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Since the referendum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everything about Brexit is negative. The evidence from experts suggests, overwhelmingly, that leaving the EU is an incredibly bad idea. Possibly the worst idea any country has ever had. The result was apparently influenced by illegal data sharing and funding, blatant lies, a biased media, historically weak Prime Minister and wilfully incompetent opposition. (Among other things.)

Here is my attempt to change that universally negative perception. To explain, at last, the life-changing and life-affirming positive of this brave experiment – for us as individuals and society.

Before I get to the Good News (and it is very, very good), I need to provide some context in the form of my own Brexit story, which began nearly 12 years ago…

Screen wobble – eerie music – flashback – August 2006

Brexit family

Us in 2007, hours before we left for our glorious new life.

Life was comfortable, back then. I lived comfortably in a small mid-terrace house near the south coast of England. Worked as a freelance writer in London up to five days a week. And shared my life with the mother of my two young children (and the children).

Despite appearances, we were not 100% happy. We felt like we were existing (precariously) instead of really living. There was only enough money to pay the bills, which were always going up, while my day rate stayed the same. We contented ourselves with TV shows that matched our interests, reasonably priced wine, regular takeaways and the occasional night out.

But we couldn’t see the way forward. We had recently had a second child and would soon need a third bedroom; but three-bedroom houses were an extra £100,000, and there was no way we could find that kind of money.

Our Brexit moment

One evening, the mother of my children said, “Why don’t we sell the house and buy land?” An In/Out referendum that achieved a thumping 100% result for “Leave”.

This thought grew rapidly into a Big Idea. We would liquidate the asset and buy at least three acres, grow our own food, keep animals for meat and eggs, live in yurts and create the world’s most environmentally friendly (yet luxurious) yurt campsite. (That last bit was my idea.) This was 2006 – a time when the media spotlight was focused on the environment. Escape to River Cottage, It’s Not Easy Being Green and a host of other planet-friendly shows planted organic seeds in our fertile suburban imaginations.

What could possibly go wrong?

The glorious preparations

Armed with nothing but pen and paper, we invented some figures based on what the few other yurt camps were charging at the time and decided we could make €65K from three 18-foot yurts rented out for six months of the year. Magical, entirely un-researched numbers that promised more money than we’d ever seen. With that, we could even build a straw-bale house and be mortgage-free in (genuine, thin-air-plucked number) 10 years!

Within weeks, we had found and bought 10.47 acres of land in the Dordogne with planning permission for a house. We commissioned eight yurts from Sussex suppliers. We planned chickens, pigs, possibly a horse, solar panels – one day, maybe, a natural swimming pool. Paradise!

Bored of waiting for permission to open our perfect sustainable smallholding and business, we sold up, left the jobs, and drove off into our promising future. We arrived on August 16th 2007 with the unwavering belief that we would be open for business by April 2008. Yes, dear reader, we had even set a date. We couldn’t be more prepared!

What happened next

Have you ever dropped a crystal wine glass? I did once – in Nottingham – and it dissolved into a thousand pieces that flowed across the lino floor like diamonds poured onto a desk in a Bond film. Quite beautiful. And quite similar to what happened when our pristine dream met the immoveable object of French bureaucracy.

By Christmas, we had learnt that the mayor did not want the yurt camp; we could not live on our land in our yurts; the planning permission for the house was gone, never to return (and with it, most of the value of that land); and we would not be open for business in 2008.

Some months later, we discovered we would not be open in 2009, either.

écovallée yurt camp publicity shot

Opening shot for publicity purposes in July 2010. Success!

In fact, we weren’t open until mid-July 2010 – and only then in conspiratorial semi-secrecy thanks to the new mayor, and with only one yurt. By which point we had learnt that the actual holiday season is not six months, from April to October (as imagined), but about six weeks, in July and August. With few facilities, we charged a fraction of what we had planned and made so little (about €700), we had to borrow money to pay the tax.

BUT… if you ignore the bit about earning money, we had succeeded. We had the pigs, a horse and chickens (in that order – we later added rabbits and a couple of geese). We had a huge, well-fenced vegetable garden and orchard. We were working hard, seven days a week, earning a tenth of what we were before leaving our old life (and only because I had found something as rare as goat’s eggs in rural France – a job, which last long enough to qualify me for the dole).

But we were very happy in our grinding poverty. For a while.

A short boom, then bust

It got better. We added a second yurt in 2011, had almost exactly 15 minutes of fame on TV, then added a third yurt in 2012. Our income increased, although most of it was spent on infrastructure to improve what we were offering. Glamping had become A Thing and competition was everywhere. In our best year, we made about €16,000 before taxes.

Then we became me, as the relationship with the mother of my children came to an end.

écovallée yurt and orchard

Our new life at its peak, with yurt three over there.

We ran the family campsite together for an awkward summer while we were separating. Then I ran it for another season, having re-positioned it as a campsite for solo parents. The once-fruitful veggie bed returned to the wilderness. The poly tunnel was destroyed by a storm. I had stopped killing animals and become vegetarian. A fox slaughtered all the chickens and I gave away the one remaining goose. The olympics, media-inspired fear of terrorism, the rise of airbnb, treehouses, great weather in the UK and other factors conspired to suppress the tourist trade here. Last year, I tried one final, loss-making season, after which I closed for the final time.

The whole bubble lasted 10 years and burst back into nothing. I am currently supported by the state, despite having several “jobs”, and have been bailed out by friends and family when the harder times hit (January and February are particularly tricky months). I am asset-stripping what I can and have applied for planning permission where it is most likely to be granted, after which I will put it all on the market for a fraction of what we paid for it.

That, dear reader, is the context. You don’t need me to point out the parallels with Brexit. But you may be wondering what this wonderful positive I mentioned at the start could possibly be. Because, in conventional terms, the project has been what some people might call an unmitigated disaster.

Obvious positives

On the plus side, I have learnt more in the last 10 years than the previous 40. I have lived fully – body, mind and spirit in total harmony – in the environment in which we evolved. I can create structures from materials at hand. I can kill and butcher (although I don’t any more). I am resourceful, resilient, comfortable living below the poverty line and happy with my limited economic activity (although I still “work” up to seven days a week).

These are all useful skills. But there is a positive that is unimaginably greater than all this. You may not like this positive, so you should prepare yourself to feel some strong emotions. As these emotions rise in you, I encourage you to pay attention to your breathing, feel your feet on the floor (if you have feet) and, if necessary, look around at familiar objects for comfort and reassurance. Or listen to the sounds in your immediate environment (if you have hearing). You are, right now, absolutely fine. You will always be fine, right up until you die – and even then you will still be fine.

Before we get to the spectacular, life-changing positive, I need to provide a last bit of context. I won’t sugarcoat the positive, but it might help to see how it came into being.

Happiness is immaterial

When the mother of my children left (with my children), my ego collapsed. The oh-so-clever “me” that came up with the world’s-most-luxurious-yet-eco-friendly yurt camp part of the Big Idea – the unbending “me” that forced it into existence in the face of unrelenting bureaucratic resistance – the patriarchal “me” that co-led my family from wealth into poverty – dissolved. The dream of a sustainable smallholding and business was exposed to be just that – a fabrication of the mind, corrupted by time and events, despite our best efforts to patch it up.

For a short while, I considered falling into depression. I had the perfect excuse. I could drink and smoke myself into oblivion and no one would judge me harshly, surely? In my mind, I saw a vortex, like a black whirlpool, and knew I could just step into it and be gone. I also knew that, if I did, it would take a very long time to get out. So I backed away from the abyss.

Shortly afterwards, I was handed two books: Autobiography of a yogi and The Power of Now. Read at the perfect moment, in the midst of what might be called suffering, with a mind and liver clear of intoxicants (thanks to a timely dry January twinned with yoga and meditation), these books reminded me that genuine peace and joy are available to everyone, all the time – in the space beyond thought.

Take a moment to calm down, if you need to. Just breathe deeply and come back to the text when you are ready. Or not. I hope you will, because this is important.

After my experience, I can tell you with clarity that the human obsession with material things is completely at odds with our true self and selves. It is a false path that has seduced us for centuries – and a path that has run its course. We are entering an age where we will remember that we are, first and foremost, immaterial beings. We are about to become conscious that we are consciousness itself. People who can explain this in more detail include Eckhart Tolle, Gangaji, Rupert Spira, Mooji, Adyashanti, Byron Katie and others, and I strongly encourage you to explore what they have to say.

Our butterfly moment

What Brexit will do – the positive of positives – is plunge the UK into chaos, poverty and deprivation the likes of which no developed country has ever seen. Everything of value will become worthless. (Or, at the very least, worth less.) There will be tremendous suffering, after which the individual and collective ego responsible for the “win” will collapse into nothingness. Then, out of this nothingness will come incredible peace, joy, love and harmony.

If you are already on your spiritual path, this will make sense. If you do not yet know that you are, this may seem like the raving of someone who has lived too long in the woods. But I promise you, by sacrificing the economy and security of an entire nation and embracing suffering on a monumental scale, Brexit will raise the level of consciousness of millions and set an example for others to follow.

At last, as a species, we will stop chasing the unsustainable, fictional, unrealisable economic dream and notice the astonishing beauty of the world we have now. Instead of being seen as criminally negligent captains steering the previously good-ship Britannia towards certain doom, May and Corbyn can be celebrated as the midwives of a new humanity, to be born in the hell of an economy on fire, but destined to co-create heaven on earth.

And I can’t imagine a greater positive than that.

PS I know I’ve said this before, but this really will be my last post on this blog. For anyone wishing to be prepared for a post-Brexit Britain, please explore the archives and links. You may also want to make contact with your local Transition Town initiative. If there isn’t one, you may want to start one. Best of luck, Alex.

That’s it. The écovallée project has come to the end of its life. I will be selling the remaining yurts and focusing on music now.

When I mention this, people inwardly take a step backwards. One person I spoke to last night, recently retired and gaining weight in front of the TV, asked me, somewhat confused, “Is there work out there for musicians?”

I have a few ideas.

If you’re interested in seeing if these ideas work, you’re welcome to follow the new blog that will shortly be appearing at alexthepianist.com.

If you’re more interested in self-sufficiency, yurts, pigs, French bureaucracy and all that fun stuff, the archives are yours to plunder at your pleasure.

UPDATE

I’m going even further and selling écovallée itself. If you would like to pick up where I left off, feel free to get in touch.

Followers of this blog may be interested to know that écovallée will be open this year (2017) with a small – and huge – difference.

Closed are the 18-foot family yurts (Mustardseed and Peaseblossom). Open are just two 12-foot yurts (Puck and Ariel), available for rent from May to September. Each yurt has its own huge outdoor kitchen and an equal share of this beautiful 12.5-acre site. The two yurts – which are ideal for solo travellers and couples – are about 100 metres (100 yards) apart, so peace and quiet is guaranteed. At a maximum of €500 for a week in July and August, staying in this eco-friendly paradise will not cost the Earth.

You can book through airbnb or Booking.com, or contact me (Alex) directly through the website.

Two days after I decided to close écovallée, I met someone who told me she had been asked to keep an eye out for a venue in France for yoga and meditation retreats. Which planted the seed of an idea that grew quite fast.

This idea is now a seedling strong enough to plant out…

In 2017, écovallée will re-launch as venue for healing retreats, courses and seminars. It is clear that the world needs healing more than holidays – and I can’t think of a better use for this land than as a centre for personal (and global) development.

Here is a short document aimed at those looking for a low-impact place in which to explore the ways in which we can have a positive impact on our planet. Please feel free to retweet and share widely:

the écovallée venue (pdf)

I am leaving this blog online, because it contains some useful information, but this will be my last post. My journey continues and I am travelling light. Thank you for being a reader and I wish you all the best in the years ahead.

With love, Alex.

I’ve had some enquiries in the last couple of days for short(ish) stays in July and August. Now, there’s always been a one-week minimum stay in those months… But… Seeing as it’s écovallée’s last year as a campsite…

There are now no booking rules. In other words, now there’s a new no-rule booking rule. You’ve read it here first. I’ll change the booking.com and airbnb parameters when I get a moment. (The sun’s come out and I’ve got some catching up to do before temperatures hit the 30s on Wednesday.)

Obviously, the longer you stay here, the better for everyone. And, if you’re paying the €20 per person to use the sheets and towels here, it makes sense to stay as long as possible. See you later.

It’s been as wet as a northwest European summer down here, and this week’s fabulous guests coped brilliantly.

Now the forecast is for blues skies and temperatures in the 30s – as is normal for the time of year. There’s still plenty of availability over the next few months. So come on down and see why this is still one of the most popular tourist destinations n the world…

 

A couple of days after I decided this would be the last season for the yurt camp, I went down to feed the chickens. (Philippe’s been sharing this very easy job with me this year, as he’s experimenting with growing veggies in the nearby poly tunnel. I haven’t been starving them.)

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement in the orchard until I was at the gate and saw the first body. There’s been an attack in there before, when we lost three chickens to a pine marten. This time, every chicken had been killed. I found the hole over by the old rabbit hutch, where a very determined fox or dog had made its way through two layers of chicken wire (one layer of which may have been damaged by a strimmer a while ago) and run riot.

The goose was fine, though a bit shaken by being in there on her own – and having survived the attack.

This kind of thing does happen in smallholding – despite fencing that cost over €400 and that took weeks or more to complete (it was 2 metres high, dug into the ground 12 inches and at a right angle outwards for another 12 inches, in a trench back-filled with clay-heavy mud). That’s a lot of investment that needs paying back in eggs. Add the feed (at about €10) a week, for far too many eggs (I eat about six a week and they were producing up to eight a day), and the cost of the hens (although a few were given to us and others were born here), the accommodation and whatever, and you will see that buying organic, free-range eggs from your farmer’s market is not such a big deal.

What this means for guests is that écovallée eggs are off the menu in 2016. The goose has now gone to another home, where she will be in the company of other geese, and écovallée is (non wild) animal free for the first time since 2007. What this will also mean for guests is no more 5.00 am wake-up call from the cockerels. I was a bit worried that two of them would be a bit much for some people.

Facebook Likers already know this year’s HUGE news – that the écovallée yurt camp will be closing at the end of this season. To help it go out in style, I have slashed the prices and extended the season until the end of October.

Here are the new – and final – prices, if you want to come and experience the fruits of our last 10 years’ labour of love.

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I'm asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don't have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

*This price is if you bring your own sheets and towels. I’m asking for €20 per person to cover the cost of local laundry, because I don’t have time to do it all (see all previous posts for details).

So, why am I closing?

Many reasons. In August, it will be 10 years since we came up with the idea. The full 10-year plan was that we would have a yurt camp and a house at the end of those 10 years. What we failed to include in that plan were two things: (1) the campsite would be a “success” in conventional terms; and (2) we would still be together as a couple and as a family.

Let’s take a closer look at those two things.

The campsite, despite increasing the number of guests and the turnover each year, and despite being one of the most beautiful, lovingly made yurt camps on the face of the planet, cannot be seen as a success on paper. I don’t have the exact figures to hand, but I’d guesstimate that it has cost us well over €170,000 excluding eight years of (wo)man hours, multiplied by two. Last year’s highest-ever turnover (if you’re taking notes) was about €16,000 before tax. This year, business has fallen off a cliff. I have availability every week between now and the end of October. For almost all of those weeks, as of writing, the availability is 100%. I’m not alone in this, although it’s not widely discussed, and you can imagine your own reasons for this collapse in tourism. But you’d have to say, on paper, it has been a disaster. (If I were a bank, in fact, the taxpayer would be bailing me out.)

Fortunately, I am not bound by conventional Western thinking. So, I’ll brief explain why it has been a success.

One of the things I’ve come to realise, this year, is that notions of success and failure are just that – notions. They’re not real. The only thing that’s real is what is going on around you, right now – what you can see, touch, hear, taste and smell. When you start comparing what’s real with notions in your head, you start to get upset – which is utterly pointless! Looking at what we’ve created, écovallée is perfect. It’s a stunningly beautiful campsite, in a tranquil valley, filled with wildlife, in one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of France. Everything has been done with love – and to our own satisfaction. With our own hands. Using natural materials. When I think of a way that it can be more perfect, I do that, too. It’s all a joy.

So, we did that part of the 10-year plan, in the teeth of astonishing resistance from the authorities (resistance I now understand, don’t agree with, but accept).

Which brings me to that second thing.

I wasn’t happy about The Former Her Outdoors’ decision to leave. I won’t go into detail, but no one was treacherous to anyone. The relationship wasn’t working any more – hadn’t been for some time – and she was able to see it and take action. But, now it’s happened, everyone seems to be happier. She is living in a house, The Daughter and Boy have their own bedrooms for the first time and I live in what many people in the developed world would (notionally) see as paradise. It is paradise – and how could I possibly be upset to live there?

But I’ve struggled to see how I can continue to run a family campsite as a single guy. It seems a bit weird. I knew that écovallée would have to evolve as my Liddle Chillen became Big, but I couldn’t see how it was going to change. The fact that the 10 years of the 10-year plan are up this year makes a nice round number to draw the project to a close.

So, if you’d like to come and stay, this is your last chance.

Coming soon – dramatic changes following my decision to close. (Involves chickens.)

The last few days have been pretty busy. (An excuse you’ll find elsewhere on this blog.)

What led to this busyness was that I had guests booked in Mustardseed (one of the 18-foot yurts in écovallée) on June 11th. Which was great. Except that, on June 10th, it was still full of the other 18-foot yurt (which is called Peaseblossom), plus all the deconstructed beds of both yurts and the new outdoor kitchen roof, recently made by The Former Her Outdoors.

Regular readers will not be surprised that there was also rain on the forecast.

Here’s why I felt the kitchen roof needed replacing (my mate Philippe’s the real star in this shot – thank <Deity Name> he was here to help – I couldn’t have done all this without him):

old kitchen roof

Here’s me sorting out the bracing on Peaseblossom’s roof wheel, which fell to pieces while it was being put away at the end of last season:

yurt roof wheel

The forecasted rain came early, so we put the frame up fast:

yurt frame

Then the cover:

yurt roof

Before we turned our attention back to the kitchen:

new kitchen roof

It doesn’t take long to put the cover on, but look how it transforms the space:

new roof

After that, I remembered to take a shot of the finished yurt, just for you:

completed yurt

Next, the floor needed scrubbing, mopping and leaving to dry, so the deconstructed beds could be moved in. Then the beds in Mustardseed had to be reconstructed and made. The pots, plates and everything else were washed up and put in place in the kitchen, the solar shower and compost toilet cleaned, plus countless other jobs.

The guests had only booked one night. (They did this through booking.com, which prompted me to look harder at the settings and change the minimum number of nights to three – there’s more to this business than construction, cleaning and looking nonchalant when people arrive.)

Today was relatively easy: Said goodbye to one set of guests, then did a quick changeover for Puck (the 12-foot yurt), after buying all the stuff for the Welcome Picnic – ‘cos they’re staying for the week.

So that’s almost it. Apart from a few more hours of setting up Peaseblossom, écovallée is ready for its last ever season as a campsite.

More on this soon.

I know I said I’d live blog the opening of écovallée this year. I live-took these photos of the 12-foot yurt, Puck, before it welcomed the first guests the other week. Which kind of counts. Hopefully. (Don’t worry – the hammock was put up before they arrived.)

12-foot-yurt

yurt-camp-kitchen

I was complimented on my post work by one of the guests – a property developer, no less. So I was pretty pleased.

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