February 2010

One of the possible reasons the mayor came round the other week was that, after two and a half years of living without an income, we are now – officially – Poor.

(The reason for the delay is that your rights to benefit in France are measured on what you earned two calendar years ago. I earned over €26K in the first half of 2007 – and was self-employed – therefore had no rights until this January, despite the fact that we spent all of that income buying yurts. This January, I got a letter from social services saying how poor we are, based on our 2008 income, which I was told to take it to the mayor’s office to see if they could help pay the kids’ school meals. The reason why I think it prompted the mayor’s visit is that the first words out of her mouth were: “Are you OK for money?” And: “Can you feed the children?” The implication here is that it’s OK for adults to starve to death – just as long as the kids are OK. Although what the kids do after they lose their parents is anyone’s guess. I reassured her, telling her were we eating our pigs.)

When I had my follow-up meeting with the mayor, she said I must go and see the CAF (social services) to see if they could help pay for the kids’ school meals.

I arranged an appointment and was told (apart from what a great idea a yurt camp is) it was nothing to do with the CAF and I should go and see the CIAS to see if they could help pay for the school meals.

I arranged an appointment and was told (apart from ‘school meals don’t cost very much’ – they do if you don’t have any money) to go and see the mayor’s office to see if she could help pay for the school meals.

Which brought us back to square one. A familiar square. (Perhaps I should give it a Proper Name. Square One has a nice ring to it.)

We went without an appointment and were told ‘lots of people are in difficulty – and look at what’s going on in Portugal and Greece’ – though not by the mayor.

Naturally, we could waste more time going round and round in circles. But we’re busy people. We decided to take the kids out of school for lunch after the holidays and went back to work.

I suppose picnics in the park near the school, next to the river, with our own ham and home-made bread, might be nice. Especially now the good weather’s on the way.

I think it was October when the grue (sounds like a Dr Who villain) flew over ecovallee, heading South West. Formation flying in their hundreds or thousands, hundreds of feet up, making strange, loud gobbling noises, they signify that winter is here, and pretty much everyone is saddened by this awesome sight/sound.

Yesterday, the first of the grue came back. Which means spring is officially here. And everyone’s happy.

It’s worth taking a moment to look back at the last week, to see what lessons can be learnt for next time. Which, weather depending, won’t be too far off. (Vegetarians and vegans click away from the screen… now.)

A friend came round in the morning after school drop-off and shot the pig. I ran over and bled the pig straight away, so I knew she was gone quickly. (Backing up a second, I had thanked the pig for what she was about to give us before my friend shot her, which made the whole process – spiritually and ethically – much easier.)

Almost immediately, we realised how heavy she was. (Lesson here: Another person or two would be useful for pigs over, say, 60kg. She was probably over 80kg.)

In the tractor shed, we had huge difficulty hanging the pig up. Again, the weight issue. (Lesson: I must install a pulley system before the next pig.)

My friend was very busy, so I skinned and gutted the pig on my own, which took a surprisingly long time. I then had to lift two halves of pig above my head to hang to cool. I don’t need to mention the weight again, but let’s say I was pretty tired by lunchtime, around 2.30pm. (Oh, lesson: A proper butcher’s saw would be handy – it takes a while to cut through bones with a hacksaw.)

The weather suddenly started warming, so I butchered half of the pig. Just taking the side off the hook in the tractor shed reminded me how tired I was already. I was planning on butchering both halves, but this first half took longer than I hoped. (This happens with most things around here. It’s been mentioned more than once that I have an unrealistic way of looking at time. A clever person could probably write an equation for it.)

Her Outdoors made pate while this was going on and I listened to a lot of Radio 4 (the News Quiz – superb – Sandi Toksvig – like a female Stephen Fry, only funnier). We also roasted bones for the dog, who is fussy about eating them raw.

In the evening, I decided to look for butchery videos on youtube and found the link in the previous post (see below). (Lesson for me: See, you’re not allergic to research.)

Butchered the other half of the pig much faster, thanks to those videos. Already started looking forward to cooking ribs at the weekend. Almost forgot the head, but took off the cheeks and put with other eat-soon items in the fridge.

Can’t remember the morning. I think I re-set the pig fence and separated the remaining two pigs and did some fro-ing, stripping and digging work on the new outdoor eating-area-to-be, had some fruitless meetings. Cooked pig cheeks in red wine, then washed up all the sausage-making stuff and started mincing meat at around 9.00pm. Her Outdoors, exhausted from labouring on the land (building a new rabbit run, digging a field by hand, moving compost, planting etc.) reminded me that it was late and we said we weren’t going to do this again. (Lesson: Don’t start making sausages after, say 6.00pm. It’s silly.)

Got to bed late. (Another lesson while I remember: Mincing meat, then adding breadcrumbs, seasoning etc. is not much more work than doing it all in one go, and the consistency’s much better.)

Bagged up those sausages and stashed them in a friend’s freezer. Then had the day off, making a two cubic-metre compost bin and tidying up around here so we don’t look quite so shabby. Took a hand and a couple of hocks out of the brine to hang over the bath. Ate a lot of ribs for dinner.

Woken up very early by Boy throwing up, having finally succumbed to what they call “Le Gastro” around here. A bi-annual viral thing we’ve all had and you don’t really want to know about.

Made the rest of the sausages, starting much earlier in the evening, and hung them over the bath.

In summary, then: Half a day to kill and hang the pig; two half days for butchery; two half days for sausage making. That’s realistic, and allows plenty of time for manual labour. (Although we’re both tired at the end of it, and it’s not even a full week, it doesn’t feel particularly out of the ordinary.)

At some stage, I will be posting videos from écovallée including, perhaps, such unforgettable gems as: “How to climb a ladder”.

But not today.

Today I will be posting the first in a series of excellent and informative videos I found on youtube last night. (They just saved me a load of time processing the second half of the pig we said goodbye to on Tuesday.) Follow the links for the rest in the series which, bizarrely, aren’t all numbered. Unless you’re a vegetarian. Obviously.

Butchering a pig

Something that’s been keeping us busier than we need to have been (and don’t get me started on all the others – that’s the problem when gaps between blog posts are so long – far too much to say) is that old not-favourite: escaping pigs.

One pig in particular has been doing a runner through, under and (having seen his pregnant sister tackle a door I put on the Pig Ark) probably over the two-strand solar fence. We’ve patiently (or at least, Her Outdoors has) been putting him back behind the wire every morning, using yummy food as the bait. But it’s wearing, especially when we have so much other Stuff To Do (did I tell you we have a lot on? One observation on this life we have chosen – I don’t think I would be exaggerating too much to say it is a little labour intensive).

This morning, neither of us were especially amused to find one of his sisters had joined him on the wrong side of the fence.

Thinking the battery was low (again), I swapped it for the horse battery. I checked it. Only the faintest ‘tick’ to show the fence was working. I hammered the earth further into the ground. Still not much of a kick to it. I moved the whole set-up further down the fence. Same result.

Then a vague memory insinuated itself into my mind. Something that Gary and Marlene said when we first got our first pigs.

I just returned from wrapping all the joins of the fence (when you keep enlarging enclosures to add a piece of grass that needs clearing here, a bit of woodland there, you have to cut and tie the wire quite a bit) with little bits of kitchen foil. Turned the fence back on and…

It didn’t take long for the often errant pig to feel the force. I checked it with my thingywotsit and power is surging through the wires just as it should have been all along.

Kitchen foil. But you probably knew that already.