November 2012


These are long days.

After dropping the kids off for school, feeding the animals, doing the washing up, prepping the machine, doing some chores in town, and probably some other stuff, I started slicing the bacon that’s been hanging over the bath.

I borrowed a domestic bacon slicer from a friend for a couple of years, but eventually bought one of our own (add that to the cost of the solar fence, scales, knives etc, when pricing up pig keeping). It heats up after about 15 minutes, which means finding some washing-up to do while it cools down again (which isn’t hard). Or taking a bag full of ham, bacon and sausages round to a friend’s freezer to create space in ours (timing worked out perfectly and I squeezed in a trip to the local dump). Apart from that, I’ve barely set foot outside the kitchen. Eventually, I had to call it a day and put a large mixing bowl full of bacon bits (for cutting into lardons) back in the fridge. Another half day and I think the bacon will be done. Just in time for sausages.

This wasn’t a hard day – just a long one. Now, 20 kg of sausages on a hand-cranked machine – that’s hard. And long. If I have the energy I might even take a photo.

One of the things you have to remember at this stage is to switch the freezer packs in the brine every morning and evening, to keep the temperature down. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, we allow a certain degree of flexibility (unless you still count lunchtime as morning).

You also have to remember to take the pieces out of the brine when they’ve had the right amount of time, (measured in 12 hours per kilo, but we’re allowing a little longer for the ham). The two smallest pieces have had their hanging-over-the-bath time and are now in the fridge waiting for slicing, one slightly larger piece is hanging over the bath right now, and two more pieces will join it for the night. (The heating’s off and no one will be bathing until the gap between hanging bacon and hanging sausages. Don’t feel sorry for us. Our sausages – and bacon – are amazing.)

In other news, Her Outdoors helped me move the largest bits of the Goose Ark (ex-Pig Ark) into the orchard where I reassembled it this morning. To persuade him to join us on the land, we let Boy have the camera (kids his age don’t go to school on Wednesdays). I like how this shot works:

Today, I had a bonfire to dispose of the bits of pig we don’t eat (essentially, the head – minus cheeks – trotters, guts, fat and skin). We’ve tried eating some of these in the past, but felt the energy (gas) involved in the preparation wasn’t worth it, and so we return those bits to the ground instead. A circle of life thing, if you like.

While I was up there, I took down the pig fence and dismantled the pig house, which will now be home for the geese in the orchard. Obviously, you can leave these to be taken down at some point in the future, but for some reason this turns into a chore that can be resisted. Today I made a point of enjoying the whole process, in a vaguely Californian way – if you’re not enjoying something, you probably shouldn’t be doing it – everything is a choice – etc.

We still have pâté to make this evening (actually, this is Her Outdoors’ department), but there’s a gap here before ham and bacon time.

UPDATE

Remembered to take the two smallest bits of back bacon out of the brine, rinse them off and hang them in a bag over the bath (Pig Weeks always involve a certain amount of inconvenience in the bathing department – wait until you see the sausages in a few days). I forgot to mention the pâté recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first “Escape to River Cottage” recipe book. Very hard to go wrong with Hugh. Messy business, making pâté.

If you might be offended by the idea of cutting up a pig, stop reading now. (The headline’s a bit of a clue, here.)

I have no idea if anyone will find any of this useful – or even find it at all. But I’m committed to blogging our last Pig Week and today was a very big part of that.

As always, the carcass was split down the middle and left overnight in the tractor shed to cool. But because he was a big animal (and I’d lost my helper), the pig man cut through the bone on the two sides, which meant I could finish the cut with a knife, and transport the pig in four parts, on my own, in a wheelbarrow. Here are the quantities of meat I took from the four parts:

Front half 1:

Ribs (into freezer)

1.5 kg lean back filet for bacon (into brine)

2.5 kg of streaky (into brine)

Lower front leg into the curry pot

8.5 kg for sausage (into fridge)

(One thing to note: I find the front part of a pig far more time consuming than the back. This is the first time I’ve butchered the front part first and it does make for an easier back end of the day.)

Front half 2:

Ribs (kept for tomorrow)

1.5 kg lean back bacon (into brine)

4 kg streaky (into brine)

Lower front leg for curry

10 kg for sausages (into fridge)

Back part 1:

4.5 kg ham (into brine)

5.25 kg side for bacon (into brine)

Back part 2:

2 kg joint (into freezer)

4.5 kg side for bacon (into brine)

Boned out leg for prosciutto (into dry cure)

One thing we started doing a few pigs ago is putting the meat with lots of tendons into a long, slow-cooked curry pot. It was taking far too long to strip out the tendons and, if put to sausages, was jamming up the machine (which is very annoying – it’s a hand-turned machine).

A few other cuts, like the filet mignons, kidneys and pork steaks are not on this list. Please excuse the lack of details. To describe everything I did today would take far too long, and it’s already been a long day.

Remember that window of opportunity I mentioned before? It closed a bit. The weather warmed up unexpectedly and a friend I assumed (terrible things, assumptions) would be able to help the day after killing the pig can’t make it. So it’s down to me and Her Outdoors – which is Entirely Appropriate as it could be our last ever pig.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The day before you kill your pig, you want to get your brine ready. We use a very clean plastic dustbin. Into this, we pour the brine roughly according to this recipe (which is roughly based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s with a bit of a John Seymour influence). I’m copying this straight out of Her Outdoors’ notes:

12 litres water

3.5 kg salt

1 kg brown sugar

2 big dollops treacle

2 beers (Guiness this time)

bag of spices (bay leaf, nutmeg, cloves, black peppercorns, juniper)

Bring to boil (and boil for 10 mins), leave to cool with spice bag in

If the weather’s with you, it should cool in time. It’s still a little warm at the moment, but I went ahead with killing the pig today, and I’ll use freezer blocks to bring the temperature down tomorrow. The brine should be (from memory) under 5C. It should drop to 7C tonight but it’s still warmer than I would like, ideally.

Unwary vegetarians look away now: The pig was killed with a shot to the head, immediately bled, and de-haired using scalding water and an old piece of scythe blade. We had to improvise a table using a ladder on blocks, and he was gutted and left overnight to cool. The pig man agreed he’s about 150 kg, which means tomorrow is going to be full and tiring.

Excuse, in advance, the lack of wit in the posts for this week. It takes time to be witty, and that is something that will be in short supply.

For various reasons, some of which I’ve already touched on, we’re taking a (possibly permanent) break from pig keeping. To give you the benefit of our experience over the last five years (and to remind me what I’ve learnt for future reference), I’ve decided to blog our final Pig Week in some detail.

If you are a vegetarian, you might want to unfollow for a couple of weeks.

One of the most troubling parts of rearing pigs for food, for me, especially early on, has been deciding when it’s time for them to leave for the Great Sty in the Sky. Actually being the one responsible for ending a life throws up many emotional and spiritual issues. Fortunately, weather, availability of helpers and other factors, provides a very small window of opportunity. That window has just opened.

Tradition has it that you should only process a pig (my term for killing and butchering) in a month with an “r” in it. Thanks largely to human activity since the industrial revolution, September and October were far too warm this year. Earlier this month, I took advantage of a cold evening to say goodbye to our second-to-last pig – and I’ve just booked someone to come and help me with the final pig. I won’t tell you exactly when. Just that it is soon.

The pig in question is about 18 months old (as compared to factory line pigs that are killed at about six months, I understand) and has spent his life in our woods. He probably weighs around 150kg (I’ve read some UK abattoirs are refusing to process pigs heavier than 100kg) and his size alone will present me with a number of challenges. He has cost about €10 a week while he’s lived here but cost very little to begin with. In all, we’ve probably spent about €800 on the pig and are looking forward to many months of “free” meat.

Our plans are to use one leg for prosciutto, one for a ham stored hung in the air, streaky and back bacon (smoked and unsmoked), sausages, chorizo, salami, some joints and curry. I’ll explain all the details as we go.

I saw something online yesterday about a farm offering courses on a “Pig in a Day”. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also offers courses like this. We’re going to demonstrate how long the process actually takes (in reality, well over a week) to provide some balance. As you’ll see from earlier posts, we’re not novices. This will be the 12th pig who has lived on the smallholding. I have personally killed one and butchered nine and a half of those.

If you’re still with me, I hope you will find the following posts helpful, educational and, above all, respectful.

We’re in full Winter mode at the moment. Which means, for me, strimming bits of the vallée to get it ready for re-growth in the Spring (I like to let our wild orchids die down before cutting paths through the meadow), moving horse manure to a holding area for rotting down, cutting pre-dried wood it to keep the shed full, and working my way through a very long list of admin and fixing jobs. Plus a huge job (not the huge job I’ve already mentioned) that I’ll blog about almost immediately – and then a lot for several days.

Her Outdoors, meanwhile, has spent loads of time in the studio and is now appearing at Christmas markets locally. If you’re new to the blog, she’s an award-winning textile artist by trade who does couturier work for money. Last year she created a line of Christmas tree decorations, which she’s added to this year before opening her first Etsy shop – the kooky caravan.

Here’s a sneak preview of what to expect when you click through…

This should really have the headline: One… last… grenade…

Some people have said they’re having problems buying the book from the facebook shop. (Apparently some handheld devices won’t let people buy – something to do with cookies – which I suspect is a deplorable ploy to lock people into their own systems.) Other people have said they don’t trust facebook at all.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is, I’ve published “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” to Kindle. So more people can buy it more easily, and I get to write “Descent into Hell” more quickly. To buy the book as fast as possible, I’ve even included a link – here.

There. That’s the last time I’ll mention the book for a while, although I’ll do something in the side bar to indicate how sales are going. At the moment, slothful, which is better than sluggish, but you’d have to look quite hard to tell the difference.

I’m going to turn this Dumping Ground for Dangerous Farming Machinery and Wood for Carving…

…into an achingly beautiful 12-foot yurt with wooden floor, double bed and optional Moses basket, plus a baby-safe canvas-covered outdoor kitchen, featuring an off-grid fridge and grey water treatment.

It’s going to take a bit of time. But I’ll… (oh-ho), I’ll try… (here it comes), I’ll try and keep you posted. (Can you see what I did there?)

It will be a huge relief to some people to read that the ebook launch campaign is over. (If you’re one of those people, don’t bother reading this post – it will only extend the agony.) I must say I enjoyed pretty much all of it. I’ve done some things I haven’t done in a while and reminded myself that advertising, given the right product, is about as much fun as you can have while sober.

I’m now going to go into an Unnecessary Amount of Detail to explain why I did what I did and reveal what happened after I did it. It’s going to be a pretty dry post, but I’ll punctuate it with examples where appropriate.

From the top then.

October 31st

I published the brief on this blog. I had no idea what I was going to do after this, but as I explained in the post, a brief is a very useful device to focus the mind. The focus centres around a single thought that should be communicated (what adpeople call a “Proposition”) and all work that follows should have this at its core.

Before I go on, you should know that when something is published on this blog, it is automatically posted on the écovallée facebook page (which had about 60 likes on Oct 31) and the twitter account (which had about 220 followers at this point). People who actively follow the blog (not many, as I just moved from blogspot) are notified, presumably by email. I almost always shared the facebook posts to my facebook friends (numbering around 160 at this time).

Brief results

The blog was viewed 39 times that day

The blog post was viewed 18 times

The facebook post was viewed by 55 people

I sold 2 books (I hadn’t sold any books for the previous 13 days) – my only explanation is that the brief worked in the same way as a long-copy ad (see below)

November 1st

Woke up with a thought for a viral video, wrote it, shot it, wrote the music, recorded it, then cut it all together and published it by the end of the day. Had a blast.

Viral results

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 72 times

The blog post was viewed 12 times

The facebook post was viewed by 12 people – and I had one new ‘Like’

I didn’t log the video views, but it can’t have been many

November 2nd

I was a bit bummed that my viral video hadn’t gone global, so retweeted it to get the stats up. I followed this with a blog post linked to an interview about the book with “This French Life”. This was put up on their website the day before, but it gave me something new to publish without doing any actual work.

Interview results

By the end of the day, the blog had been viewed 109 times.

The interview post had been viewed 8 times

The facebook post had been viewed by 16 people

I made 2 sales

November 3rd

This was a Saturday, which I decided to take off, because all this time in front of a computer screen felt like a job and people with jobs like that don’t work weekends. I still kept an eye on the stats, though, because I don’t actually have a job like that. This is my life, instead.

By the end of the day the blog had been viewed 26 times.

The video had been viewed 26 times (cumulative), which is very far indeed from being viral. More like a sniff or a polite clearing of the throat that might not be anything at all.

November 4th

A Sunday.

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 38 times.

The video had been seen a far-too healthy 26 times.

November 5th

Published an ad with an offer. A creative director of mine in the States once showed me this pie chart about what makes people respond to advertising. From memory, by far the biggest slice of this pie was “Timing”. The second slice I remember being the “Offer”. Hence this execution. The idea with this launch campaign was to try a range of ads in a variety of styles. This ad didn’t have much style, but it did have something I hadn’t tried before – the money-back guarantee.

Offer results

By the day end, 38 blog views

Of which, 13 blog post views and

0 sales. A bit disappointing, but not upsetting. Because I was just about to publish…

November 6th

A long-copy ad. Ad theory has it that the more words you write, the more sales you make. This theory may have been written by a copywriter trying to keep their job, and fair play to that. I don’t particularly like writing long-copy ads. They take time. They need structuring. But I hadn’t written one for a long time and so I was happy to give it a shot. It did what the theory said it would do.

Long copy results

I got 2 re-tweets

I made 2 sales

I had 1 facebook share

I had 1 new blog “Like”

3 new twitter followers

The facebook post was seen by 15 people

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 98 times

The post had been seen 45 times

Some time ago, an agency client (who must have read a book or something) told me that people buy things for “pain or gain”. It’s a painfully slick soundbite and probably largely true. It’s also a good explanation as to why I was always very uncomfortable working in advertising – my job was to manipulate people into parting with their cash through the use of fear or greed, neither of which I think are ideas that should be promoted.

November 7th

When people talk about advertising, they’re often thinking of TV commercials or posters you see in the High Street. These are great fun and very easy to do, but something I didn’t get to do much during my career. So I did this, with a poster in mind. Obviously I did the art direction, typography and everything else, which would all be done by people with actual talent (and the ability to consume an alarming amount and range of intoxicants) in an agency setting. I didn’t expect much of a response, but it went down well – possibly the cumulative effect of the previous ad executions.

Awareness ad results

I got 3 sales

1 new twitter follower

1 new facebook page “Like”

45 facebook post views

49 blog views

21 blog post views

Obviously you could spin this to say I got 3 sales from 21 blog post views – a nearly 40% conversion rate – but this would be very misleading. So I’m not going to do anything of the sort. Stats, eh?

November 8th

Another ad classic is something called a “testimonial”. This is where someone talks about how happy they are with the product that’s being flogged. You are supposed to be convinced by this person on the street and rush out to buy your thneed (hat tip to Dr Seuss). I decided to invite people who had already read the book to give their feedback, thereby getting away without writing an ad at all.

Testimonial results

By the end of the day, the blog got 99 views

The blog post got 38 views

The facebook post got 23 views

And I got 1 sale

I wasn’t too upset by this result (it is, after all, a result), because I still had my banker up my sleeve.

November 9th

The charity ad. Many years ago, when I was working in Leicester, another copywriter was telling me about his housebuilder account. They always included animals in the ads, mainly kittens and puppies. He said they tried babies and foot traffic to the housing developments dropped through the floor – even varying the ethnicity didn’t help. So they went back to animals and the punters came back too.

Going off-brief for the first time, I decided to bring Pepito into the mix. Every cent raised by the book would be spent on the animals anyway, so I wasn’t being exactly dishonest. And I had the sneaking suspicion that it would, as the industry saying goes, “pull like a train”.

Charity results

I got 1 reblog

I got 4 facebook “Like”s

The facebook post was viewed 31 times

The facebook post was shared

The blog got 127 views

The blog post got 57 views

I made 10 sales

November 10th

A Saturday, and the end of the campaign.

The blog got 49 views

The viral video had 44 cumulative views

I made 1 sale

November 11th

A Sunday.

2 sales

In conclusion

You almost certainly know more about stats than me, so draw what conclusions you may from all of this. One thing that occurs to me, which I have suspected for a long time, is that social networking doesn’t work in the way I would want when it comes to sales. It seems great for getting people to look for missing children, and at iphotos, but I think it encourages people to be passive, their only activity being the mouse click to share (I may be out of date here – a double-tap on a screen might be the order of the day).

Having said that, there’s another ad industry expression that bears repeating: “Half of advertising doesn’t work. The trouble is, no one knows which half”.

I started doing twitter on the advice of a friend. But I didn’t see the point. Then one day we got a call from ITV asking if we’d be interested in appearing in a prime-time TV show. When I asked the Producer how he got to hear about us, he said it was through twitter. (Interesting result here, so far unpublished: After almost exactly 15 minutes of prime-time exposure on ITV, we had 1 booking. A terrifying stat in many ways.)

It wouldn’t be fair to finish without talking money. The work I put into this campaign could be very reasonably charged at £1,500. This would then be billed out by a small to medium agency at about £6,000 (that’s just for the writer – the art director, typographer and everyone else would add to that considerably). The campaign made, up to now (Monday 1am – I still don’t have that normal job, remember?) 26 sales. After fees and taxes, this leaves around €17. Not a particularly impressive result until you consider the budget was met at €0 – which gives an ROI (return on investment) of infinity.

In real terms, it will all buy Pepito three bales of hay.

A few years ago, I played piano for one hour in exchange for 40 bales of hay. It remains my most profitable gig so far.

And finally

There is one more thing. If sales continue at the current rate, I will start writing Part Two of “écovallee behind the seams“, entitled “Descent into Hell“, on May 1st 2015. I apologise for any distress this may cause. Especially to Nige, one of the most enthusiastic readers any writer could hope to reach.

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