The weekend before last, I got an email from a local(ish) band. They said their rhythm guitarist was leaving and they’d been talking about having a keyboard player instead – classic rock covers from the 70s to today – mainly weddings – was I interested? I said to send me their set list with the keys of the songs and give me a week or two.

But the singer’s more of a “now” person. He sent me 36 tracks and asked if I could go to a rehearsal on the Wednesday.

I’ll be honest. Thirty-six tracks in a few days is quite a headful. So I got him to reduce it to 20-something to focus on. We had a band practice and decided it would work. Last night, we had another practice including most of those 36, with a dozen or more thrown in for good measure.

To try and make this news relevant to this blog, here’s a quick how-to on getting your head round a big set, quickly. (It’s only the second time I’ve done this in the last few months, so could be refined.)

o Make a youtube playlist of all the tracks, while copying and pasting the lyrics onto a word-processing document

o Print out the lyrics, pages numbered, with an index at the front

o In a folder of plastic sleeves, put the lyrics on the left, with a blank page on the right

o Find a website with all the chords for all the songs you need (I’m using ultimate guitar because you can transpose the key without paying a fee)

o Play through the tracks, checking the chords as you go and writing them onto the page facing the lyrics

o Refer to youtube “How to play [name of song]” if necessary

o Listen to the youtube playlist with a glass of wine (or few) and make notes on the lyrics about where to come in, marking solos, backing vocals etc

o Play along to the playlist if you have time – as often as possible – making a note of the best keyboard voice to use

o When you turn up to the band practice/audition, play something not on the set list as a warmup. I tend to improve for a bit and then play “Child in Time” because I can sing the first part of it – and everyone loves Deep Purple

Obviously, the band might be a bit nervous that they’re wasting their time having you along. Fortunately, technology has come up with easy ways for you let them know you can play a little. I spent six minutes playing live into Garageband, which I imported into iMovie, with an iMovie stock image wibbling away in the foreground. I was in a hurry – I had a lot to do (see above). Then uploaded it as a public video to youtube.

If you’re interested, you can see/hear it here.

Most people see Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) as somewhere on the scale between Mildly Annoying and Major Pain in the Arse (US: Ass).

But when I see them at the door, or walking down the road, I am happy. I know that, within a few minutes, they will be backing away from me with fear and panic in their eyes. Because I don’t see them as brainwashed, robotic, joyless beings. I hail them as fellow seekers on the road to enlightenment who have been tragically misinformed. For me, talking to a JW is an opportunity to turn them away from the path of ignorance and darkness, and towards an open country of wonderful possibilities. It also gives me the chance to talk about one of my favourite subjects: Reincarnation.

When I first mention reincarnation, the leading JW’s eyes flash as they think they have found someone to talk to. Perhaps even turn. They typically ask if reincarnation is something I “believe” in – and that’s my opening.

You see, I’ve done quite a lot of reading around this subject and it’s not a “belief” – it’s an “understanding”. It something that, at the very least, has made my life infinitely easier to live. I won’t go into detail here, but I am 100% convinced of the reality of reincarnation as a process – and have a reading list to back it up. Some of these books are more exciting than others, but I list them for you here so that you, too, can be equipped to deal with JWs in the future.

JWs are not to be feared. They just don’t possess all the information available.

Journey of Souls, Dr Michael Newton

(About what happens between when we die and when we incarnate again – start with this one)

Destiny of Souls, Dr Michael Newton

(Not as good as the first, from memory, but sequels are never easy)

Children’s Past Lives, Carol Bowman

(Some great stories about kids who remember a previous life – superb)

Return from Heaven, Carol Bowman

(About kids who incarnate back into the same family)

Conversations with God Book 1, Neale Donald Walsch

(Very challenging for Christians, despite the title – very highly recommended)

Conversations with God Book 2, Neale Donald Walsch

(Seriously interesting – I remember this being better than book one)

Conversations with God Book 3, Neale Donald Walsch

(There are more, but the point’s been made by now – sequels again)

Many Lives, Many Masters, Brian Weiss

(Wasn’t crazy about this one, but some people love it)

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

(Wonderful book on meditation I lent to my friend Beth years ago)

This last book is a book on meditation and includes lots of different – and excellent – exercises to try. It’s included here because, to my knowledge, JWs are afraid of meditation. I dabbled in happy-clappy Christianity when I was growing up and we were told never to meditate. I suspect this is because, when you become still and quiet, you begin to question some of the things you’ve been told that don’t ring true. Christians might label this doubt or temptation and say it comes from the devil. But I don’t believe that for a second.

(Comments on this post might get interesting.)

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.)

Turn up unexpectedly with some big machines.

Scrape back the crummy old road and add a fresh base of pale stone… Wait for a while (or some time, whichever is more random)… Then turn up unexpectedly with more big machines and add a layer of black gravel.

Roll flat (at this stage I didn’t think the new road would be up to much).

Bring in more big machines.

Spray what we used to call tar (I think it’s called tar now).

Add gravel, looking thoroughly bored by the whole process.


Repeat until the sun fades.

(Needful to say, Boy no longer wants to work in the garage where they test cars for road-worthiness. Now he wants to drive a blue roller.)

The vegetarians have had a few weeks off pig talk (during which time one of them has reverted to carnivorous mode). But as we draw near to the end of processing our second and third pigs, I’d like to share a few thoughts before they slip my mind in favour of walling, carpentry, ditch-digging and other skills soon to be coming my way.

In no particular order, then:
o If you pick up your pig in two halves, head off and heart, lungs etc in a bag, you should realise that half a 90-kilo pig is still not half heavy. And a bit slippy. Not all that easy to take up the narrow stairs to the spare room. It’s probably worth having a strong friend round to help – or having your pig cut up into more manageable pieces that will fit easily into your car.
o Allow a week to process each pig from kitchen table to freezer. Bollocks to Hugh’s ‘Pig in a day’. His pig arrives cut into handy sized pieces. You’re doing it all yourself. Admittedly, this week includes slicing bacon, lardons and making sausages, but let’s be realistic. With our first pig, we ended up going to bed at 3am to finish doing the sausages – not great on a school night.
o Note to self: Process the abats the day they come back from the abattoir. Don’t wait, thinking there’ll be time in the next few days. There won’t. (Same goes for processing bacon that comes out of the brine.)
o There are some pieces of equipment you will need ready:
– a butcher’s saw
– a large machete-type knife
– a medium knife and a small boning knife
– a knife sharpener
– lots of medium to large hooks (suddenly those old nails sticking out of beams in country houses look seriously useful)
– an unfeasible amount of sausage skins (say, 30 metres per pig) and access to more at short notice
– half a dozen trays and/or washing-up bowls
– a six-foot section of kitchen side
– anti-bacterial cleaner
– an apron
– lots of freezer bags (mainly medium-sized)
– a plastic dustbin full of brine (allow half a day to make the brine and a day to let it cool)
– freezer blocks to keep the brine cool
– a bacon slicer
– a sausage machine
– a few wooden wine boxes for prosciuttos
– salt
– mace
– breadcrumbs and other sausage ingredients
– a serious weighing machine (going up to at least 10 kilos)
– butcher’s string, medium thick
– lots of freezer space
– and someone who’s done it before – at least the first time.
o Do not try to process more than one pig at a time. Especially during the half-term holiday. Even if you’re mostly making sausages – one front leg takes one and a half hours to bone out. Tunnel boning for dry cured hams even longer. Just don’t do it.
o When a recipe says: “Simply cut the head into four using a saw”, ignore the “Simply”. You’ll never want to be an Elizabethan ship’s surgeon again.

All the lessons learnt can’t be put into one post. I’ll just say that, our next pig will be killed on the land and processed immediately. Probably starting on a Monday morning towards the end of the year, during term time.

It’s very easy to lose things in the woods. Leaves blow around. You wander off, distracted perhaps by a large bird of prey landing in the chicken orchard and think you’ve come back to the same place – only you haven’t. And it’s important not to lose things like your trusty kitchen knife.

Fortunately, as you may have guessed by the headline, I’ve re-devised a simple solution to this ages-old problem using authentic neolithic techniques.

First, dig a hole around (or a square – your choice) 50cm deep. (You’ll want to pile the soil somewhere nearby – you’ll be needing it later.)

Place a sturdy piece of acacia (or similar – something that’s not going to rot down too quickly) in the hole, ensuring it is vertical on all sides, and ram the earth (I did say you’d need it) back where it came from.

You’ll never lose your knife again.

If you like, you can create holders for a number of other tools and items of clothing.

Or use your collection of posts to support a children’s play yurt with an unobstructed view of écovallée.

More on this, later.

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.

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.

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.