May 2008

I still remember the first time I used a petrol strimmer. It was back in the days when every family had at least one car, two phones, and people thought nothing of flying to other countries on holiday – or even for work.

Did I ever tell you about aeroplanes?

I did?


Ooh. Tea. Lovely.

I was trying to cut four acres of grass with my old scythe – on my own

Any chance of a biscuit? No, that one. Thanks.

The weather had been very wet, and very hot, and the grass was growing about four centimetres a week. I cleared about 10 square metres in about 15 minutes when my old secateur injury started playing up.

The smart money would have been to get some sheep and goats in, but we didn’t have the fencing for it. And we weren’t particularly smart. So we bought a new STIHL with a metal blade, which came with a free pair of gloves – you can never have too many gloves.

I strapped the thing on, and laid waste to some unwanted woodland vegetation. Then I cleared a path around the old pig woods. And made a path from the old workshop down to the veggie patch. All this took minutes, I tell you.

Then I went insane.

I was having so much fun, I stopped thinking about what needed cutting and started looking for what could be cut. “I’ll just keep going until the fuel runs out,” I thought. I was drunk on the power of it, aware that I had somehow become a metaphor for what was happening in the wider world around me.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long.

I walked across to near the orchard/chicken run/orchid meadow and started fragmenting a patch of particularly long and hard-to-reach grass, and the strimmer found a length of string and some wire I’d left there months before. It stopped dead.

Ironic, really. Seeing as how things turned out.

I was going to write a post about F***** Telecom. About how, when we arrived in this country and needed communication with the outside world (communication that could only be provided by F***** Telecom), everyone (EVERYONE) shook their heads and tutted and said: F***** Telecom – ******* arseholes (yes, American readers, there is an “r” in “ass”). The post would have been prompted by a loss of service last week that coincided with Boy’s birthday and meant he couldn’t speak to his grandparents. A loss of service following a bill dated the 4th, received on the 14th, to be paid by the 15th. A transparently criminal strategy for extorting a(nother) €10-euro late payment from us, that was met with knowing tuts and wry shakes of the head from my co-workers, while I said: F***** Telecom – ******* arseholes.

But I won’t.

Instead, I will share with you the delightful news that The Daughter has gone into the free range egg business. She has bought three six-week-old Light Sussex hens who are now sharing the orchard/chicken run/orchid meadow with our own feathered flockers.

Is she doing this out of a sense of social responsibility or ethical obligation? Because she is inspired by all things écovallée? Because she has identified an egg-shaped gap in the local market?


It’s because she wants to buy a new game for her DS.

The chickens have grown:

And happily free-range in the chicken run/orchard meadow:

Which comes complete with its own orchid:

(One of seven different types Her Outdoors has found in écovallée this Spring.)

The pigs have grown:

And still plough into food as though they’ve never seen it before:

The veggies are growing:

(These beds account for the majority of our work right now. It’s hard. But it’ll never be this hard again.)

And yesterday, we started our rainy day project, which involves turning this shabby old caravan:

Into a wet-weather heaven for kids.

I don’t want to give too much away about my job, but I work in a kind of Call Centre involved with money. Usually smallish amounts (£500-£2,000), but occasionally largish amounts (£12,000-£500,000). Calls are distributed by hand among our four-person team and a commission of £1 per £1,000 on top of our minimum wage applies.

Got it? Don’t worry. You only need the gist.

Now, before we began, the issue of the larger amounts came up. ‘I know,’ I said (literally). ‘Why don’t we pool all the amounts over £10,000 and split the monies equally between the team?’

‘Pah!’ was the response. ‘Where’s the sense of competition? The hunger?’ (etc)

I went along with the team. We’re all new, see, and what do I know?

On day two (Tuesday), it came to pass that I had a run of large calls (about £600,000 worth).

On day three, I was told there was disquiet among the team. Talk of me, somehow cheating the system. Of being, perhaps, in cahoots with the hander-outer. Or just being some kind of Crook.

Day four was a day off, which I spent stressing about how to handle the situation. As far as I could see, we had very quickly discovered the Fatal Flaw of the capitalist model. In just two days, it bred fear, greed, discontent, malice, stress and nameless other amounts of negative energy (tsk – imagine what would happen if it was applied on a broader scale).

On day five, I re-proposed what I call, simplistically, the socialist model: The all-monies-over-£10,000-are-split-equally idea. This time, the rest of the team went for it and peace has been restored.

Good job, too. My first call was for £240,000 worth. That wouldn’t have looked very good at all.

Today has not been the Best of Days.

I’m not talking about the waking up at five in the morning for an hour and a half, knowing I’ll fall asleep again only just in time for the alarm to go off.

Nor am I talking about the text I got from Her Outdoors saying she’d just left Boy crying at the childminder’s (we’ve employed someone – amazing what you can do in France on minimum wage), and the cats crying at the vet’s (where they’ve been efeminated, much to the chagrin of the vet, who’d rather they were left to produce kittens that can be drowned as is the way in These Parts – more on that, later).

Or even the fact that the tractor is now Officially Broken Down.

I’m talking about how my the very small commission associated with my job has created some very large resentment among other Team Members (I love that quote from THE OFFICE I saw on a colleague’s wall a few years ago: “There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there’s a ‘Me’ if you look hard enough”) after I lucked out a few times yesterday – and now people think I am a Cheat or a Thief or Both (much more on this sooner).

But as I’ve said before not here: “As one door opens, another one shuts.”

I came back from my mowing-free evening to cook the best Steak I have eaten in France so far. The mushroom sauce wasn’t too shabby. The wine’s always good. The French fries were a bit limp. But the company was wonderful.

And it’s not over yet – dailylola has posted another episode of Grey’s Anatomy for Me and She to watch on youtube.

After three days in an office, I went back to work today.

Spent the morning feeding animals, shovelling what happens after you feed animals, and digging one of many new veggie beds, on slightly sloping ground that must have been a river bank at some point in the last several million years.

This last task raises an Interesting Question I Would Like to Put to the Interwebnet (or IQWLPI).

How do Buddhists eat?

I don’t mean do they use cutlery or fingers? But with so many worms mutilated in the course of planting, how do they deal with their intention (as I understand it) not to kill? Is there an acceptable Worm Footprint for a bowl of soup? Is there a moment’s thought before each mouthful? Or do they stick to rice?

It’s not important. I’m not even expecting an answer.