April 2014

Last night, there was a meeting in the local town hall to talk about Agenda 21. It was probably the most exciting meeting we’ve been to in France.

After a fairly tedious slideshow on the French interpretation of Agenda 21 (eg, caring for the environment means planting some flowers so the village looks nice), from someone I took to be a professional bureaucrat, a friend from the local Transition town movement stood up and talked about what they’ve been doing. Which is a lot. All of it positive.

It electrified the room. Objections based on cost and difficulty were swept aside by the idea that: If you can do something, you should. If there are blockages that come up (a certainty in this country), you work with the blockages, not against them. And/Or, you just get on with it anyway. The simple, beautiful thing about Transition initiatives is that they are unrelentingly positive. If someone is stuck in their negativity, you can just remind them that we’re staying with the positive – and leave them behind. Or to change.

A few things made this meeting especially exciting. First, I learnt that our friend from the Transition town who stood up to talk has just been elected mayor in his village. Second, it seems that our new mayoral team locally is open to these ideas. In fact we’re having a meeting with them later on today to go into detail about what we’ve been doing in écovallée for the last seven years. Where we have been depressed by our previous brushes with bureaucracy, we are elated. And long may this continue.

Today, it strikes me that this meeting was a microcosm of how our world will change. People who are already doing what they can – transition, alternative currencies, renewable energies, recycling and upcycling, walk-to-school initiatives – will meet the institutional blockages of our existing political and economic systems and just breeze through them tossing a: “We’re doing it anyway” over their shoulder. The political and economic systems will then turn round and start running to catch up – or be left behind.

The world is changing people. And it’s all for the good.


Very positive meeting with the new mayoral team. Open, honest, proactive. Looking forward to working with them.

Over the Easter weekend, Her Outdoors suggested we actually go out and do something. So we went to one of our favourite places – Marqueyssac.

Being a holiday Sunday with perfect weather, obviously the place was packed. But if you look past the crowds you’ll see why this is firmly at the top of the écovallée must-see list for guests.

Not just for the view on the way in (that’s the Chateau de Milandes on the left and Beynac on the right – Castelnaud is just out of shot on the left):

marqueyssac view

Or the famous topiary:

marqueyssac hedges

Or the chateau (currently undergoing renovation):

marqueyssac chateau

With its roof made of actual rocks:

marqueyssac tiles

Or its buggy-friendly paths:

marqueyssac path

Its rocky paths:

marqueyssac path 2

Its funky paths:

marqueyssac path 3

Its shady paths (see what I mean about the crowds of people – although to be fair, that’s me):

marqueyssac path 4

Or the free activities for children:

marqueyssac painting

Or even the playground:

marqueyssac play area

Or the views from the platform overlooking La Roque-Gageac:

marqueyssac view 2

No. We love every bit of this place and we go at least once a year. We’ll be going back in a couple of months on a Thursday evening, when the gardens are lit by thousands of candles and there’s live music everywhere. It’s ridiculously romantic.

Here’s the state of the Mustardseed floor at the moment. I’m going with the same frame layout as the 12-foot last year and there’ll be a ramp to the door like the Play Yurt you can see just down the slope. It’ll be lovely.

yurt joists

A couple of years ago, after the camping season ended, we stayed in “Peaseblossom” in écovallée. I was lying in bed with the door open as the sun came up over the trees opposite. It felt like it was rising just for me – a magical experience, which I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

This morning, I sat there with my cheap phone and took a video to give you some idea what it was like. The microphone’s not great on the phone, so I added the first song that came into my head. “Here comes the sun” might have been a better choice. But you can always turn the sound off here and put that on instead.

At this time of year, it’s always hard to find time to blog. Here a just some of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago, while putting the last leaner on the last post of the new deer-proof fence round the poly tunnel, I had a small accident with a hand saw. Discoveries following this include: When you have two children and a lifestyle like ours, A&E reception is a blissfully quiet place to sit – me and Her Outdoors got to catch up for a few hours without any distractions – in fact, we’re thinking of going back there for a holiday some time. Also, I found that my tetanus jab from 1997 is still OK – although we’re told to have shots every ten years, apparently I still have antibodies – which is good to know.

A few days ago, we said goodbye to Pepito, our retired working horse. He isn’t dead – he’s just living somewhere else. Long-time readers will know that Pepito was the first animal we bought, back in 2007. Originally, he was going to carry guest luggage from cars to yurts, and do some light farming work. But the fight to be open went on for so long, this never happened. It has been a struggle to feed him over the winters, and this year someone offered to look after him, spoil him with luxurious food supplements and surround him with other horses. Of course, he thinks he’s in heaven and we’ve decided to let him stay. This has freed up his field for the geese and chickens, which we will move as soon as we have a moment. As you can appreciate, this deserves a much longer post. But we’ll all have to make do with these few lines for the moment.

I ran for office on the mayor’s team and “we” “lost” in the second round of voting last Sunday. Going to weekly meetings was a very enlightening experience, and allowed me to propose some ideas – like having a communal veggie patch in the village to help prepare for life after fossil fuels. I’m looking forward to working with the new mayor and seeing what his team will bring to the village – including a communal veggie patch. (An idea that should, in my view, be mandated by all governments. The simple fact that this is not being mandated is proof enough for me that governments do not have the interests of the people at heart. Which might explain why many people have apparently lost faith in the current political system.)

The Daughter entered a talent show and got through to the final, performing a song she’d written herself. She didn’t win in her category in the end, but I think came a close second. I was seriously impressed with the solo vocalists, two of whom I would have signed on the spot if that was my job. (If that job even still exists.) The competition was held on consecutive Saturday afternoons in a 150-seat auditorium, and was surprisingly friendly and nurturing. I found it hard to picture similar opportunities being available in the UK and suspect it would have been far more competitive. But not in a good way.

You may remember I was in two bands a few weeks ago. During the course of one week, both bands split up. (Not guilty.) Unwilling to throw away all the work I’d done learning 50 new songs in a few weeks, not to mention creating a website and starting to get the social networking side of things up and running, I introduced the band-less singer from one band to the singer-less band from the other, and now we have a new band. Called “SouthWest”, and offering a dance-floor-filling selection of tracks from the 60s to today, the first gig’s on Saturday. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do, especially on the backing vocals (haven’t used this much falsetto since the ’80s), so I’m going to have to wrap this up and get back to work.

Before I go, sticking with music, I made some business cards and this simple website for solo piano work. This summer, while guests of écovallée come to relax and enjoy their holidays, me and Her Outdoors will be working harder than ever. I’ll tell you more about that soon, in a post along the lines of: Life as an immigrant.