December 2012

snowy vallée

We’re having a rest from all things vallée over the mid-Winter period. So I won’t be blogging again until the days are getting longer and the kids are back at school.

Don’t worry.

It’s not the end of the world.

At the end of every Mayan long-count, season, year, five minutes (or whatever timescale you use), it’s worth having a good look at your life and deciding what works and what doesn’t.

One of the things we’ve decided doesn’t work for us any more is pigs.

About five years ago, I blogged our reasons for getting into pigs. It’s been an easy experience on the whole, but continuing to keep them was going to get harder. Successive pigs have cleared the areas we wanted clearing and, to save the trees, we were going to move the next set into the horse field. But the only place for them is South facing, which meant we were going to have to build more structures and put in infrastructure.

The financial cost of feeding the pigs has also been noticeable this year, living on (by Western standards) a very low income. We planted a field with an animal food crop, cut it, stooked it, stacked it – all by hand – and still have it sitting down there waiting for threshing. We haven’t had the time, energy or space to process it. Sometimes Pepito breaks out and buried his face in a stack. Occasionally I catch deer having an easy meal. We don’t know how much grain we harvested, but we both decided the physical cost of growing food for big animals is not sustainable. After watching a couple of very interesting films (“Forks over knives” being one), and realising how many vegetables we could grow – or even buy – for the €15 a week we were putting into our pigs, plus how much they tie us to the land, we decided that these would be our last.

I suspect, if keeping animals for meat was assessed at a global level, the conclusion would be the same. The energy investment for the return in meat wouldn’t make economic sense. Large animals would disappear from our landscape, meat from our diet, and the world would be a healthier, happier place. You don’t believe me? Watch the film.

We’ve also decided to stop breeding rabbits for meat and will be keeping some for pets. You might think this extravagant, but if you’d seen a young rabbit and his mother survive myxomatosis, you’d probably do the same. Our last rabbits will live out their days and be buried here. We’re even reducing our stock of chickens.

But this once-in-an-age review is about more than livestock. Having fewer animals means doing less work, which gives us more time to use our other skills. Next year, Her Outdoors is going to create a range of crafty products using recycled materials, and more art (among other things).

I’m going to start working for people as an extreme gardener, join a band, get involved in the transition town movement (I just learnt our nearest town has become the first in Aquitaine) and sell my professional skills as an ethical copywriter.

All of this feels very appropriate, positive and timely.

On which point, I find one thing about the Mayan calendar very exciting. For the first time, billions of our fellow humans will be focused on the destiny of our species at the same moment. For one day, we will have the opportunity to look at ourselves and decide what works and what doesn’t. In the days that follow, we will have the opportunity to become a better species. To find a more healthy balance between work and play. To use more of our talents. To move, collectively, from fear and survival on a rock floating through space, to joy and thrival.

I have a feeling that the new age is going to be excellent.

Her Outdoors has decided to create a range of crafty goodies from old jumpers (US: sweaters) and T-Shirts next year. Like this little puppy she finished a few minutes ago.

home made dog

How cute is that?

One of the beauties of the Wood Cutter look is how seamlessly it blends with the rest of your wardrobe.

chainsaw man

Today’s outfit builds on the fundamentals of the classic Wood Cutter – the thermal layers, safety boots and jacket – and adds a splash of colour. These artery saving chainsaw trousers (quite expensive) and subtly coloured helmet (also a bit pricey) guarantee you’ll been noticed in any Winter woodland. Which is especially good news if there are hunters around.

Sharp-eyed fashionistas will notice the overly long sweatshirt has been swapped for a warming polo-neck sweater (free – a hand-me-down from my dad). Which helps to prove there are literally several different ways you can wear almost exactly the same clothes throughout the cutting season, although occasional washing may be desirable.

A few weeks ago, theguardian ran an article on what to wear on the ski slopes this Winter. (The answer is obviously ‘exactly what you wore last year’, but instead they suggested Buying New Stuff – you’ll be relieved to know I typed a strongly worded tweet to show my displeasure.)

It reminded me to write a series of posts on Smallholder Fashion. Unlike my “Smallholder Olympics” idea which never even made it onto the blog, I am strangely relieved to introduce: The Wood Cutter look.

log man

The jacket is ex-French army and features a thermal fleece-like layer and hood. The zip doesn’t work very well, but it has buttons. (To get the look, accept the jacket as a donation from a neighbour)

Underneath the jacket is a long sweat shirt borrowed from a very tall friend for Glastonbury in the 1990s and never returned (despite repeated offers).

The next layer down is a T-Shirt. (Left behind by a HelpX helper)

Then a thermal garment. (Free, a Christmas gift)

The gloves are leather, comfortable, waterproof security gloves. (About €10 from the local agricultural supplier)

The trousers are green with only one rip. (Free again, donated by another neighbour who put on weight)

Under the trousers are thermal leggings. (Another Christmas gift)

I think we should probably stop at that layer.

The work boots have steel toes, enough hooks and eyes to stay on, and half an original lace, the other having been completely replaced with shop-bought string. (Donation from English mafia)

The socks are thermal. (Bought online, but may have been a gift)

There you have it. An entire outfit you can wear year after year, rips depending. (Except the gloves. You’ll need new gloves every few months.)

You’ll have to wait until the Spring for the next Smallholder Fashion post. I look like this pretty much all Winter.

You may know that I spent 18 years in the advertising business, in the UK and USA, as a copywriter.

In many ways, it was my perfect job. I got to draw pictures and play with words all day, work and socialise with some of the most intelligent and talented people I’ve ever met, earn what I thought was good money, and wake up in the middle of the night with burningly brilliant headline ideas that just had to be written down (only to be revealed as rubbish by the harsh morning light).

The only problem was what I was being paid to sell.

I won’t go into details. I’ll just say it was very easy to walk away from that industry and create something genuinely worthwhile. With every passing year, more of the negative energy I collected fades away and I’m returning to my natural state of Idealist Angry at the State of the World.

Now the yurt camp is finished, I have another problem – a potentially very exciting new problem you just might be able to help me with.

You see, I have this way with words. I can plant seeds of change in people’s minds. I can influence their decisions in subtle ways. I can convince them to do things they might not have done. I am, in other words, a Master of the Dark Arts of Wordsmithery.

Obviously, these skills can be used to cause harm, encouraging greed, waste and excess. But enough damage has clearly been done. I would love – no, love – to use my abilities to promote the right kind of thoughts, products and services. For the right kind of people.

If this sounds like you, someone like you or someone you like, please get in touch. You’ll probably want to see my CV and some ads I did for myself first.

What you can expect when you hire me is a copywriter who is honest, hard working, ethical and utterly committed to improving the experience of life on this planet.

The lardons have been cut and packed in the freezer. The chorizo and salami are hanging from fishing line in the tractor shed, as is the ham after being wrapped in enough muslin (we hope) to keep the bugs out. Take it away, phat lady:

If you’re wondering why Her Outdoors hasn’t featured a lot this week, it’s because she’s been turning this:

chair before

Into this:

chair after

For a client. Not as easy as it looks, I would write – if it looked easy.

But last night she joined me for a mammoth sausage session (I should probably re-word that). I’ve written somewhere on this blog that you should never start making sausages at 6.30 in the evening. So at just after 6.25pm, I started mincing the meat. If you use a hand-turned machine and find yourself fighting with it, stripping it down and getting very upset, I’ve found the following tricks useful:

o Cut your meat into long strips, about 2 x 2 inches across

o Use a table knife to scrape away the meat at the front end every now and then and

o Reverse the direction of cranking (for a couple of turns) quite regularly

I also switched to the holey thing with the larger holes for the second bucket of meat, which seemed easier.

After a long while, we ended up with this:


There’s mixed sausage meat, unmixed, salami and chorizo. This is the chorizo:


A light, late supper of sausage burger later, we mixed and processed all the sausage meat and hung it over the bath. This morning it looked like this (yes, that’s why there are nails in beams in old houses):

hanging sausages

After yet more washing up, I got back into the yurt at 25 seconds to midnight. (Several hours before I finished the first time we made sausages.)

I’ve just put all the sausages in bags in the freezer. Right now Her Outdoors is asking butchers for more, bigger skins for the salami and chorizo. I still have half a day of making lardons to fit in at some point. We have to wrap and hang the ham in the “tractor shed”. And we have enough leftover sausage mix for burgers over the next few days.

Pig Week, dear readers from around the world, is over. Which is a good job, because the weather’s turned cold and I need to re-stock the wood shed. Rain’s possible tomorrow and definitely forecast from Monday, so it’s time to cut wood.