We went to England for a couple of weeks over the festive season, and left écovallée in the capable hands of two sets of friends, who may or may not meet while we were away.

Before we left, I sent them a document explaining how everything works.

Ours is a simple life, you might think (I thought as much), but as I wrote about water mains and T-junctions that might freeze, animals that might die, and all the other little things we now know and do, adding photos where necessary, the document stretched on and on. I even sent three appendices with things I’d left out of the original tome. But obviously the information was incomplete, because when we got back last night the toilet had been turned off. (I had forgotten to mention the need to tap the flusher a couple of times – lightly – until you feel the resistance that tells you the cistern is refilling. An oversight for which I take full responsibility.)

This document was nothing, however, compared to the bible we would have needed to negotiate life in the UK. The chapter on buying travelcards for two adults and two children alone, from a machine where the touch-screen worked for only one of us, and which offered an alarming number of options we didn’t need, would have made my entire manual look like a footnote.

So although it was great to be away, it’s even better to be back, surrounded by the running repairs we know and love, and to start considering the work ahead. I’m going to begin with some round-wood building, pegging the frame for the new 12-foot-yurt kitchen together with heart of oak, instead of lashing, while Her Outdoors knocks together a 15-metre dry-stone and lime mortar retaining wall. Before this, I need to find, cut and strip the poles, and learn to use a lathe. And before that, I need to clean out the rabbits – something we didn’t ask our yurt-sitters to do.

If you’re stuck for something to do between long-count calendars, try writing down your life as if you were going away and someone is taking over two hours after you leave. The document must include names and numbers of people to call if there’s a serious problem – and what those problems might be (ours included chimney fires and armageddon). It’s an interesting exercise.

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