June 2008

I always wanted to be an archaeologist.

Not enough to be one. But enough to dig around in the garden looking for Roman roads (finding only those bits of blue and white plate that must be everywhere and some kind of battery I keep in a box). To have wanted a metal detector more than once (including now). And to have “Time Team” as one of my Must See TV shows for many years.

Which is why I said: “Wow!” when one of this blog’s regular readers told me her parents were taking their metal detectors on a Time Team dig. Maybe they’d be interested in coming down here (maybe even packing one old non-ferrous one they’d like to sell), to scour land that must have been inhabited off and on for tens of thousands of years.

Maybe they would, she said.

So, to whet their appetite, I thought I’d publish the first of my Interesting Rocks. I think I found it lying on the ground outside the workshop, looking like this:

My untrained eye tells me it must be napped by human hand. I tried holding it in various ways, then handed it to my daughter this evening who immediately held it like this (my hand, not hers).

It even has a sharpened edge for scraping.

I’m calling it a “scraper” and shall look up other examples at once. Before using it to open – officially – the écovallée museum.

You saw it here first. (You just weren’t the first to see it.)

I just bought Her Outdoors a necklace.

For Pepito. Obviously.

The United Statesians are well known for their one-size-fits-all: “Have a nice day”. Usually at the end of a retail-related conversation or transaction.

Over in France (a country that seems to pride itself on unnecessary complexity) the expression is the equally simple: “Bonne journée”.

Unless it’s the evening, in which case: “Bonne soirée”.

Unless it’s Friday evening, when you say: “Bon week-end”.

Though on Sunday morning: “Bon dimanche” is the way to go.

And just before any meal: “Bon appétit”.

Whatever have-a-nice expression should always be followed by: “Au revoir” (or “à bientôt” or “à tout à l’heure”, depending), with each person playing the game, thusly:

PERSON A: “Bonne journée.”

PERSON B: “Bonne journée.”

PERSON A: “Au revoir.”

PERSON B: “Au revoir.”

Needful to say, Person B has the opportunity to say (instead of “Bonne journée”): “également”.

Or “pareillement”.

This one I call: The “Mailbox”.

Which also comes with a way to tell if you’ve got mail.

Typing ‘Mailbox’ instead of ‘Postbox’ reminds me of a scene from my time working in the US.

ME: (TO DEPARTMENT SECRETARY & OTHERS NEAR HER DESK) Where can I post a letter around here?


ME: I’ve got some post to send.


ME: (SHOWING LETTER) Where do I take this?

SEC & OTHERS: (BRIGHTENING) Oh. The Post Office.

On the right: What happens after you leave three pigs alone in a 143-pace piece of woodland for two and a half months. On the left: What happens before.

Yesterday evening, we admitted to ourselves that we have – officially – Nearly Run Out of Money.

That wasn’t supposed to happen.

If all had gone to the original plan (hereafter Plan A), we would have been open at the start of April, with three yurts full of fabulous eco-friendly families, paying enough to cover the various bills and taxes that come with 21st Century nearly self-sufficiency, and ploughing what’s left into further improvements, reforestation schemes and the like.

But Plan A, as you know, only worked in a parallel universe (where, I trust, it’s doing fantastically well).

Plan B (and you may remember, there was no Plan B) is unfolding by the day.

My job pays just enough to cover the rent and fill the car. Bills, insurance, food, tools, animal feed and the myriad costs that come with non-self-sufficiency are all paid for by the house we sold last year. There’s not much left.

So you’ll understand why we went to bed a little bummed last night.

We’re at one of those points where you need something – anything – to let you know that you’ve been doing the right thing (before I go any further, I’m talking about something from my belief system, not yours – unless you share mine – in which case: “Hi” – and ignoring the fact that it’s impossible not to do the right thing and that there is no right… I’ll get my wine).

Clearly, we need to increase our income, reduce our outgoings, and/or have some kind of meaningful pat on the back.

So when the cheese woman in the market said, this morning: “Is your wife looking for a job?” and gave me the phone number of a rich person who lives nearby (who may have a gatehouse to rent – you never know), I could have taken that as a sign.

I didn’t.

Nearly did. But it wasn’t funny enough. Or coincidental enough.

Like the coincidence I didn’t tell you about from a few months ago, where our neighbour on our land is also our neighbour in town – not a nearby neighbour – I’m talking NEXT DOOR.

Cheese stashed in the fridge, we had work to do. Proper work. Moving the horse field (again – the plastic fence posts must hate us). Taking the temporary chicken ark away so our two flocks can become one. And clearing a path for a new pig enclosure in the woods.

Impressing Her Outdoors (an Aquarian, for those who see meaning in these things), I (a Virgo, which will be shocking, interesting or intriguing for those very same people) chose a meandering route through the woods. A sharp turn here. A straight bit there. A little wiggle between a couple of pine trees in that bit.

After I’d cut my swathe and put in my metal posts (don’t use anything else, seriously), I paced out the new fence so I’d know how much wire I’d need. It came to 143 paces.

Arse, I thought. That’s loads more than the old fence. I’ll have to do some arsing about with the wire. To see how much arsing I’d have to do, I paced out the old (current, excuse the pun) enclosure.

At 100 paces, I started to smile. At 120 paces, the smile grew broader. My last pace came down exactly where I suspected it would. A completely random, but reassuringly exact 143.

This is the first of my least popular (with United Statesians and French people alike) series of posts on the astonishing similarities between the US and France. (The title is a bit of a giveaway here.)

I call it: The “Stop” sign.

Photographed moments ago at the end of my street. In France.

I know.

Wait until you see the others.

One of the reasons I went for this piece of land was that it’s about 40 metres (yards) above the level of the river nearby.

So I figured, even if Greenland and both poles defrosted at the same time, we’d be flood-free.

Turns out, water falls from the sky as well as rises from the sea.

I just wish we had some more containers to catch it all.

We were only expecting to meet the Maire and her Adjutant.

So we were a little surprised when two unexpected Council members came into the boardroom and sat down, looking like they belonged there (which, to be fair, they did), casually flipping through flipping enormous ring binders that drew my attention to our ongoing lack of A Mighty Dossier.

Me and Her Outdoors smiled nervously, relieved that we had changed out of our muddy clothes, and that Managing Director of Périgord Développement, Marc, had agreed to come along.

We were a little more than a little surprised when all the people standing in the car park turned out to be the rest of the Council, who jumped into their cars and followed us to écovallée.

Laughing manically now, we led the extravagantly large convoy, more than relieved that Daniel the builder said he would come too.

The Maire – a very enthusiastic and supportive woman who loves the project – got straight to her first point. The access road from our car park to the land – a shabby, half-finished, track that zig-zags through the woods and is steep and slippery in all kinds of places – is a “non” starter. The firefighters will never go for it.

No problem, we say. There’s another road a few neighbours away at the other end of the site. Maybe we can use that in emergencies.

The rest of the tour went well, me telling the Maire things and she repeating them loudly to everyone else. Council members in dressy shoes didn’t complain too much about the boggy fields they had to tromp through to reach the other road (at least, not to us). And conversations continued for some time.

Next steps on the road to écovallée are:
o Asking the firefighters what kind of access they’ll need.
o Asking the neighbours for permission to use their land for access.
and maybe even
o Buying the neighbouring land off the neighbours.
so we can
o Build an access road.

Like I said: It’s complicated. And it’s going to take time.

This is looking increasingly like the title of a book (unless it’s already been written – I’ll google it later). Perhaps with Her Indoors’ observation, in parentheses, that: ‘The only thing they do fast, in France, is drive’.

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