Spent most of yesterday putting the joist frame for Peaseblossom together. Spot the silly mistake:

yurt joists

As with all of these constructions, there’s something that works really well and is deeply satisfying. Here’s an example of a four-way joint resting on an acacia post.

yurt joint

Those long, angled cuts take a while by hand. But are much easier since I started using a vise.

Todays it’s noggings and as much flooring as possible before some light rain forecast tomorrow. It’s going to be a bit of a week.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I just liked the sound of that headline.

The last few days have been a bit intense. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I went and helped someone put up a 120-metre fence, through our local alternative-currency initiative. This was the first time I’d agreed to do what is effectively a time swap and the benefits were manyfold, including: meeting a likeminded, friendly, interesting and enthusiastic person; eating very well at lunch; learning some new (fencing-related) vocabulary; and using a post rammer like this (image used without permission):

post rammer

After 60 acacia posts rammed on Tuesday, I was more tired than I’d been for months. On Wednesday, we did the strainer posts and some fencing, and I ended up banking the equivalent of 11 hours of work to draw on later. Although you can’t currently eat time banked in this way, I know this will be Incredibly Useful Later.

Yesterday, with rain forecast for today, I took up the floor of one of the 18-foot yurts because the platform needs moving a couple of feet out from the hillside. (This is all part of our theme of doing everything at least twice.) Here’s a very behind-the-scenes shot of the floor under cover in the outdoor kitchen, with the platform up there beyond.

yurt camp

If you work in an office and get paid for being there, you may now enjoy a moment of smugness.

food processing

Life’s pretty good at the moment. Her Outdoors is processing the fruits (and vegetables) of her labours, stitching, writing stories, puppet making, and a whole lot more.

I’m mainly learning songs for my solo piano set list, adding some Yann Tiersen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd and whatever I feel like. (As soon as I start working on one song, I think of another one that I should have learnt years ago.) I’m also catching up on some reading and lying in a hammock. Not feeling too guilty about this, as I’ve worn out my strimmer (and a pair of work boots) which is in for nearly €300 in repairs.

Last week, the new website I wrote for the Quay Arts Centre went live. (Not all of the words are mine – and I hope you will be able to tell the difference.) I loved working on this project and welcome similar jobs now the winter’s coming. Over the next few months, I’ll be recording an album with the band, writing Part Two of my book (finally), co-writing a stage play with Her Outdoors, co-writing some songs in English, French and Spanish with a friend, completing the road through the woods, remaking the tractor shed for yurt storage, and focusing on our immediate living environment. (The lean-to needs remaking, a few tons of clay need relocating, wood needs chopping, and cetera.) All on budgets that are either tight or non-existent.

I’ll be writing the odd blog post now and again, too. (This was the now.)

I can’t remember being so busy. After re-laying the 18-foot yurt floor (mentioned here) and putting it back up, we turned our attention to the other 18-foot yurt. We took it down, trimmed the floor and put it back up. Her Outdoors spent days scrubbing the canvas to clean and re-proof it. At the same time, I grabbed every spare moment to work on songs and melodies for a couple of solo piano gigs, she worked on re-covering a massive three-seater sofa, two-seater sofa and some more furniture. And there was the veggie patch and animals. Kids in there somewhere. I also flew (!) to the Isle of Wight for some ethical copywriting work and wrote a website for that excellent client that I’ll tell you more about in the future. Had a couple of band practices and a gig. Welcomed a bunch of guests. Did gardening work off site et very much cetera.

But, finally, it’s beginning to calm down.

Oh, among all that, readers from other continents may have noticed that people in Europe were given a rare chance to show their political leaders which direction they want the world to go – and inexplicably, a massive percentage voted for it to get a whole lot worse. Yes. Around 25% of those who voted (people who have apparently had access to education) chose parties with policies that encourage hate and intolerance. Many, many people couldn’t even be bothered to vote. At a time when the planet is under relentless attack from fossil-fuelled corporations running a ruinous, waste-based economy that threatens the survival of every species (even all those lovely little kittens shared on social media sites), Green parties actually lost seats.

How do you react to a situation like that?

Well, we’ve talked about it and have decided to do exactly what we love doing. Not for the benefit of anyone else, but selfishly because we want to make our corner of the world more and more beautiful. So we’ll be growing plants, looking after animals, and creating structures out of our own materials. We’ll be using all our talents to their utmost degree. And, selfishly, we will be sharing what we do with anyone who’s interested. The rest of the world may be content to go to hell, but there’ll always be a little bit of heaven right here.

At this time of year, it’s always hard to find time to blog. Here a just some of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago, while putting the last leaner on the last post of the new deer-proof fence round the poly tunnel, I had a small accident with a hand saw. Discoveries following this include: When you have two children and a lifestyle like ours, A&E reception is a blissfully quiet place to sit – me and Her Outdoors got to catch up for a few hours without any distractions – in fact, we’re thinking of going back there for a holiday some time. Also, I found that my tetanus jab from 1997 is still OK – although we’re told to have shots every ten years, apparently I still have antibodies – which is good to know.

A few days ago, we said goodbye to Pepito, our retired working horse. He isn’t dead – he’s just living somewhere else. Long-time readers will know that Pepito was the first animal we bought, back in 2007. Originally, he was going to carry guest luggage from cars to yurts, and do some light farming work. But the fight to be open went on for so long, this never happened. It has been a struggle to feed him over the winters, and this year someone offered to look after him, spoil him with luxurious food supplements and surround him with other horses. Of course, he thinks he’s in heaven and we’ve decided to let him stay. This has freed up his field for the geese and chickens, which we will move as soon as we have a moment. As you can appreciate, this deserves a much longer post. But we’ll all have to make do with these few lines for the moment.

I ran for office on the mayor’s team and “we” “lost” in the second round of voting last Sunday. Going to weekly meetings was a very enlightening experience, and allowed me to propose some ideas – like having a communal veggie patch in the village to help prepare for life after fossil fuels. I’m looking forward to working with the new mayor and seeing what his team will bring to the village – including a communal veggie patch. (An idea that should, in my view, be mandated by all governments. The simple fact that this is not being mandated is proof enough for me that governments do not have the interests of the people at heart. Which might explain why many people have apparently lost faith in the current political system.)

The Daughter entered a talent show and got through to the final, performing a song she’d written herself. She didn’t win in her category in the end, but I think came a close second. I was seriously impressed with the solo vocalists, two of whom I would have signed on the spot if that was my job. (If that job even still exists.) The competition was held on consecutive Saturday afternoons in a 150-seat auditorium, and was surprisingly friendly and nurturing. I found it hard to picture similar opportunities being available in the UK and suspect it would have been far more competitive. But not in a good way.

You may remember I was in two bands a few weeks ago. During the course of one week, both bands split up. (Not guilty.) Unwilling to throw away all the work I’d done learning 50 new songs in a few weeks, not to mention creating a website and starting to get the social networking side of things up and running, I introduced the band-less singer from one band to the singer-less band from the other, and now we have a new band. Called “SouthWest”, and offering a dance-floor-filling selection of tracks from the 60s to today, the first gig’s on Saturday. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do, especially on the backing vocals (haven’t used this much falsetto since the ’80s), so I’m going to have to wrap this up and get back to work.

Before I go, sticking with music, I made some business cards and this simple website for solo piano work. This summer, while guests of écovallée come to relax and enjoy their holidays, me and Her Outdoors will be working harder than ever. I’ll tell you more about that soon, in a post along the lines of: Life as an immigrant.

In this post last week, I said Rob Hopkins had invited me to write something for the Transition Network. After a few false starts, I put something together over the weekend and sent it off. This morning, Rob told me he liked it (huzzah) and, a short while ago, he published it on his blog here (double huzzah – we haven’t had one of those for a while).

That should be enough good news for one post. But it isn’t.

Yesterday, we had a very positive meeting with the mayor about the yurt camp and our future plans. In the evening, I went to a very constructive meeting with our lovely local Transition group (in a straw-bale house – what’s not love to about a building you can grow and put together yourself?), this morning I landed some gardening work for the spring and, a few minutes ago, I found myself back in a band (having been bandless for just over a week) and landed a couple of website jobs to do over the next howevermany days.

If you’d spoken to me on Wednesday, I could have painted a very bleak picture of life. I was feeling like we were putting a huge amount of effort into numerous projects and getting nothing positive in return. Right now, the sun is shining and the world is full of possibilities.

Which reminds me of a Bill Connolly quote about the Scottish climate: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”.

One of the first things I heard about permaculture was how easy it is – a “no-dig” solution to the world’s insatiable demand for food. My mind conjured up images of someone (me perhaps, or Her Outdoors) wafting seed at the ground, then coming back  later to wander through our very own Garden of Eden, trees dripping and ground heaving with all manner of perfect fruit and vegetables. A smallholder’s paradise, where chickens take care of the pests and all you need to do is lie in the shade and plan what you’re going to do with today’s harvest.

It’s an attractive image, especially when you’ve spent seven years creating this:

veggie patch work

This was our veggie patch yesterday (the first time Her Outdoors has been happy to have it photographed). The ground was initially dug over by pigs, and all the “raised beds” were dug by hand, fertilised with Pepito’s manure, wood ash from our burner, rotated to help prevent disease (“help” is a key word here), nurtured, slaved over, repaired using wood from écovallée and stared at dejectedly. It’s been a labour of necessity, love and hope – and if you’ve ever done any gardening (I haven’t – Her Outdoors did this pretty much on her own), you’ll have looked for an easier way to get the results you want.

So when someone tells you about no-dig food production, you look into it.

Having read a bit and watched a few permaculture videos on youtube, permaculture can be fantastically easy. Provided you have the ground terraformed by JCBs, have uncountable tons of topsoil and manure delivered by fleets of trucks, and a huge amount of money to spend on seeds. Oh, and a sub-tropical climate with massive amounts of rain followed by months of sunlight. And plenty of time. And help.

What if you have none of those things?

One answer, found through permaculture, could be hugelkultur. If this is the first time you’ve come across this excellent word, it won’t be the last. Anyone who’s tried it raves about it. 

Last winter, we built a small “flugelbed” (any Swedish-sounding word works for us) in the polytunnel. It wasn’t a real krugelschmugel – more a raise bed half filled with rotting wood and manure, topped with earth from molehills. It’s been great. Carrots thrived in the sifted soil, free from pests who haven’t evolved to fly up to that altitude. Unfortunately, the deer have enjoyed breaking in and using it as a salad bar, leaving beautifully cropped plants next to telltale hoof prints. Our response will be to create a deer-proof fence around the polytunnel when we get round to it, which will surely do… something.

But that’s not the point right now.

The point is that we’re starting our first shnugelbed outside. It’s a very long-term project but one we’re very excited about. Lacking a JCB, Her Outdoors prepared the area to be used by leaving a tarp on the ground for a year or so. After the rain loosened the clay-heavy soil, she spend a few weeks carefully removing the bindweed:

veggie bed digging

Yesterday the hugelproject looked like this:

veggie bed before

All we needed to do next was place the soil to one side of the (uphill is wise here):

veggie bed after

We’ll be returning to this project regularly to monitor its progress. In a few years, the results should be spectacular.