A few weeks ago, we bought a 28-metre string of solar fairy lights from Nigel’s Eco Store. Twenty-eight metres! That’s enough to go all the way round the snail-shell solar shower, then across to – and all the way around – the tree bog. Look:


Can’t see them? How about now:


Only one thing confuses me about these lights – and that’s this claim made on the box: “Up to 40 hours run time per night”.

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Lots of people build clay ovens. This week, we started ours by marking out a circle on the ground:


Building a circle of stones using dry-stone-wall skills, with a thin layer of lime mortar to hold them in place (and stop hornets nesting in the cracks):


Completing the stone circle (which is filled with rubble that’s been sitting around up here looking untidy):


Laying some sand on the top to get it Really Flat, and placing some fire bricks (which have also been sitting around for a while) on top:


Making the inside shape of the oven, using bought sand that will be re-used later:


Covering it with newspaper:


Building up the first layer using our own clay and some more of that sand:


And finishing it just before dark:


We couldn’t have done this so fast without our new friends Ben and Anna who, for the second time this year, stayed an extra night because they couldn’t tear themselves away.

(Obviously, this wasn’t the only thing we did this week. We also cut, split and stacked a huge amount of wood, and dug a Very Important Trench. But it wasn’t all lazing around, enjoying the Relaxing French Lifestyle – we also ate great food, drank excellent wine, and stayed up far too late, far too often.)

A few months ago, we had to put up a solar electric fence for a horse, fast. (As opposed to a fast horse, unless you’re talking about eating speed.)

I went into an electric fence retailer and stared at the shelves of equipment, not knowing I would need:

The energiser, with compatible battery and solar panel, connected to an earth (about a metre long), with galvanised wire:


And connected to the (in this case) 25mm electrical fencing tape:


Wooden posts at each corner, with special corner tape-holders:


Enough plastic spacers to have one every 12 metres (yards) or so (these are a bit rubbish, as the tape-holding bits tend to break – but this is fixable with more wire) – they’re utterly unworkable as corner posts:


And a gate kit:


When you run out of tape, you can simply tie on some more, stripping back the plastic to expose the wires, which you can then twist together to keep the current flowing:


We also use the electric fence string and isolators screwed into wooden fence posts, in our Mark II veggie bed that the pigs have nearly finished clearing.


I hope this helps you as much as it would have helped me.


We just got this clock, alarm clock, timer and thermometer from the CAT online shop, for £14.75.

Not because of the way it looks (clearly), but because of the way it’s powered.

Literally a few drops of water every couple of months will keep the battery (which is about the same size as an AA) running for two years or more. “As all the components of the H20 water battery are recyclable the benefits over traditional batteries are countless”, claims the box – a statement that shows the company also saves money by not employing a copywriter.

All power to them.

Many people have said it over the years. No doubt, even more have thought it. But I am happy to confirm that, three weeks ago, we all went nuts.

The final straw was when, in the search for planet-friendly shampoo, soap, washing-up and washing liquids to give our future yurters, I went into our local eco-boutique. The Very Nice Woman Who Runs The Place pointed to a range very similar to Ecover, then asked if I’d ever considered going nuts.

Well yes. I’d thought about it. Who hasn’t? Even picked up a bag at the market. But never taken the plunge.

She told me I should. She showed me how to use them (break a few in half, put them in the little pouch, and use twice at 40 degrees or once at 60). And she gave me a bag. Gave it to me!

Here it is:


We’ve used them on normal clothes and nappies. They work. They’re cheaper than washing liquid (even when you pay for them). And they’re compostable.

The shampoo and soap are also excellent, and the Very Nice Woman is getting us some prices for shiatsu and normal massage, although the guests will have to pay for those (what do you think we are, insane?).

Two Sundays ago, we went to Issigeac. Not to visit the market.


Or to admire the beautiful Medieval streets.


Although it doesn’t do any harm to look.


No. This time we went to talk solar panels with an English guy who’d overheard me asking a balloon artist who’s currently cycling to Greece with her busking, flame-throwing partner if she’d be available to entertain the kids at écovallée. (She would – but not until 2010.)

I’d taken a look at the English guy’s website and seen some VERY attractive prices. Prices that cut our projected solar shower budget in half. Which is why we had to meet.

It was all going really well (apart from the trying to control Two Small Children in an increasingly busy bar), until he mentioned that his hot water cylinders were sourced in China.

Ah.

Not the best news to someone who’s spent the last several years trying to persuade production departments in various advertising agencies to source their Clever Gizmos and Tricksy Plastic Crap locally. “That’s all very well,” they tell me. “But I can make loads more money if I have the stuff made on the other side of the world, in factories where Health and Safety or Minimum Wages are not an issue, then flown back here and…” You know the story.

“But these are really cheap,” the solar guy said. “That’s great, isn’t it?”

“Not so great,” I said. “I’m going to have journalists from The Guardian down. I’m going to be saying this is the greenest, most up-to-date, low-carbon yurt camp in Europe. Perhaps, momentarily, the world. I’m going to need to defend every aspect of the site. Cost is not the issue. We need a 100% green, ethical chain of supply.”

Ah.

I’ve asked some friends. Now I’m asking you. If you know about any solar water and electrical panels NOT sourced in China, please tell me.

We don’t need to meet. An email will do.

This little puppy promises to light an area of 148 square feet (however big that is), for up to seven hours a day (though we’ll be using it mainly at night), includes a bulb with a life expectancy of 3,000 hours (600 days at five hours a day), and has a warranty of 10 years. At a competitive £79.99 from the CAT shop (battery not included), it’s the best kit of its kind I can find. Almost the only one.

I thought it would be bigger.

What surprised me, in my short but very specific search, is the lack of choice on the market right now. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Solar Lighting”.

You won’t find it.

Even in Brighton.

Call me old fashioned if you must, but I wanted a shop where I could go in, look at all the options available, talk to an informed salesperson (I know, I know), get some idea about which set-up is best for our situation, and leave feeling that I knew a little something about this Soon To Be Massive Retail Sector.

But no.

Instead, I must buy before I try. Not, to the best of my knowledge, a wildly successful marketing strategy.

If it works as well as I hope, you’ll be one of the first to know.