January 2010

Have been dabbling with the idea of doing some TV in relation to écovallée. But as a producer in the UK suggested the other day, why should people care about the self-imposed difficulties of a middle-class family living in another country, when there are so many more needful subjects to cover? (My words, not his.)

Fair point, I thought.

Meanwhile, I’ve had meetings with the mayor and the regional Chamber of Commerce and in a few short weeks, I’ll be able to report (how’s THAT for positive thinking about two and a half years of tilting at hot air?) that we’ll be open for business – legally – this year. Of course, there’s the question of finding the money for the wood for the platform, and the new cover (I never did tell you what was so wrong with the original material we bought, did I?) and a few furnishings.

Horse. Cart. Cart. Horse. (Hang on – we do have a cart horse, but we did get the horse before… No. We haven’t even found the cart yet.) For old times’ sake, and to give your eyes a rest from all these weary words, here’s a photo of the yurt we were originally going to live in, in front of the Brighton Earthship.

And to keep you really up to date, here’s the yurt we’re living in now (when the snow kindly covered all the crap lying around in the yard).

Maybe I should have called this post: Spot the snowball.

…all my troubles were pretty much blown away – at least for a few hours.

It all started after lunch, with a phone call from a friend, inviting us out on Friday to our favourite restaurant. We hardly ever go out, partly because of the animals, partly the children, and mainly because we are so astonishingly poor.

Then I had another call. The laptop that my awesomely talented friend Café del Nightmare is giving to me (yes, giving – I suspect there isn’t a more giving person on the planet) will almost certainly be arriving on Monday. Which means this old iBook, literally held together with superglue, can become the paperweight it so desperately wants to be.

Then another call. The car was ready in the garage and I could pick it up at school-collection time.

All pretty good, I thought. How else can I capitalise on what was obviously a good day to be Capitalising on Things. So I started emailing the Chamber of Commerce in the regional capital to set up a meeting next week, but was interrupted by…

…the arrival of the mayor. Completely out of the blue. All smiles and touchy-feely. She wants to help me, she said. And to help Her Indoors with her new stitching business. She invited me to come to the Mairie on Monday afternoon, where she’ll give me the name of a bank in Bergerac that could loan us the money we need to get a yurt up and fitted out this year, and details of how the Conseil Generale can help, too.

More than a little bemused, I finished the email to the CCI and set up a meeting on Thursday morning.

Then I saw the time. I was running late – but still made it to collect the car and pick the kids up from school.

The good fortune didn’t rub off on The Daughter, alas. She trapped her finger in the car door and we had to go to the doctor’s. No stitches and it definitely could have been worse.

I said it wasn’t over.

I’m not very good at killing things. For years, I shied away from killing mosquitoes, although 18 months in Minnesota (where the mosquito is the state bird) cured me of that. And yet barely a meal goes by where meat is not on the table (my partner says I’d make a lousy vegetarian). In the last over a year or so, much of that meat has been ours; but those pigs were taken to the abattoir and the business of ‘dispatching’ them was done by some faceless person in white.

More recently, I’ve had to take things into my own hands. I killed a chicken who’d been sick for a while and didn’t respond to drugs (we tried). And a rabbit who had been bred for the table (I won’t go into details). Both were very difficult, especially as, which may make no sense, I tried to do it by surprise.

Today, I took things to the next level. (If you want to stop reading now, go ahead. This post is largely for me.) A friend with a chasse licence and a powerful rifle came round this morning and shot one of the pigs through the head. (This is legal here if it’s for your own consumption, which it is. Or so I’m told.) We decided on this method after a lot of reading and talking. The locals favour stringing the pig up by the back leg(s) and slitting the throat. But this makes a lot of noise and would distress us, the pig and his brother and sisters (one of whom is heavily pregnant) nearby.

It felt like cheating, having someone else pull the trigger (and very much like cheating when he showed me how to kill and skin two rabbits that were overdue for the pot). But it was a relief to have someone so experienced in killing animals on hand (it’s very lonely when it’s just you). My friend told me he thinks of the good life the animal had, instead of the animals that are farmed more intensively for the supermarket or restaurant. Certainly, this pig lived nearly a year longer than he otherwise would have (we took him instead of the abattoir) and ranged free in the woods. He will now feed us for many weeks and I am very grateful to him.

But I can’t help wondering that there’s something ethically ‘wrong’ in keeping an animal with the intention of eating it (even if that’s the only reason it’s alive). And that it might be easier to kill an animal in the ‘wild’ (but then I suspect, being the namby pamby green-tinged neo-spiritual liberal that I am, that I would let the animal go off and keep doing its natural thing). Next time it may have to be me, pulling the trigger. Or even, the trigger of my own gun.

It’s not over. More on this, later.

Last year I found holes using, variously, a spade, a fork, my hands and a JCB. Here’s one I found with a chainsaw.

A woodpecker made it.

One of the many urgent jobs on the list, now the kids have gone back to school, is to build a rabbit run for those fast-growing kittens you didn’t exactly see a couple of blog posts ago.

Being fantastically poor, it has to be done on the cheap. Preferably free. So I took some of the wood I bought to make the kitchen cabinet frames – rough wood, roughly 250 x 8 x 4 (cm not in) – and started to cut it lengthways. Which was quickly surprisingly tiring (I didn’t get a day off on Sunday – we were moving bamboo to make a fence, among other things – and my body’s feeling it right now).

Not wanting to waste what little energy I had, I phoned a friend and asked if they had a jigsaw I could borrow. They did, but they didn’t have a blade. Which is sometimes The Way of Things.

Then Her Outdoors asked me why I didn’t use some of the wood we’ve got lying around in the… um… woods. Slightly unwillingly, I grabbed a couple of weapons and spent an excellent couple of hours turning some hawthorn I’d cut down in the summer into some (hopefully) useful materials. Which I’ll show you more of, soon.

Next time, I won’t be quite so unwilling.