In the last few days, I’ve re-read the blog(s) while writing a short(ish) summary of the bureaucratic issues surrounding the project so far. I can’t tell you why at the moment.

During this reading, I’ve noticed a few things. One thing is that importing the original Blogger blog into Wordpress didn’t go as well as I thought. The order of posts is a bit random and some posts have disappeared altogether (ALL: “Some posts have disappeared!”).

So, for a more satisfying reader experience, for posts leading up to September 23 2012, go here.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that my blog posts have become far less frequent – and less playful or amusing. I’ll try and redress that over the coming months – months during which, once again, I will try and write Part Two of my book.

The last of the noggings went in a few minutes ago.

yurt platform joists

The first of the floorboards will go on after this short break…

UPDATE: Do not do it like this. See that square with the triangular bits on? On the left, you’ll see two joists that span the full distance, then smaller joists at right angles to it. I was cheating a bit here, using joists I already had. When you do it (as I did on another 18-foot floor), use joists that go the full span like those two on the left. What happened with this was that the noggings pulled out of the full-span joist near the centre and the floor dropped. OK, this was also because I was using nails that weren’t long enough. Next time, I’ll go for one nail and one screw to keep it in place.

One of the many exciting improvements we’re making before the start of next season is a new website.

Yes, I know the we have at the moment is very beautiful. But it was designed by a designer, using a load of programs I don’t have access to, and there are a number of limiting problems. The headlines are built as images, for example, so can’t be tweaked. Changing the text is a bit bewildering and I have to write code that sometimes goes wrong. Not to mention adding buttons at the bottom and making the “maps” fit. I also want to make the blog and twitter feed part of the new site – and who knows what else in the future?

As with many things, I’m going to be doing this experientially, and for as little as possible. I’ll keep you informed of my progress when relevant.

To begin, I’ve decided to build the new website using wordpress. Everyone raves about wordpress, and I’m vaguely familiar with it through writing this and other blogs. I’ve also decided to create the new site on my computer, rather than “live” on the Internet, for which I needed some software called MAMP. Getting these two things to talk to each other, even with YouTube video walk-throughs, was not entirely straightforward, so I also put a call into Luke from project1p (who is now exchanging website design for money) and now I’m in a position to start.

It’s going to be raining for a few days, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long before you see more. But I can’t show you too much, or it wouldn’t be part of the Longest Teaser Campaign in History.

A few days ago, I wrote this post about the similarities between me and world-famous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and wondered what effect it might have on my blog stats. This is what happened:

stats 2

On the day the Edward Snowden post was published, this blog received 34 visitors and 45 views. Not quite the huge numbers I was expecting, but I didn’t go out of my way to promote the post, as I didn’t want to skew the results. The average number of pages viewed per visitor was 1.32, which doesn’t surprise me – people interested in Edward Snowden aren’t necessarily going to be interested in a yurt camp and smallholding in rural France. One other thing worth noting about the exercise is that the blog won two new followers, who are both very fit, young American men with short hair who express an interest in making lots of money. Hello to them – and welcome to a blog about making as little money as possible.

Compare this low-page-view stat with that block to the right of July 2, when I published this post about the new wind-powered fridge for guests. Here, 28 people viewed the blog and read a total of 155 pages, or 5.54 posts per visitor. Obviously, this is my real target audience and so will stick with the eco-oriented posts from now on. Any SEO-oriented stuff will now appear on my other blog.

Coming soon, the 12-foot yurt frame is up…

It will be a huge relief to some people to read that the ebook launch campaign is over. (If you’re one of those people, don’t bother reading this post – it will only extend the agony.) I must say I enjoyed pretty much all of it. I’ve done some things I haven’t done in a while and reminded myself that advertising, given the right product, is about as much fun as you can have while sober.

I’m now going to go into an Unnecessary Amount of Detail to explain why I did what I did and reveal what happened after I did it. It’s going to be a pretty dry post, but I’ll punctuate it with examples where appropriate.

From the top then.

October 31st

I published the brief on this blog. I had no idea what I was going to do after this, but as I explained in the post, a brief is a very useful device to focus the mind. The focus centres around a single thought that should be communicated (what adpeople call a “Proposition”) and all work that follows should have this at its core.

Before I go on, you should know that when something is published on this blog, it is automatically posted on the écovallée facebook page (which had about 60 likes on Oct 31) and the twitter account (which had about 220 followers at this point). People who actively follow the blog (not many, as I just moved from blogspot) are notified, presumably by email. I almost always shared the facebook posts to my facebook friends (numbering around 160 at this time).

Brief results

The blog was viewed 39 times that day

The blog post was viewed 18 times

The facebook post was viewed by 55 people

I sold 2 books (I hadn’t sold any books for the previous 13 days) – my only explanation is that the brief worked in the same way as a long-copy ad (see below)

November 1st

Woke up with a thought for a viral video, wrote it, shot it, wrote the music, recorded it, then cut it all together and published it by the end of the day. Had a blast.

Viral results

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 72 times

The blog post was viewed 12 times

The facebook post was viewed by 12 people – and I had one new ‘Like’

I didn’t log the video views, but it can’t have been many

November 2nd

I was a bit bummed that my viral video hadn’t gone global, so retweeted it to get the stats up. I followed this with a blog post linked to an interview about the book with “This French Life”. This was put up on their website the day before, but it gave me something new to publish without doing any actual work.

Interview results

By the end of the day, the blog had been viewed 109 times.

The interview post had been viewed 8 times

The facebook post had been viewed by 16 people

I made 2 sales

November 3rd

This was a Saturday, which I decided to take off, because all this time in front of a computer screen felt like a job and people with jobs like that don’t work weekends. I still kept an eye on the stats, though, because I don’t actually have a job like that. This is my life, instead.

By the end of the day the blog had been viewed 26 times.

The video had been viewed 26 times (cumulative), which is very far indeed from being viral. More like a sniff or a polite clearing of the throat that might not be anything at all.

November 4th

A Sunday.

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 38 times.

The video had been seen a far-too healthy 26 times.

November 5th

Published an ad with an offer. A creative director of mine in the States once showed me this pie chart about what makes people respond to advertising. From memory, by far the biggest slice of this pie was “Timing”. The second slice I remember being the “Offer”. Hence this execution. The idea with this launch campaign was to try a range of ads in a variety of styles. This ad didn’t have much style, but it did have something I hadn’t tried before – the money-back guarantee.

Offer results

By the day end, 38 blog views

Of which, 13 blog post views and

0 sales. A bit disappointing, but not upsetting. Because I was just about to publish…

November 6th

A long-copy ad. Ad theory has it that the more words you write, the more sales you make. This theory may have been written by a copywriter trying to keep their job, and fair play to that. I don’t particularly like writing long-copy ads. They take time. They need structuring. But I hadn’t written one for a long time and so I was happy to give it a shot. It did what the theory said it would do.

Long copy results

I got 2 re-tweets

I made 2 sales

I had 1 facebook share

I had 1 new blog “Like”

3 new twitter followers

The facebook post was seen by 15 people

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 98 times

The post had been seen 45 times

Some time ago, an agency client (who must have read a book or something) told me that people buy things for “pain or gain”. It’s a painfully slick soundbite and probably largely true. It’s also a good explanation as to why I was always very uncomfortable working in advertising – my job was to manipulate people into parting with their cash through the use of fear or greed, neither of which I think are ideas that should be promoted.

November 7th

When people talk about advertising, they’re often thinking of TV commercials or posters you see in the High Street. These are great fun and very easy to do, but something I didn’t get to do much during my career. So I did this, with a poster in mind. Obviously I did the art direction, typography and everything else, which would all be done by people with actual talent (and the ability to consume an alarming amount and range of intoxicants) in an agency setting. I didn’t expect much of a response, but it went down well – possibly the cumulative effect of the previous ad executions.

Awareness ad results

I got 3 sales

1 new twitter follower

1 new facebook page “Like”

45 facebook post views

49 blog views

21 blog post views

Obviously you could spin this to say I got 3 sales from 21 blog post views – a nearly 40% conversion rate – but this would be very misleading. So I’m not going to do anything of the sort. Stats, eh?

November 8th

Another ad classic is something called a “testimonial”. This is where someone talks about how happy they are with the product that’s being flogged. You are supposed to be convinced by this person on the street and rush out to buy your thneed (hat tip to Dr Seuss). I decided to invite people who had already read the book to give their feedback, thereby getting away without writing an ad at all.

Testimonial results

By the end of the day, the blog got 99 views

The blog post got 38 views

The facebook post got 23 views

And I got 1 sale

I wasn’t too upset by this result (it is, after all, a result), because I still had my banker up my sleeve.

November 9th

The charity ad. Many years ago, when I was working in Leicester, another copywriter was telling me about his housebuilder account. They always included animals in the ads, mainly kittens and puppies. He said they tried babies and foot traffic to the housing developments dropped through the floor – even varying the ethnicity didn’t help. So they went back to animals and the punters came back too.

Going off-brief for the first time, I decided to bring Pepito into the mix. Every cent raised by the book would be spent on the animals anyway, so I wasn’t being exactly dishonest. And I had the sneaking suspicion that it would, as the industry saying goes, “pull like a train”.

Charity results

I got 1 reblog

I got 4 facebook “Like”s

The facebook post was viewed 31 times

The facebook post was shared

The blog got 127 views

The blog post got 57 views

I made 10 sales

November 10th

A Saturday, and the end of the campaign.

The blog got 49 views

The viral video had 44 cumulative views

I made 1 sale

November 11th

A Sunday.

2 sales

In conclusion

You almost certainly know more about stats than me, so draw what conclusions you may from all of this. One thing that occurs to me, which I have suspected for a long time, is that social networking doesn’t work in the way I would want when it comes to sales. It seems great for getting people to look for missing children, and at iphotos, but I think it encourages people to be passive, their only activity being the mouse click to share (I may be out of date here – a double-tap on a screen might be the order of the day).

Having said that, there’s another ad industry expression that bears repeating: “Half of advertising doesn’t work. The trouble is, no one knows which half”.

I started doing twitter on the advice of a friend. But I didn’t see the point. Then one day we got a call from ITV asking if we’d be interested in appearing in a prime-time TV show. When I asked the Producer how he got to hear about us, he said it was through twitter. (Interesting result here, so far unpublished: After almost exactly 15 minutes of prime-time exposure on ITV, we had 1 booking. A terrifying stat in many ways.)

It wouldn’t be fair to finish without talking money. The work I put into this campaign could be very reasonably charged at £1,500. This would then be billed out by a small to medium agency at about £6,000 (that’s just for the writer – the art director, typographer and everyone else would add to that considerably). The campaign made, up to now (Monday 1am – I still don’t have that normal job, remember?) 26 sales. After fees and taxes, this leaves around €17. Not a particularly impressive result until you consider the budget was met at €0 – which gives an ROI (return on investment) of infinity.

In real terms, it will all buy Pepito three bales of hay.

A few years ago, I played piano for one hour in exchange for 40 bales of hay. It remains my most profitable gig so far.

And finally

There is one more thing. If sales continue at the current rate, I will start writing Part Two of “écovallee behind the seams“, entitled “Descent into Hell“, on May 1st 2015. I apologise for any distress this may cause. Especially to Nige, one of the most enthusiastic readers any writer could hope to reach.

Five years ago next week, we saved Pepito from the abattoir for the princely sum of €2,000.

He’d spent his working life pulling gypsy caravans full of tourists up and down the hills of the Dordogne. We thought he’d enjoy an easier life carrying suitcases for guests in the yurt camp we expected to open the following April.

We didn’t know he’d been put to work far too young, which permanently damaged his back. Or that he had arthritis in his legs. Or that, without a microchip or papers, he should have been given away or sold for his meat value of €800. And we couldn’t have imagined it would be years before the campsite was finally open.

We only knew that we wanted a working horse instead of a tractor and Pepito came along at the right time.

A very hungry horse

But apart from pulling a stubborn pine tree from the old pig woods and a little harrowing, Pepito has never worked in écovallée. Instead, he has eaten – acres of grass in the Summer, and tons hay in the Winter.

The only trouble is, hay is expensive. Last year, after a very dry Spring, Pepito’s hay cost €5 a bale from our local agricultural supplier. This year, they’re selling bales of this essential, life-giving feed for €6 each – even though it is more plentiful. It may not sound much, but it’s a crushingly huge increase for us, considering Pepito will eat one bale every day until the grass starts growing again in April.

Animal attraction

We don’t regret saving Pepito from the slaughterhouse. He doesn’t plough the field or carry luggage as we intended, but he does keep the grass down without the use of fossil fuels – and he does create mountains of manure for the veggie patch.

He is also the star attraction for many of our younger guests – and one reason why some families choose écovallée over other yurt camps. This big-bellied, gentle horse, will come running from the far corner of the valley at the sight of an apple, a carrot or a stale baguette held high, and stand patiently while his hair is turned into plaits.

He’s a beautiful, friendly beast we wouldn’t want to live without.

Pepito’s turn for some love

Even though écovallée has been a success since we’ve been open, all the money after tax has been reinvested in the campsite – on infrastructure like the spectacular solar shower, off-grid grey water treatment, perhaps the world’s most beautiful compost toilet, wooden floors for the yurts, new covers, furnishings and more.

Now the bulk of our work is done, it’s Pepito’s turn to receive the attention he deserves. Not only does he need good hay and oats to get through what might be another bitterly hard Winter, but we’d love to build him a field shelter to give him the option of getting out of the wind and rain for the first time in his life. The wood for the frame is waiting. We just don’t have the resources for walls or a roof.

How you can help

The reason we are making “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” available now, instead of waiting for a publisher, is to raise funds for Pepito. The €1 you spend, after fees, will keep him in hay for over two hours. For every 10 people who buy the book, we can feed Pepito for a whole day.

As the book describes, it was never our intention to be poor. Some people will say we shouldn’t even be keeping a horse. But we want Pepito to end his years in écovallée and we will do everything we can to make that happen.

We can do this together

One of the many things our experience has taught us is that living the sustainable, self-sufficient life is almost impossible for one small family unit. The sensible, practical way forward is through community. The community should ideally be made up of people living in the same area, sharing skills, tools and whatever support is necessary throughout the year. But thanks to the Internet, that community can include people from around the world.

If you can spare €1 to help feed Pepito, please do so. If you would like to buy a whole bale, better still – you will receive one copy of “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” for every euro you spend. Your money can be redeemed against a holiday of any length at the écovallée yurt camp, at any point in the future. And you will receive a book that, as one reader puts it, is “€1 very well spent”.

We’re not a charity. We’re just a family doing our best to get through the Winter with our horse – which will be all the easier with your help.

Hay or nay? Say yay today!

To buy your book(s), visit the écovallée facebook shop and click on the sock monkey. Then enter the number of books you want to buy and pay with paypal. You will receive your copy (or copies) by email within moments. With all of our thanks.

Lots of excitement in the coming days and weeks:
o The return of a Big Machine.
o A lunatic up a tree.
o Some natural magic.

Not necessarily in that order. But all (which will come as a relief to the hard of reading) with pictures.

I can’t even begin to tell you how busy we’ve been. (Which is a bit sad. Because in my dotage, I won’t be able to look back, over my enormous wine-and-duck belly and say: “Blimus. I’m glad I’m not as busy as that any more.”)

But I can tell you about the day we were supposed to pick up the rabbits. For some reason, in the Present Tense.

Drop the kids off at school and go to pick up friend’s trailer in Lanquais. Drive into field and take down 18-foot yurt (aka Guest Yurt One), where Bob’s been staying for a few weeks (I haven’t told you about Bob). The wind is strong and Things Fly Around Annoyingly. Return to Shack and take down 18-foot yurt, the roof cover for which was beautifully made by Her Outdoors in time to beat the rain and protect the pounded-earth floor, but which leaked like a sieve because of Something They Don’t Tell You When You Buy Waterproof Canvas (more on this later) and necessitated the Abandoning of the Adobe Floor Concept for 2009. Put up Guest Yurt One on Near Shack platform (which isn’t easy, I won’t tell you). Cook lunch. Add groundsheet under frame. Add insulation to groundsheet. Move furniture from field to Near Shack platform. Pick up Boy from school. Pick up Her Outdoors’ parents and bring back for dinner. Move furniture from 12-foot yurt (aka The Play Yurt) where we had been sleeping, to make room for Bob (who I still haven’t told you about). Phone Richard the Butcher to say we won’t be able to pick up the rabbits today. Pick up The Daughter from school. Return trailer to friend so it can be used by them the next day. Have dinner with visiting family.

And that wasn’t an especially busy day.

The last few steps down the devolutionary ladder were expectedly frantic.

We attempted to build the bathroom extension and, thanks completely to English mafia Nick, made an excellent start. But we didn’t have enough time, so we focused our efforts on: waterproofing and laying a floor in the Shack basement for Stuff Storage; putting a joisted floor in one half of the tractor shed for Yurt Storage; sanding and oiling an 18-foot yurt frame and setting it up in the field for Other Stuff Storage; building an emergency bucket compost toilet; taking yet More Stuff (we seem to have a lot of it) to Jackie and Chris’ barn; turning the caravan into a kitchen; and keeping two small children relatively happy.

Then more of the English mafia (and one Belgian: ‘We don’t have mafia in Belgium’) pulled together to help us move – despite the heat (high 30s and beyond) and we drove away from conventional accommodation for the foreseeable future.

It’s only taken three years since having the idea, two years since moving to France, countless drops of blood, floods of sweat and the occasional tear, but we’ve done it. Finally, legally, we’re living in a tent in a field. (The devolution is so complete, I’m actually writing this on a piece of paper on a table in the shade, in biro. It probably should be a pencil. Give it time.)

Obviously, this would be an excellent time to bring this blog to an end. But I’d only have to start a new one to tell you what happens after the devolution. So I’ve settled instead on a simple name change. You know how I love parentheses.

It was more like half a centimetre. I would show you, but Her Outdoors has gone to England to see the newest member of the family – with the camera. Leaving me with potato beds to dig, a website to write, life to manage, all that fun stuff.

If you’re desperate for something interesting to read, the formerly boy-genius Cafe del Nightmare has started blogging again.

UPDATE: It still looked tight, so I cut another half centimetre of it the other day. It still looked tight. I blame the drip edge. Few wouldn’t.