I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I just liked the sound of that headline.

The last few days have been a bit intense. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I went and helped someone put up a 120-metre fence, through our local alternative-currency initiative. This was the first time I’d agreed to do what is effectively a time swap and the benefits were manyfold, including: meeting a likeminded, friendly, interesting and enthusiastic person; eating very well at lunch; learning some new (fencing-related) vocabulary; and using a post rammer like this (image used without permission):

post rammer

After 60 acacia posts rammed on Tuesday, I was more tired than I’d been for months. On Wednesday, we did the strainer posts and some fencing, and I ended up banking the equivalent of 11 hours of work to draw on later. Although you can’t currently eat time banked in this way, I know this will be Incredibly Useful Later.

Yesterday, with rain forecast for today, I took up the floor of one of the 18-foot yurts because the platform needs moving a couple of feet out from the hillside. (This is all part of our theme of doing everything at least twice.) Here’s a very behind-the-scenes shot of the floor under cover in the outdoor kitchen, with the platform up there beyond.

yurt camp

If you work in an office and get paid for being there, you may now enjoy a moment of smugness.

Something that’s been keeping us busier than we need to have been (and don’t get me started on all the others – that’s the problem when gaps between blog posts are so long – far too much to say) is that old not-favourite: escaping pigs.

One pig in particular has been doing a runner through, under and (having seen his pregnant sister tackle a door I put on the Pig Ark) probably over the two-strand solar fence. We’ve patiently (or at least, Her Outdoors has) been putting him back behind the wire every morning, using yummy food as the bait. But it’s wearing, especially when we have so much other Stuff To Do (did I tell you we have a lot on? One observation on this life we have chosen – I don’t think I would be exaggerating too much to say it is a little labour intensive).

This morning, neither of us were especially amused to find one of his sisters had joined him on the wrong side of the fence.

Thinking the battery was low (again), I swapped it for the horse battery. I checked it. Only the faintest ‘tick’ to show the fence was working. I hammered the earth further into the ground. Still not much of a kick to it. I moved the whole set-up further down the fence. Same result.

Then a vague memory insinuated itself into my mind. Something that Gary and Marlene said when we first got our first pigs.

I just returned from wrapping all the joins of the fence (when you keep enlarging enclosures to add a piece of grass that needs clearing here, a bit of woodland there, you have to cut and tie the wire quite a bit) with little bits of kitchen foil. Turned the fence back on and…

It didn’t take long for the often errant pig to feel the force. I checked it with my thingywotsit and power is surging through the wires just as it should have been all along.

Kitchen foil. But you probably knew that already.

Pepito ran away a few times. Which meant the fence became Priority Numero Uno for a while. The ground was perfect for these posts and it was a joy to swing a sledgehammer again.

Coming soon, our first attempt at post-and-rail.

We also ate our first wild mushrooms. We didn’t do this stupidly, but bought a comprehensive book on the subject and had them checked by the local pharmacist (a service provided free around these parts). Cooking and eating them was still pretty unnerving, although bluddie delicious.

Here’s a mushroom we didn’t try, although I think you’ll agree it’s pretty wild in its own way.

On Thursday, I changed my clothes more often than Shirley Bassey on a Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.

First, there were the smart-ish work trousers for a meeting in a bank. It went quite well. They offered us a mortgage to cover the new land, and said we can increase it to cover the work necessary to turn the Shrieking Shack into a luxury(ish) shower and toilet facility for our lovely future guests.

(Let me put this another way: I, a Bluddie Peasant on minimum wage, working 30 hours a week, supporting a family of four, have secured a 100%+ mortgage for a bizarre and extremely tiny house with around 8,000 square metres of land, fixed for 20 years at just over 5% interest, for comfortably under 200 euros a month. In late October 2008!)

Then I switched to some fencing trousers. Not the shiny white skin tight jobbies you see in James Bond movies. The dusty black and (now) laughably baggy jeans I used to have to undo when watching the telly.

Yes, like I promised many blogs ago, I’m fencing the land against wild boar and other unwanted incursions and excursions.

After lunch, a change to chainsaw trousers necessitated by the running out of suitably thin acacia fenceposts. Fortunately, the previous owner had cut down many of the acacia in The Guest Woods (it’s seen as a pest around here – almost entirely poisonous, fast-growing, light-stealing and only really useful for… fenceposts). All I need to do is cut them to size, sharpen them into giant pencils and SLEDGEHAMMER them into holes made by a heavy, pointed crowbar (how fit am I going to be at the end of the winter?).

Finally, after cutting more wood for the voracious woodburner (having finally summoned up the courage to change the chainsaw blade for the first time – which I did successfully, the second time), back into the first set of trousers to pick up some pig food from a co-worker on the evening shift (more on this, later), feed the animals, collect kindling and write this.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to settle down in front of a good movie and a crackling fire, with a reasonably good glass of wine. No change there, then.

So I stapled the barbed wire round the bottom of the veggie-bed fence (and learned that turning the electric fence off while working nearby might be a good idea).

Then the pig ark roof blew off. (I said the weather had gone a bit English.) Which meant I had to go and buy a rivet gun and some Very Long Screws. It wasn’t much fun – I’ve never used a rivet gun before and it didn’t have any instructions.

Then the local tree place phoned up to say our ten Blue Spruce had arrived and could we come and pick them up as soon as possible (it’s a long-term project that should pay for Christmases in about five years). Clare’s up there right now in the drizzle, digging holes for them.

Then the local garden place phoned up and said the polytunnel’s arrived. Which means we need to get hold of a friend with a digger to level that corner of a field that will be forever under plastic.

Then a friend phoned up and said the new mayor’s been elected – not the candidate half the people we know know, but a woman about whom no one knows anything. Which means we have to put the MASSIVE DOSSIER together NOW, have it translated into French by a friend of a friend, and go and have a Very Important Meeting with her.

But yesterday, I did finally put the stock fencing round the veggie bed above the barbed wire. Very nearly. After 100 yards (metres), I ran out of wire just two metres (yards) short of the final gate post. Which means I still have to finish that before I start building the chicken house.

There are only four ways to test an electric fence worth mentioning:

1) Use an electric fence tester. Available from any good electrical fence retailer, for around 12 of your Earth euros. (Pain level: Slight, and confined to the wallet.)

2) Use a long blade of grass. Squat down and rest one hand on the ground and touch the electric fence with the blade of grass. (Pain level: A bit of a shock, even with the fence turned down low.)

3) Use someone else. (Pain level: Like watching something written by Ricky Gervais.)

4) Use your knee. Wearing wellies, gently touch your knee against the fence – turned up to maximum – and earth yourself through the middle finger of your left hand, with a fencing staple brushing against a roll of barbed wire. (Pain level: Hilarious.)

No prizes for guessing which method I used this morning.

Here’s why all my recent posts have been fence posts.

(And haven’t the pigs done a lovely job?)

On Monday, I’m going to get wired.

The veggie bed is around (or more accurately, a rectangle) 40 metres by ten. To fence it against wild boar (and domestic pigs) it needs 1.5-metre posts embedding 40 cm into the ground every two metres, supporting barbed wire and stock fencing.

Or so we hope.

After all the tools I needed on the rock-hardened gate post last Thursday, it was liberating to walk across the field on Friday with just a sledgehammer, 1.5-metre crowbar, spirit level and tape measure.

For a few days – come rain, hail and sunshine (yes, the weather’s gone a bit English), and accompanied by the confused but always chipper pigs – I diligently made holes for the posts by hitting the crowbar with the sledgehammer. Then, yesterday, a few centimetres below the surface, on the final stretch of the fence, I heard the solidly familiar clunk of crowbar meeting MASSIVE SLAB OF LIMESTONE. A few more delicate THWACKS with the sledgehammer and the end of my crowbar sort of… shattered.

Which left me with little choice but to adopt the drop and wiggle technique I’d already told you about. (If only I read these posts occasionally.) Once again, I found it highly effective. And effort less.

I smiled. Like the gentlemen in the previous post, I, too, had a secret weapon: A two-metre crowbar, brand new and unused, waiting to be taken back to the shop. When I bought it a few months ago, it was almost too heavy to lift.

Not so, today.

The rock still takes a while to get through – and some of my posts are only 30 cm into the ground – but when you find a piece of ground without rock (and there was one), it’s a joy. You can put up a post in minutes.

I’ve been fencing again today. But you don’t want to hear about that. You want to watch the excellent fencing scene from THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Oh, I never told you. I was so tired yesterday, I discovered the easy way to dig a straining post hole:
1) Remove the turf with a fork.
2) Drop your pointed crowbar into the four corners of the hole and wiggle (the crowbar, not you).
3) Remove the spoil with a gloved hand.
4) Repeat steps 2 and 3 until required depth is reached.

Obviously this only works when there isn’t a huge slab of rock in the way.

The short of it

I put in a fence post today:

The long of it

Clearly our pigs can’t be allowed to fly at will. So fencing the veggie patch with wild-boar-and-presumably domestic-pig-proof fencing has leapt in front of the chicken house as Priority Number One (capitals mine).

The last two days have seen me put in two fence posts a day. Not in the old way, but by the book – the book being Michael Roberts’ “Farm and Smallholder Fencing”. (At least I thought I was doing it by the book, but the book tells me that “straining posts” should be dug three to four feet into the ground instead of my paltry 50 cm.

I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.)

So confident was I, I took the camera to show you how nice and easy it is.

I started with a nice, clean shot of all the tools you need:

Then, after a few centimeters, I took an amusingly unexpected shot of a rock in the hole:

Not wanting to move the hole (this was for a gate post and I’d decided the gate was going to be ‘yey’ wide) and realising that every hole is different, I decided to go through the rock. I thought it would be interesting to see what was on the other side.

I never found out:

Spoil (on something to keep the job nice and clean) is supposed to be brown and earthy. This was largely pulverised limestone.

My nice, clean working area wasn’t:

And I ended up using some tools not in the original shot. To be fair, I did feel this was cheating in some kind of holistic way. Before fetching the sledgehammer, another hammer and a rock splitter, I’d been doing very well using the pointed crowbar as a kind of ground-to-underground missile. (In fact, none of these other tools came close to being as effective.)

I did remember to document ramming the earth back in:

And got a nice, clean shot of the end result:

Especially compared to the gate post (yey metres away) I put in two days ago.