A solar shower was always going to be part of the écovallée experience. Originally, I wanted us to have the latest and greatest green technology for our guests to enjoy. But the costs of running electricity to the field, the twin-coil boiler, evacuated tubes etc. – in France – were prohibitive.

Of course, we’ve got books on DIY solar showers and considered black radiators under glass, hoses in strings of plastic bottles, buckets with holes in the bottom and all that fun stuff. But even with our “budget”, we’re still aiming to provide an unexpected level of luxury. Plus, many of our guests have very young children who need a controllable source of hot water.

So we ended up buying an aluminium swimming-pool shower, and knocked up a temporary cubicle for 2011…


…while we worked out how we were going to make this (as conceived by Her Outdoors):


Fortunately, Project1p happened and we swapped what we had (one week in a yurt) for what was on offer (a custom-made metal object):


I asked a local company what the wood would cost, turned down their estimate of €1,400 and bought it for €83 from a local wood yard, then spent five days sanding it. Finally all the elements were in one place:


We laid out the snail shell shape:


And started with the short side:


Which was up by the end of the day:


And looked pretty good, even if I do type so myself:


The next day saw the snail shell finished:


Which just needed oiling and photographing:


A few times:


Even if it meant lying in the shower tray to get the shape just so:


And not forgetting the penny that helped it all happen:


You might have noticed the gravel bed behind the temporary shower cubicle in the first shot. This is the first stage grey-water treatment before draining into a willow trench planted a few years ago. Here’s what it looks like at the moment, after one year of plant growth and some finishing touches by Her Outdoors:


Something else that will only get more and more beautiful over time.

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Some of the hardest work we’ve done will never be seen by anyone. (I’m not complaining – it’s just one of those things.) The grey water treatment from the outdoor kitchen sink is not a good example – it was really quite easy.

We took a (free) bath and put a load of washed gravel in it:


We laid some (found) weed matting on top:


Then some washed sand:


Some top soil:


And finally some mulch from the other side of the valley.


More mulch was added, and some plants. But you get the gist. Before it gets here, water drains from the sink, through some straw in a box, and along a pipe under the kitchen paving. (The kitchen paving – that was hard work.)

I’ve learnt a few things since the car’s been out of action.

Thing one: You meet a lot more people when you don’t have a car. (Although most of them are either helping you out, or trying to.)

Thing two: Suggesting you can live without a car has the same reaction on people as suggesting you can live without a house. (And here we are, basking in a very warm and cosy yurt, tossing the occasional piece of free wood into the Yotul, feasting on venison given to us by another parent from school.)

Thing three: A crime against humanity seems to be being (a rare construction, that) perpetrated by at least one Western government. Here, it’s called Prime à la casse. The guy in the breaker’s yard told me…

I went in to find out if I could have a new-old engine put in the car. Fine, they said: Engine €300. Fitting it, an extra €1,200. Bugger, I said. That’s the same as the Renault garage. Too rich for my blood. How about trying to sell it without a working engine?

Non-starter, I was told.

During the following conversation, the very nice man pointed out of the window at a car very much like mine. Only in perfect working order. It was sold to the breakers for €70, on condition that IT MUST BE SCRAPPED. Me and my friend who drove me there were open-mouthed. The very nice man said he had a Golf IV – €70 but must be scrapped. Apparently, it’s to create a shortage in the second-hand car market so people are forced to buy new.

It makes me want to cry, I said.

Me too, he said.

You probably know about this from the telly – sadly, like the tractor and now the car, our fantastic small TV/DVD player is out of service – but it’s news to me. In a world where there are clearly enough cars, governments are encouraging the scrapping of perfectly good vehicles to make room for even more.

I don’t know what to say.

Since our cats arrived a year and some months ago, we tried a few of the cat litter options available from our local supermarket (supermarché). They ranged in price, from expensive to very expensive, and effectiveness. In the end, we decided the costlier option lasted longer and retained more smell, so was better value for money.

That was until Her Outdoors had Another Great Idea.

I don’t know where it came from – maybe because cutting our own wood creates a lot of sawdust, or that we use sawdust in the chicken house, or that we’ll be using sawdust in our compost toilets – but I can tell you what it is: Sawdust.

We’ve litter-tested the concept for long enough now to announce that it is by far the cheapest and most effective non-product not on the market. Our cats have absolutely no problem with it (we introduced the sawdust little by little over a few days before going completely litter-free). And it is 100% compostable (although we’re composting it separately for a while before feeding it to plants).

There’s probably a gag here about reducing litter, but I’ll leave you to look for it.