It is with some sadness that I write of the death of my work boots on July 11th 2013, around noon:


They came to me some years ago from English mafia Mandy. Not quite my size, very well worn and missing a hook and half a lace, but they still had plenty of life in them.

They accompanied me almost daily in the woods and fields ever since, occasionally eating through another piece of cord that I used instead of laces – largely because I had 30 metres or so sitting in the lean-to. But I didn’t begrudge this negligible running cost. That was those boots. They were as hard working and hard wearing in Winter as every other season and – given the choice between steel-toe wellies and those boots, I went for the boots almost every time. I began to think they’d go on forever.

But yesterday, while I was strimming on a particularly steep incline, I felt a pinching under my right foot. When I stopped, I looked and found this:

boots 1

Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s an equipment failure and I should send the boots back to the manufacturer with a strongly worded letter. The evidence that it is a design flaw is all-too obvious from the other boot, which has failed in exactly the same place:

boots 2

But complaining about a second-hand pair of boots that have served me so well would seem, well, churlish. So I have decided to retire the boots and have spent actual money on a new pair. These boots will be unceremonially dumped when I get round to it. It’s just what they would have expected.

May they rest in pieces.

A couple things, now I come to mention it.

The first is: During my first post-paperwork paid job, my strimmer broke down and will be in the strimmer hospital for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping it’s not serious (or expensive) and am confident the strimmer doctor will do his best. Fortunately, I have access to two other machines through the English mafia, and the breakdown only stopped me for a few minutes, which coincided nicely with lunch.

The second is: I met someone on Friday who confirmed that the auto-entrepreneur scheme will be abolished. Apparently, nothing will be written into law until September, so there is still plenty of time for people to get very, very upset in an attempt to overturn, or amend, delay, or in other ways fight the abolition. All we can do in the meantime, which is all we have ever been able to do, is: Go back to work.

Some of you will know all about the power of manifestation. Others will say: “Be careful what you wish for” without realising that they are acknowledging the very same unstoppable force. I won’t go into detail – it’s all out there on the interweb.

Why am I saying this? Because in my very first post, I mentioned going to France to “become a peasant”. Recently, when it looked like the yurt project was finally dead, I even started a second blog called “peasant life”. Around the same time, I changed my twitter name to bloodypeasant – trying to find the humour in what was observably a pretty dire situation.

For months now, we’ve been living not just like peasants, but as peasants. Scratching around for money, wearing clothes donated by the wonderful English Mafia, living very hand to mouth (no change there – it was just the same in England, only the overheads were higher), occasionally wailing, and might even have gnashed our teeth if we knew how.

But all that’s changed. I’ve tweaked the website to announce the 2010 offering (fewer frills – not quite easyyurt but not the most luxurious yurt camp in the world, either), changed my other blog name and my twitter name. We’re not going to be peasants any more. (We’ve stopped that – it’s silly.) We’re going to be something infinitely more pleasant.

In an ideal world, you probably wouldn’t leave it this late in the year to build your winter home. But for various reasons, known and unknown, we have.

After a further visit from our friend with the JCB, who dug a nice big hole for our sceptic tank, we began our bedroom yurt platform, which currently looks like this:

Right next to it, our bathroom-to-be looked like this when the sun rose today (yes, I carried all those blocks up there, which is one of the many reasons I’m so bluddie tired at the moment):

And after being savaged by English mafia Dave and James without the benefit of a lunchbreak, looks like this as the sun begins to set:

Let’s see what we can do with the next few days of glorious weather, shall we? No pressure. Winter’s only six weeks or so away…

English mafia Dave and James came back yesterday and did some frankly beautiful work while I shovelled sand, lime and cement, and shifted blocks. I ended the day feeling a little bummed, not able to thank them enough for working for no money – although I should have been elated now the Shack looks like this:

Interesting Fact: That chunk of wood above the bathroom (-to-be) window is the first natural material in this whole structure, which formally held up some asbestos roofing material in almost the same place.

Utterly Irrelevant Fact: Those bits of wood sticking out of the wall that you can’t see in this picture… you wouldn’t believe how hard they were to get out.

Something else for nothing: The scaffolding. (Lent by a neighbour.)

Here’s a picture English mafia Dave took the other morning:

The bottom two courses visible were almost completely done by English mafia Nick. The others are all mine, laid one row at a time all the way round in a nice straight-ish line. (Seems logical, doesn’t it?)

Here’s a shot Dave took that same afternoon.

I’m the one standing next to English Mafia James, who laid all the other courses – building up each corner, then filling in the middle (like I’d been told by English mafia Lee). Guess what? It’s a helluva lot quicker. Another couple of days and it’ll be done.

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.

This is the bit in the reality TV show, just before the ad break in Part Two, where the indomitable couple have run out of time, money and energy. The presenter looks at what’s going on, turns to camera and says: ‘From where I’m standing, I can’t see how they’re going to pull it off’.

But if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know we’ve been here before.

Let’s look at what would have happened in Part Two:
o We bought The Shack and celebrated with home-made elderflower champagne from HFW’s recipe; one of two batches Her Outdoors made worked and it was excellent, if a bit sweet.
o We laid into The Shack with Tools; the internal chimney dropped off the ceiling in one huge piece, just missing my leg and nearly causing A Nasty Accident.
o Our world was rocked by the devastating news that one of our key allies and Genuinely Lovely Bloke, Marc Mercier of Developpement Perigord, died during a rugby match. He was the same age as me; had two young children the same ages as ours; and he will often and always be in our thoughts.
o We took it in turns to exhaust ourselves making and moving rubble (of which there is a staggering amount, even in a small ‘house’).
o I made a chainsaw-mate and we turned an inconveniently placed, overstood chestnut coppice into compost, kindling and firewood for winter 2012.
o Our tractor doctor surgically and brilliantly unseized our tractor in the field, which sadly re-seized and will never tractor again.
o Following an impressive piece of reversing, we took delivery of a sceptic tank and load of plastic pipes for a sewerage system we didn’t want, but which made it possible for Planning to say ‘Oui’.
o We asked the bank for ten grand so we can build the extension we now have permission for. It was a long shot (I don’t have a job). They said ‘Non’.
o The tractor doctor returned with this awesome machine…

…and we sat in the shade and watched as one small scoop for him saved a giant heap of digging for us.
o I then borrowed this machine from English-mafia Lee…

…to dig a trench for concrete footings (at which point the presenter, headshaking, would have said out of the corner of his mouth: ‘And they call themselves environmentalists…’) for the bathroom walls we’re buying with money borrowed from our kids.

Tune in soon for what would have happened in Part Three.

English-mafia Sarah phoned this morning, after being woken at five by a Light Sussex cock that’s just found his voice. For the second day running. What with a cat who’s just had kittens and a poorly child, things were getting on top of her. So we agreed to take the cock off her hands.

Looks like we won’t be buying any more chickens any time soon.

We always said we’d have a few months between pigs. To take a break from the twice-daily responsibility of feeding and watering, the frequent re-zoning of land for them to clear, the dismantling and re-mantling of Ark One, and the buying of food in ever-increasing quantities.

But then we got a phone call from Marlene. Two of her sows were farrowing, she said. Could we take four little ones off her hands to give them some room – at a knock-down price?

Of course, we said. Could we borrow her trailer to take our two big ones to the abattoir – to give them some room?

Of course, she said. We could have it for a couple of weeks if necessary.

Which would give us time to fix the tractor, so we could tow the trailer out of the field.

Which meant asking Richard the butcher (and tractor fan) to take a look at it.

Which he did, before declaring the battery was shot.

Which meant digging another battery out of storage only to find there’s more to the tractor problem than a shot battery.

Which meant towing the trailer out of the field with our two-wheel-drive car, on a frosty Monday morning.

Which got stuck in the muck (oh – what bad luck).

Which meant an emergency phone call to Sonia.

Which was exactly what we were trying to avoid. But which she responded to like a trooper – albeit a trooper with a Freelander.

Which impressed the hell out of me – having struggled for 15 minutes with brush, pieces of wood and much spinning of wheels – we just hooked up the Landy and off it went.

Which means I’ll never let anyone take the piss out of a Freelander again (Sonia still says it’s a hairdresser’s car – which is true enough – she’s a hairdresser – and it’s her car).

Which is how our pigs got to the abattoir and we got to have 24 hours before our new pigs arrived – a whole blissful day, when we only had to worry about feeding and watering the horse and chickens.

Which is just long enough to drag Ark One down the field, put it back together, fence off what will be a willow trench for grey water coming out of the guest facilities, and go and collect the new pigs from Marlene. They’re very, very cute. We took pictures.

Which you’ll see later.