that she didn’t know Dominique – the previous owner.

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