A few months ago, the woods behind the Shack were utter chaos. I’d started coppicing the sweet chestnut so we’d have wood for next winter and, in five to seven years, a steady supply of poles for fencing, yurt maintenance, firewood, furniture and whatever else we decide to have a go at.

But I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. So I would cut an overstood chestnut down, chop the generally straight trunk into two-ish-metre lengths and leave the awkward top bits lying around. Often, I would work until I was too tired to lift the chainsaw and so bits of trunk would be lying around too – hither and, to my shame, thither. Which meant at some stage I would have to go back in later with a billhook and tidy up.

That stage came a few weeks ago and closed a chapter on this silly, knees-bent-running-around working practice.

Now, when I go in to cut coppice, I take a chainsaw AND a billhook – and tidy up as I go. Seems simple, doesn’t it? (I also stop a few minutes before I am exhausted.) I suspect, with a not very sad backward glance, I may be growing up.

Here’s what the woods behind the shack look like now:


The mud on the left in the foreground is one edge of what will be the pond. The box on the right there is full of Interesting Rocks found while digging out a tree stump for the pond and trench for the pipe running from the sand filter. Got some real beauties in there, I can tell you.

This week, Her Outdoors has been adding to the clay oven, which had a door cut into the side of it (at the regulation 63% of interior height measurement) and a new layer of clay, this time mixed with straw. Right now it looks like this:


Slightly OCD readers will be alarmed that the image on the Sand Filter Cam has not changed all week. This has been due to a technical fault genuinely beyond our control and – besides – it rained at the weekend and the mud has been too treacherous to dig out. Happily, it’s dry enough to move now. Unhappily, it’s going to start raining again in the next couple of hours.

But I’ve kept myself busy clearing a space for the pond the sand filter will run into, turning some overstood chestnut into firewood for next winter, at the same time (and this really is exciting) creating our first coppiced area of managed woodland. It looks a bit devastated at the moment, but will spring back to life in the appropriately named season.


While felling these largely dead and dying trees, I did spend time thinking about the current UK government’s idea about selling off half the nation’s forests. I didn’t come to any conclusions, but think they should have the decency to call a snap election and give everyone a chance to kick them into touch. Buffoons.

We went to the north of the Dordogne today. Met new people. Drove on new roads. And brought back two castrated males who have taken up residence in the still-going-strong Ark One. Here’s a picture Boy took of me, looking alarmingly like my dad:


And here’s one I took of him in revenge:


One interesting thing (of many) that came out of this most relaxing ever of pig preparation times was this: When I finished fencing in a fairly random piece of woodland, I immediately saw the enclosed trees as individuals (eg, ‘Oh, wow – there are six large pines here’) instead of just a bunch of trees in the woods.

It may have something to do with the ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ expression I’m still trying to understand. It may not. Like I say, I’m still working on it.

Felling trees is a bit of a hit and miss affair, for me.

More than once, I have carefully cut the horizontal line facing the direction I want the tree to fall; then the sloping diagonal line that meets the first line and spits out a wooden cheese wedge at my feet; then the second horizontal line from the other side of the tree (stay with me, here)… only to watch the tree fall – exactly – in the wrong direction.

A few times, I’ve made the same cuts and the tree has fallen – perfectly – where I wanted it.

Today was different. Today, I cut down some of my favourite dead trees (the cold is still with us in the mornings and these trees are very close to the yurt. Why drag wood from 100 yards [metres] away when it’s right there looking at you when you open the door?) This is what the tree tops looked like at lunchtime, when I’d only taken a few down:


I don’t know why I’ve always liked them. There’s something of the Crown of Sauron about them, I suppose.

Anyway, I did OK. Only one tree went in the opposite direction (I said that could happen). But it didn’t hurt the neighbour’s fence.

I got to the last tree. The biggest. Probably the tallest. I decided to fell it at 90 degrees to the yurt, for maximum safety. I asked Her Outdoors to leave the yurt, just in case (I said they were close). I made my first cut. Then my diagonal. Then the final cut. The tree started to go.

Me: (SHOUTING – A RARE THING) No! No!

Tree: (SILENT)

It went precisely towards the centre of the yurt. Even a tree surgeon couldn’t have planned it better. (I don’t need to tell you how inconvenient it would be to have a tree destroy our home, our stuff, the work Her Outdoors is doing, what with the client arriving this afternoon.) There was a great crashing of dead wood and an even greater sigh of relief. It fell short of the door by a few feet.

I wonder if that’s where the expression “Going sideways” comes from.

The yurt was flapping a bit the other night (probably something to do with the 140kph wind outside) and, at about three-something in the morning, Her Outdoors suggested I check the ropes on the roof-wheel cover. Which I did.

For some reason, I went to the front of the shack first, to check if the tiles were still on the roof (we dry laid these without any mortar – I was understandably curious). While I was there, shining the torch (US: Flashlight, not blowtorch) at the building there was a loud CRACK!

There was a lot of wind. It was pretty scary. I checked the ropes and went back to bed in the safety of the yurt.

The following morning, we saw this:


The loud CRACK was clearly my new compost bin breaking as a large ash was blown through it, coming to rest on the electricity cable that feeds the shack. If that cable wasn’t there, there’s a good chance I’d be dead right now. Which would have been both inconvenient and embarrassing (I wasn’t even wearing any trousers).

(I did’t know how dead I would have been until edf came and cut the tree down today. I chopped it up for firewood, thinking it would be as light as the dead chestnut I’ve been cutting recently – but when I picked the pieces up, it was surprisingly heavy. I would have hit me like a ton of tree.)

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.