If you stayed with us over the summer, you may have noticed some inexplicable water on the drive outside the Shack. The Services des Eaux came the other day to see what was going on. They brought a digger…

hole 1

…and quickly got to the bottom of the problem – a broken pressure reducer (removed in this shot) conveniently buried under a couple of tons of clay and rubble…

hole 2

…doing a few days’ spade work in a couple of hours.

hole 3

If you didn’t stay with us over the summer, you can soon put that right. The diary’s open for 2015 and we’ve already got five weeks booked.

This week, I’ve been trying to get the work:work balance sorted out. I’ve been doing the physical stuff in the mornings: cutting and stripping acacia, and digging post holes in readiness for a gazebo next to our yurt (it’s about time we did something just for us). In the afternoons I’ve been doing the mental stuff: tweaking the website, writing a book, getting in touch with an agent and all that.

Gazebo-wise, it’s worked out pretty well. Here it was a few minutes ago:

Problem is, the physical stuff is such fun that lunch gets later and later, and the time for writing before the kids come home from school gets shorter and shorter. And as I found in the summer holidays, kids and book writing don’t mix. At all.

The last couple of weeks have had their downs and ups.

One down was a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce, which started well. The very knowledgeable and energetic woman said this should be easy enough – a yurt camp on our own land. Several phone calls later, she left us with a very familiar look on her face – a kind of resignation meets bewilderment, crossed with a well-it’s-to-be-expected – and the words: Bon Courage.

Good luck.

Another down was a further trip to the Social Services. You may remember, we have completed many, many pieces of paper with a view to having some kind of housing benefit. I’m on the dole. You’d think we’d be entitled. (I know I did.) But it seems the system is still hung up on the money I earned as a self-employed person in the first six months of 2007. We “don’t have the right”, the woman said. “It’ll be different in January.”

“I’ll be going self-employed to open the campsite,” I said.

“Don’t do that!” came the reply. “You’ll lose all your rights.”

It’s complicated. Many things are.

On very big up was a very generous donation from an anonymous source that will allow us to complete work on the Shack before winter. Which meant we could buy a load of wood and put that up:

And buy a load of tiles and put them up too:

You’ll see our bedroom yurt in the background which has also gone up, so we can put down the adobe floor which needs a couple of weeks to dry before we can move into that.

After Dave and James left the other day, having posted the previous shots, I was supping a beer and looking at all the fine work we had done. A little nervous, to be fair (excuse any slightly whimsical or Victorian turns of phrase – I’m reading “Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell” at the moment, which is rather fabulous, and I’ve always been prone to a little literary influence), about what I could possibly achieve and how soon.

Our neighbour dropped by on the way to his polytunnel (the neighbour who leant me the scaffolding, you may remember) and I offered him a beer. Which he took. He used to be a builder, so I also offered him the ladder to see what we’d done.

Beer in hand, wearing flipflops, he positively glided up the ladder and had a good look round. Then he pretty much danced across the 4cm joists in the bathroom-to-be ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the 12-foot drop below, and had a good look there, too.

Me: (in French) I’ll probably have the wall finished in about four days.

He: I could probably do that in a couple of hours. Three tops.

Me: No. Seriously?

He: Oh yes. I could come along tomorrow at eight if you like.

Me: I abso-bluddie-lutely would like.

There was only one small problem. I didn’t have enough blocks up there. So I spent the next day (yesterday, if you’re still paying attention) moving about a ton of concrete onto the roof (my own blocks and a load of free ones from Dave), shifting sand and generally getting ready.

The neighbour showed up at eight today and did this:

It was a joy to behold. I told him so.

He: (Still in French) Ah, but put me in front of a computer in an office and I can’t do anything.

Me: Yes, but I don’t think anyone seeing someone working in an office would say: “Wow. That’s amazing!”. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

It wasn’t even a very large, or expensive, beer.

This is a picture of what we lovingly refer to as The Shrieking Shack (The Shack for short). If there were any lingering doubts about our sanity, the fact that we bought it on Thursday afternoon for around 30,000 euros of the bank’s money in a flat market should settle things.

It measures almost exactly four metres by three-point-three-five and is smaller on the inside than it looks from the outside. (Even smaller when this photo was taken, before we went to work with Tools.)

In its defence, it has a basement, water and electricity, and comes with 7,100 square metres of woodland garden; a long stretch of which conveniently joins onto our existing 40,000 smallholding.

The plot widens…