Regular readers will know that, as well as being co-creator of the écovallée family yurt camp, an extreme gardener, parent, ethical copywriter, small(and-getting-smaller-all-the-time)holder and other things, I am the keyboard player in a wedding band called “SouthWest”.

In the last band practice, we shot some film, including interviews and bits of songs, which I’ve spent some time turning into this:

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, have a watch and let me know what you think. Some readers are industry professionals, and they might want to contact me privately to tell me exactly where my transitions could be smoother and my edits made tighter – all of which I will note and apply to the next video.

If you haven’t done this kind of thing, I highly recommend it. It’s given me a huge respect for people who work in TV. It’s hard but creative, and you could tweak the film forever, although at some point you’ve just got to stop and call it finished. A bit like coppicing – there’s always another tree you can cut. Just one more before lunch.

Last Autumn, the écovallée yurt camp was featured on ITV1’s “Little England”, a 12-part series about people living in this part of the world. As you’ll see on these four clips, the producer was very kind to us (you should have seen the stuff he left out).

Andy Warhol, if you’re reading this, you’ll see that the clips add up to almost exactly 15 minutes. Good call.

In which we swear a little bit.

(I’ll let you into a little secret – in take one I didn’t say: “boy chickens”.)

If you’re looking for the yurt camp featured on ITV1’s “Little England” last night, you’ve come to the right place.

Or, nearly.

What you’ve actually found is the blog of the whole story, from a few months after we had the idea to “sell the house and buy a field”, to a very warm mid-November, where we’ve been fielding emails from people we haven’t seen or heard from in a very long time and getting ready for the cold weather that’s due to arrive in the next few days.

If you want to visit the website RIGHT NOW, to look at some pictures of the yurts, read a bit about smallholding, hear a bit about the surrounding area, find out how much it costs to stay, and see the availability calendar, click here.

But if you’ve got some time and want to see what it was really like to get off the hamster wheel and set up a yurt camp in rural France, pull up a coffee and start at the beginning. It takes a while to read the blog, but I did it the other day and it’s quite a story (even if I do write so myself).

You can always visit the website later.

One more thing, the yurts and us will be on “Little England” again in a few weeks. I hope the producer is as kind to us then as he was last night. He’s called Simon. Not the Simon you’ll read about in the blog. But Simon none the less.

Last Spring, écovallée got a phone call from ITV asking if we’d be interested in being filmed for “Little England” – a 12-part prime-time TV series scheduled for broadcast later in the year.

Four and a half years ago we’d have said no.

We’d just had the BBC round to do a piece on the Daughter’s school in Brighton. A very well-dressed, well-spoken guy showed up at our house at 7.30 in the morning. He did all the filming himself, and the sound recording, and the interviewing, filmed some more at the school, and even more at a political party conference, then cut together a few minutes for the lunchtime news and a longer special report for that evening. He was incredible – and incredibly nice – and I guess he worked that hard every day.

But for us, once was enough. It was a strain having to edit what you were thinking before you said it out loud. Her Outdoors did brilliantly, producing amazing soundbites from nowhere (and I’m supposed to be the writer), but afterwards she said: ‘Never again’. I had to agree – even though we were about to leave the country for rural France.

We didn’t want cameras in our faces when we were screwing up, exposing our total ignorance, shouting, crying, bleeding and everything else we expected to experience as we went from suburban family to yurt-dwelling smallholders. We wanted to enjoy it all privately.

OK, I’ve blogged the whole thing. But Her Outdoors has always said these posts lack emotional content. Having re-read them as background to a book I’m writing, I see what she means.

I’ve always tried to make light of what we’ve been through in “Dordogneshire”. But for far too long, it was hell. We lost a load of money, were ripped off, lied to, misled, exploited and punished for being English – and we discovered this is normal. I read recently that 18 out of 20 ex-pats who move here return to England, broke and broken by the experience. It sounds a lot, but it’s possible. Most of the people we know live in some kind of survival and they all have horror stories to tell.

It would make great telly. But that’s not what Little England is about.

Little England is about the sunny side of the Dordogne, which is one of the reasons we said yes to doing the show (not just because the producers are so nice – or for the free publicity). It’s gentle, feel-good TV with beautiful scenery. As a viewer, I think some shows have worked better than others. As a participant, I hope Geoffrey Palmer goes easy on us. But as someone who’s made the move, I want to warn people who might be tempted to follow the thousands of people who have made this part of France their home.

Yes, it’s a beautiful place (we didn’t know quite how beautiful until after we moved here). Yes, you can buy a large property for a relatively small amount of money (still well over-priced, as French and English alike attempt to take advantage of newcomers’ ignorance). Yes, the sun shines a lot (which is why we chose this part of the country to live under canvas). But as the occasional comment in Little England reveals, making a living here is unimaginably hard.

We haven’t done it yet. Last year’s money from the yurts went back into the infrastructure, buying the solar shower, gravel filter, new canvas and more. We’ve only survived at all thanks to the overwhelming generosity of what I call the English mafia, our friends and family, and the eventual backing of our mayor.

From next year, depending on the economy, we will move from survival to thrival (Her’s Outdoors’ expression – see what I mean about sound bites?). It feels like we’ve gained many lifetimes of experience over the last four and a half years. It’s been a genuine emotional rollercoaster, with elation, horror, fear, love, pain and joy – and our world’s been turned upside down many times.

I don’t know what exposing ourselves to an audience of several million people will do (we’re due to appear on November 14th and December 5th on ITV1, at 8pm), but it felt right to say yes. Whatever happens, we’re determined to enjoy the ride.

A few months ago, I learnt something about those moving overseas-type TV shows. And the thing I learnt was this: They’re filmed in reverse.

(Don’t worry TV people, hardly anyone reads this blog.)

Essentially, the programme makers find someone who’s recently moved into a new property; films them there, having settled in; films them looking at other properties in the same price bracket; films them umming and ahhing; films them in England, going about their previous life; and cuts it all together backwards.

Makes perfect sense – you could probably do the whole show in a weekend.

(This is where any TV producer reading this spits their extra-shot latte over their keyboard, exclaiming: ‘A weekend! I haven’t had that much time since the 80s!’)

It amuses me to wonder how often the TV companies find more attractive properties than the one people actually chose – look in their eyes next time you see a show like this. I would, but we don’t have a TV any more.

Today, I learnt something about the newspaper game. And that thing is: They make it up as they go along.

Some Sundays past, a journalist from an English language newspaper in France asked to come round for a chat. They were writing about yurts and wanted to talk to someone who lives in one, and has come up against some of the bureaucratic issues involved.

So I chatted. We chatted. We drank elderflower champagne. It was nice.

Today, my inbox shows me a pdf of the article that’s already gone to press. Not the discreet, background information, no-names jobbie I was expecting. No. Quite a large piece with two photos of me (including one with Her Outdoors), riddled with inaccuracies and generously garnished with words I never said. Or more accurately, words I never said in that order.

I have to say, it doesn’t amuse me very much at all.

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.

To continue the Reality TV theme for one more post, we just went on a skiing holiday.

Only for the weekend.

And only because it cost 20 euros each for me and Clare, and 10 euros each for the kids – which included transport, overnight accommodation, and breakfast and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. It had its moments. Here are two of them:

The coach is speeding down a country road. The (surprisingly loud) onboard teenagers hold a mobile phone MP3 player to the driver’s microphone, and sing along to (presumably Algerian-inspired c)rap music. Boy screams his disapproval and I don’t believe it can get any worse.

Me and The Daughter are sitting on a ski lift, surrounded by mountains. The air is beautifully clear – apart from a dense brown cloud on the left which stretches across the sky until it meets another city-sized area of smog. Alarmingly, at least two of the mountains are on fire.

More alarmingly, the fires are intentional. Some farmers are apparently taking advantage of the fact that the mountains are almost completely free of snow, and improving their soil. Let’s hope they can find a way to water whatever they plan to grow.


Alex and Clare face camera. A noisy scooter goes past.

CLARE: When we bought the land, it had planning permission for a three-bedroom family home.

ALEX: Perigordian-style.

CLARE: Perigordian-style family home. With a turret.

ALEX: And under-house parking for two 2CVs. Do you want a top-up?

CLARE: No thanks.

ALEX: Don’t mind me.

CLARE: The notaire – that’s the lawyer – said, to keep the planning permission, we had to carry on building the house. [SHORT PAUSE] If we stopped for 12 months, we’d lose the permission. [SHORT PAUSE] But we were never going to build the house – we didn’t have the money for one thing – and we thought, if you can build a house, you can build something else.

ALEX: Or put up a tent.

CLARE: And we had all this support. When we met the mayor in February, he said he loved the idea. Everyone loved the idea. It’s a great idea! Planning permission went in, in early July. We were only expecting it to take a couple of months – three months tops.

ALEX: Why 2CVs?

CLARE: So we moved over in August, which is a holiday in France. Planning was closed for another two weeks in September, for some kind of meeting. The 12-month deadline for the previous planning permission expired in September.

ALEX: It’s a small car.

CLARE: And we didn’t find out until December that the land is in a non-constructible zone – and the mayor wasn’t supporting it any more.

ALEX: It’s a family home. What if you had – I dunno – a Saab estate? Or one of those four-by-f…

CLARE: Turns out the land was always non-constructible. But the previous mayor overrode the lack of constructibility and – ta-da – suddenly it’s not a problem any more. Mayors have that much power.

ALEX: Suppose you’d have to have the house re-designed with one big garage and apply for planning permission all over again.

CLARE: Which is why we’re waiting for the new mayor to be elected in March.

ALEX: Or park it in town and buy a 2CV as a kind of… What? Have I got a red-wine moustache?