June 2010

Some of these days we think are going to be easy. Like last Sunday.

All we had to do was swap the (Yurtshop) yurt we’d been sleeping in for the (Future Roots) yurt standing outside the kitchen. Why? Because the Yurtshop yurt is a guest yurt and needs to be up on the platform in the guest field (see below), and the Future Roots yurt was made for us (see a long way below). It’s the way it was always supposed to be. An exciting day – a big step closer to écovallée proper.

So we took the roof cover off the Future Roots yurt and took down the frame. Then took the roof and walls off the Yurtshop yurt and took down the frame. Then realized (see as we were moving house) we might as well take up the carpet and live on the groundsheet for the summer, and have a good old sweep and a mop. It wouldn’t take long to dry – it was probably around 30 degrees at that point.

By lunchtime, the walls of the Future Roots yurt were in the right place and we realized time was running out. Because this wasn’t the only thing we had planned for Sunday. The school fete was on and both kids were performing on stage, and we were going round to a friend’s for a barbecue later.

Which is why I put the roof poles in under the now blazing sun, while Her Outdoors hammered grommets into the wall panels. And why we had to leave all our stuff lying around in the open all afternoon. And why we only had a few minutes to feed and water the animals, and to hide all our stuff inside because the forecast said it was going to rain overnight. And why many other things.

Like why we woke up on Monday, tired. Which is how we’ve woken up every day for as long as we can remember. (I’ve been saying I need a day off for days – and I mean it.)

The barbecue was lovely, though. It’s nice to take it easy once in a while.

We went to the north of the Dordogne today. Met new people. Drove on new roads. And brought back two castrated males who have taken up residence in the still-going-strong Ark One. Here’s a picture Boy took of me, looking alarmingly like my dad:

And here’s one I took of him in revenge:

One interesting thing (of many) that came out of this most relaxing ever of pig preparation times was this: When I finished fencing in a fairly random piece of woodland, I immediately saw the enclosed trees as individuals (eg, ‘Oh, wow – there are six large pines here’) instead of just a bunch of trees in the woods.

It may have something to do with the ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ expression I’m still trying to understand. It may not. Like I say, I’m still working on it.

Last night, me and Her Outdoors had a look at the blog posts from this time last year.

What I was looking for was reference to the three weeks of rain we just had (we’re on the last day of it now, with sunshine arriving tomorrow and stretching off into the distant forecasts). I wanted to see if this is normal, or a one-off.


Based on two years’ data, it rains for the first few weeks in June 50% of the time.

You read it here just now.

Work continued on the guest yurt platform yesterday, which now looks like this:

It represents, without doubt, the most sustained period of physical hard work I have done this year. But, with the addition of Her Outdoors’ signature woven fencing, gets more beautiful by the hour. (This fencing also has the benefit of cleaning the woodland without a bonfire.)

But, as may not be clear from this shot, the platform has created a lot of spoil. Which has made a platform for the compost toilet:

A raised bed in the veggie patch a couple of hundred metres (yards) away:

A pile of earth in the poly tunnel even further away:

Some infill for a flower bed in front of the outdoor kitchen (please ignore the mess – we haven’t tidied up out there):

And a small bed in the kitchen for herbs:

And one of the best things about it – we haven’t spent a centime.

It will interest almost no one to know why I never fell in love with money or capitalism, but it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway. (There’s a lot about money in the news at the moment – and it’s about time I got a few things off my chest and onto yours.)

In July 1989, two days after my university final exams, I went to London to be a rock star. I felt 18-something years of education was long enough and had a life to get on with. London was the centre of the universe and so that’s where I went. I was deadly serious. I’d joined a band and everything. Unfortunately it was a shit band.

My debts were modest, at around £2,500, almost exclusively a result of running the car, then van, I used for band practices, gigs and recording.

But the debts didn’t stay low. Finding a job with an arts degree is notoriously difficult – and the NatWest Bank was charging me, if memory serves, £2.50 per day, plus 29% interest, plus other charges. Every cost, from the £220 a month rent, to the £2.60 a day Travelcard I bought to go into Soho to look for a job, to the £10 spent on pizza to feed me and an even more broke friend all came out of my overdraft.

(One of my greatest mistakes was to not sign on at the job centre or claim for housing benefit – information I feel strongly should be part of the school and university curriculae.)

Letters from the bank, which came often (at a cost of £25 each to me, plus interest), were left unopened. What could I do, when I was already doing my best? I tried eight jobs in seven months, all of which cost more money than they earned me. Finally, by Christmas 1989, I got a job in Ratners for about £95 a week – the first serious money I had ever earned. By this stage the debt had grown to an impressive £10,000 (at 29% interest, plus charges).

To put this in perspective, a three-bed house with garden in Fulham cost around £40,000 at the time.

Eventually, the bank called poor, young, jobless me in for a meeting and I signed papers to turn this overdraft into a loan. Very nice for the bank. Seven long years of paying back £250 a month for me.

Two years later, I remember talking to a Financial Adviser in a bar in Leicester, where I’d gone to find a full-time job in advertising. I said all I wanted was to be rid of this debt. That’s easy, he said. Take out a life insurance policy with me today, and kill yourself tomorrow. OK, I said with a strained smile. All I want is to be rid of the debt and still alive.

Four and a half years after that, back on the outskirts of London, I received a statement from the bank that I thought said I had paid off the debt. I remember sitting there, looking at the paper, nearly crying with unexpected relief. Then I saw I had another six months of my sentence to go. No change there.

Six months later, I resigned my job. I’d gone into advertising to pay off the debt, and the debt was paid. It was 1997. I was 30.

So, for the almost no one still reading, it should come as no surprise why I never bought into the acquisition of stuff thing. I never had the money. Nor did I put money into a pension (despite attempting to sell life insurance, commission only, during that summer of 1989), because the bank took it. A bank I believe acted with criminal negligence that, if I had followed professional advice, would have cost me my life.

As a completely unforeseen side-effect, the bank’s unforgiveable behaviour has led to the life I have now. It’s a good life (except, one day a week, when I have to put on a suit and earn money to pay for diesel and insurance – because I can’t barter eggs and sausages to fill the car yet), and one that I see increasingly being promoted as the only way forward.

I suppose you could say I was lucky. Because I was never seduced by the owning of many shiny, new, precious things, and never had the prospect of a pension at the end of it all, I could walk away from capitalism with ease. But I can tell you, it hasn’t always been easy. And as you may or may not know, there’s no such thing as luck.

There I was trying to make a yurt platform out of earth and look what I found.

There was one there all along.

A bit bleached out, this shot. I’ll have another go. But integrating the porch instead of retrofitting to avoid rain coming around the top of the door is a definite improvement.

I wish it wasn’t true, but in our experience, French products (invariably overpriced – remember ‘Rip-off Britain’ – you should see the cost of things on this side of the Channel) break within days.

Bizarrely, this is especially true when it comes to footwear. Most especially, footwear for kids.

The response from shops is always the same.

US: I bought these shoes/boots/wellies in here last week and they’ve broken already.

THEM: Would you like to buy another pair?

There’s just no point in going back to complain. Which is why, when the Daughter’s brand new (15 euros worth) sandals broke yesterday, after less than a week of occasional wear (it’s been raining), Her Outdoors reached not for the car keys, but a coat hanger.

A twist here, a bend there, snip and – tada. Better than new.

Coat hangers. They’re not just for finding water, or making Christmas decorations, or fixing car radios, or televisions…