June 2013

After a long period of mixed weather, we got back to work on the new 12-foot yurt yesterday. Me on the yurt floor and Her Outdoors on the kitchen wall.

12-foot yurt 1

I’m going with 14 cm wide flooring this time, which means… fewer nails (for about an extra €1 per square metre for the wood). Originally, I was going to have the door facing the woods over there (which is why the joists are laid out like that).

12-foot yurt platform

But seeing as this will be a yurt for couples and those with very small babies, I thought it would be better to have the door facing the kitchen. (You know what some guys are like, needing to have an eye on the baby at all times, jumping up every few minutes to make sure they’re OK.)

It’s officially our new favourite part of écovallée – and it isn’t even finished yet!

12-foot platform finished

Incidentally, you’ll never see this view again. Next time there will be a beautiful coppiced ash yurt in the way.

I used to earn what I thought was good money, doing something I didn’t particularly enjoy. During my 20s, I wasn’t too bothered by the ethics of my job, largely because I was paying back a sizeable debt incurred while trying to become a musician.

The month I finished paying off that debt, I resigned.

But the industry I worked for didn’t let me go. After so many years of diligent work, I’d become good at my job. The global headquarters of the agency I worked for offered me a very livable wage to work in the US, so I went.

After 18 months, I came back to London and worked freelance and full-time for various agencies (some of them very well known), until I left the business in 2007.

I was always going to leave. The signs were there from the beginning. I stuck it out longer than was comfortable because I was waiting for something to come along that would give my life some meaning. Something that, at the end of my days, I could look back on with a sense of achievement. That thing, as regular readers will know, was écovallée.

Now, at this point I should confess to new readers that I am not the Edward Snowden. (Nor is my wife. I’m not actually married.) But I am in many ways an Edward Snowden. And so, my new theory goes, are you.

You see, the business I left was advertising. As I mention in my book, advertising is a business involving some lovely people who do a lot of horrible work*. One of the last jobs I worked on, for example, was sub-prime mortgages. The brief was a disgrace. The product was disgusting. An ethical agency would have thrown it back at the client and resigned the account. I had my say and then went to work, selling it to the best of my ability while hoping it would be profoundly unsuccessful. (In my defence, I always wrote the truth in the subtext. I encourage readers to study ads extremely carefully. It’s actually illegal to lie in advertising – in the UK anyway – but misdirection is commonplace. I admit, it’s a pretty thin defence.)

Obviously, doing that work was a choice. I could have walked. And I did, a few weeks later. Like Edward Snowden the other day. Two of the many differences** between me and he are that I was not pursued by the world’s law enforcement agencies or the media, and that I have made myself – and the écovallée yurt camp – very easy to find.

But Snowden’s whistle blowing spectacular has got me thinking – and not just about ways to attract new readers to the blog using key words like #edward #snowden and #whistleblowing ***.

As I’ve been walking slowly round other people’s gardens expending irreplaceable fossil fuels to keep their lawns looking lovely, even though the owners live hundreds or thousands of miles away, I’ve been working on a theory.

And my theory goes like this: When we’re younger, we’re happy to take the money and not worry about the consequences. If we’re paid lots of money, even better. But there comes a point around 30 when your sense of mortality kicks in (I gave up smoking at this point – several times), or your conscience wakes up, and you start to look more seriously at what you are doing with your life. You start to question its value, rather than its monetary worth. And if you don’t like what you see, you can do one of two things.

You can choose to stay in the job that makes you unhappy. Consciously choosing that option may give you a sense of power you may have forgotten you have. You may even be happier for it. (I’m not judgemental: Go you!)

Or you can choose to leave your job, relationship, country – whatever. You may go through all manner of discomfort following this decision. But you will at least know that it was your choice, consciously made. And whatever happens, you will be happier for it in the end.

This is what I think the real Edward Snowden has done. Wiki tells me he was 30 a few days ago, which fits my theory very well. I ran the theory past a guest recently and he told me how he left what many would consider a dream job to take a massive pay cut and now effectively runs an organic farm. So the theory holds at least some water. What do you think?

*This is from my perspective as an Edward Snowden and depends on the clients, products and briefs to which I was exposed. If you are an agency or client who feels you do not meet this profile – that you are in fact highly ethical people with excellent products to offer the world, please continue reading here.

**Also including age, height, weight, nationality etc.

***Come back in a few days and I’ll show you what this will do to my stats, though. Should be interesting.

Since registering myself as an auto-entrepreneur, I’ve received quite a few letters containing forms to complete, a couple of phone calls and one outrageous scam.

The forms were not very clear, so I took them to the job centre and talked them through with the professionals. Together, we made a best guess at what was wanted and envelopes are currently winging their way to various corners of France.

The phone calls were probably trying to sell me something. But I’ve adopted a policy of not buying anything over the phone, following a call from one of our utility companies offering something for free that ended up costing a few hundred euros and took some time (and aggressively worded emails) to resolve.

But the outrageous scam is worth showing you:

siret scam

It looks very official. I’m particularly impressed by the line asking me to return the form in less than 8 days with my payment. And the large amount of money they’re asking for. With tax.

It’s so convincing, I had to confirm it was a scam with the woman in the job centre, who admitted it was “dishonest”. In the Ts & Cs on the back, it says you can only cancel it within 8 days of signing the form. And that the money pays for your company to be registered (my guess is, on a piece of paper in a file marked “Kerching!”) for one year. After which, I guess they’ll ask for another €200. Probably adjusted for inflation.

Because I’m looking at it closely now, before it goes in the firelighter bag, I’ve just noticed the very small print on the top right that states: “Offre publicitaire non obligatoire.” I can picture the smile on the face of whoever wrote that. Offer, indeed. I wish them all the worst for the future.

As promised here, Smallholder Fashion is back. This Late Spring / Early Summer outfit is ideal for temperatures of up to 29C.

summer season

The helmet and gloves are taken from December’s Wood Cutter look, seasonalised with the addition of some cheap sunglasses found in a drawer.

The “shirt” was made from an old sheet for a medieval festival in 2011, and is extremely practical for fending off the flying bug parts and nettle bits during strimming. The long sleeves also reduce those irritating hay-carrying arm scratches.

The trousers can now be worn without thermals, and the steel-toe boots with only one pair of socks.

Here are the amuse-bouches Philippe made for Her Outdoors’ show (see post below). I’m still undecided on which was my favourite.

amuse bouches

If you’ve found your way here to read about our journey from suburban comfort to rural self-sufficiency, please spend a few days plundering the archives. Or download the free book to read Part One of the story in a few hours (link on the right of the homepage)…


Yesterday evening was the preview of Her Outdoors’ first textile art show in France. For those of you who couldn’t make it to “Les Petits Plats” in Couze, here is the work for you to enjoy in the privacy of your open plan office, packed commuter train or home.

artist statement

This is the piece that greets you just inside the door. (We couldn’t find an easel to borrow, so had to make one from scratch.)


You can click on the photos to view them in more detail (which will also give you some idea of how much work goes into each piece).

textile art 1

Most of the work is along the left wall and works so well with the restaurant decor, you’d think they were made for each other.

textile exhibition

textile art 2-5

textile art 2_close

textile art 3_close

textile art 4-5_close

textile art 6-8

textile art 6_close

textile art 7_close

textile art 8_close

textile art 9-12

textile art 9_close

textile art 10-12_close

Another, larger quilt hangs on fishing wire opposite.

textile art fish

textile art quilt

Sadly, I can’t offer you any of the amuse-bouches or cocktails prepared by Phillipe and Sarah.

philippe & sarah

You’ll have to take my word for it that they were exquisite (the amuse-bouches, cocktails, and Phillipe and Sarah).

The show will be up for the next couple of months. For further information or commissions, use the contact form on the homepage of this blog and I will pass the message on.