December 2007

Unable to find my woolly headgear, I walked through town this morning wearing a Santa hat that’s only a little bit too small for me.

No one smiled.

Even the local beggar looked at me like I have no self respect.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

You can read all the books you like on fencing (my own preference is one), but at some point (as with all things) you’ve just got go to up there and do it.

Which is why I spent several hours yesterday, after my now-habitual tractor yoga, up a stepladder, carefully heaving a four-kilo sledgehammer onto the ends of several two-and-a-half-metre fence posts the previous owner had stuck in a Most Inexplicable Place.

The orchard/chicken is being enclosed.

Today, my formerly soft office-worker’s hands are feeling slightly crampy as a result and the rest of my body is feeling just a tiny bit stronger. Good thing too, as I also have a large veggie plot to enclose with even more serious fencing, before installing a couple of rotivating pigs in January.

For this exercise, you will need: one Fordson Major (1963 model or thereabouts), a grass-cutting attachment and a field of long grass sloping steeply behind you.

Warm up
Press the little wossisface on the side of the engine and climb onto the machine. Make sure the gearbox is in neutral and the attachment is disengaged. Push the thingummyjig and press the button to start the engine. Then sit for a moment, inhaling the diesel-infused air, taking the time to appreciate the beautiful scenery, the peace of which you have just shattered. (This is a good moment to put on your ear defenders.)

Yoga it must be
Engage the grass cutter, put the engine in reverse and release the clutch, then pull the gizmo to lift the attachment off the ground for the journey uphill. Turn around, placing one hand on the rollbar, and guide the tractor up the hill in an unnecessarily straight line. At the top, reduce the engine speed, drop the attachment, stand on the brake and engage first gear, bearing in mind that leaving it in neutral could send you hurtling to your death. Release the clutch and trundle gently down the hill, relieved that you are in gear, occasionally turning around to watch the long grass spewing out of the side of the attachment. At the bottom of the slope, slow the engine, brake, engage reverse and turn to the other side, ensuring an even development of the back, neck and knees. Repeat for one hour, or until the engine stalls and will not re-start.

May help weight loss as part of an intensive outdoor lifestyle.

It was the last day of term at the daughter’s school today. To celebrate, the canteen provided:

Foie Gras

Duck with pommes noisettes


Not bad for just over two euros.

Installing the orchard/chicken run has given us the perfect opportunity to test man (and woman) against machine.

Four-metre trench using pick-axe, selection of shovels and calories: four hours.

Remainder of 80-metre trench and 13 big holes using JCB and fossil fuel: two hours.

Machine wins. (You don’t get that at the movies.)

When I worked in advertising, I used to enjoy meetings.

As a “creative”, you don’t go to many. And the ones you do attend tend to break up the monotony of staring at a layout pad or computer screen, pouring your energy into coming up with original and inspiring ways to sell largely uninspiring products to people who would generally be happier to live without them.

In those meetings, you learn that the other (often intelligent and articulate) people you work with have an even less fulfilling time of it than you. Which is why, I guess, most people I know in the business spend most of their spare time getting completely shitfaced. It’s a coping mechanism. (And a digression.)

Today, we had a meeting with two intelligent, articulate and, I think, sober people in which we learned:
o The department of agriculture did not see our land before saying they did not like our project and could therefore be won around.
o The people of water could be won over with a little more information from us and a case study of other reed beds systems in use today in France.
o The mayor is unlikely to be won over and we’d best wait until the new one comes along. In March.
o There’s a good chance that we won’t be opening for business in April. Or indeed, 2008.

But that wasn’t the first meeting of the day. Oh no. We’d come fresh from seeing our friend Claude, who we paid for putting a rollbar on the tractor and booked to bring his JCB along tomorrow morning.

Work starts at 10.

I’ve spent the last week entertaining my parents on a pre-Christmas visit. And being frustrated by reports coming out of Bali.

But so you don’t feel your click was wasted, here’s an interesting article from someone else:


There’s someone I haven’t told you about. But to save being accused of introducing them at the last minute like a character in a bad detective show, I will tell you a little bit about her now. Her name. Alex.

Alex works for a French government organisation that is actively supporting our project. She is, as I write, working in the Corridors Of Power to help us find the “Oui” we so desperately need. And not as a janitor.

Yesterday she sent me an email, urgently requesting a copy of a document I did not have.

Almost immediately, I drove to Bergerac and spoke to the Woman in Planning. She took out the document. She turned it over in her hands. She made a phone call. And she told me I couldn’t have a copy.

It was masterful.

Apparently, the Maire (mayor) made some comments on the form that I am not allowed to see until after a “Oui” or a “Non” has been issued.

Me: So it’s not a “Yes” or a “No” right now?

She: No.

Me: (EMPLOYING THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING) And I must wait until after a “Yes.”


After a slightly longer pause, in which I discovered the social security office was already closed, I drove to our excellent estate agent. Although snowed under with work (the price of excellence or estate agency – you decide), he dug out a copy of the document, which I scanned and emailed to Alex last night.

So now I wait in hope.

It’s the same kind of hope you experience while waiting for a response to a script/treatment you’ve sent to an agent/producer. Although if you’re the one writing all those bad detective shows, please stop.

So we saw our Notaire (French solicitor) yesterday.

He loves the project – especially with the new angle. (I’m beginning to see a pattern here – it’s only the bureaucrats who aren’t wildly enthusiastic.) He says the Maire’s objection is groundless, but it’s probably worth waiting until the new Maire is elected. In March. He said he will fight for us, and is happy to present our case to the Senator, who has an office just round the corner (of course). He also said there is nothing in law to stop us putting our yurts up on the land right now because… a yurt is not a caravan.

So we left the meeting feeling a little better and went to Kathy’s Place, overlooking the square in Beaumont. After a stressful few days, we could relax. We could just get on with our lives. They were nice, relaxing, coffee-filled minutes. Albeit without a biscuit.

Then we saw our excellent estate agent, a few metres (yards) away. He also wants to fight for us and took us to the Senator’s office to make an appointment. While we were in reception, the Senator came in. He likes the project. He said we should wait until the elections and get the new Maire on our side. And he said that if we put our yurts up on our land, the Maire could have us arrested.

You know, the irony of all this is that I’ve always wanted to open for business in April 2008. And despite all the objections officials are trying to put in our way, that could still happen.

We’ve been taking it in turns to have a crisis.

Clare went first, around the time of our meeting with our estate agent. Which inspired two evenings of focused discussions, culminating in a brilliant development of our original idea that, in an ideal world (which let’s face it, is exactly what we’re trying to create), should have the authorities begging us to accept their permission.

I don’t want to tell you too much right now.

In fact, I may have already said too much.

After a couple of days and a meeting with our architect, it was my turn. Which inspired two evenings of focused screen watching (Part Troll by Bill Bailey and Part Uruk-Hai by JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson), separated by days of listlessness, despondency, negativity, a slight cold and some tractor yoga.

It’s a female-male thing.

I think I’m getting over it now, just in time for our next and probably most important meeting. With our solicitor. Which is tomorrow.