We had guests, so I got a week off from the endless chores my wife appears to find at will. But then the guests left, and it was time to clear out the barn.

Well, one third of it.

Well, one sixth of it.

In France, almost everybody has had a Covid clear-out, so we were late to the party. My other half already cleared out the cellar on a day I was out, which involved a couple of vanloads being taken to the local dump: mostly hardcore, wood, and FLOWER POTS.

This house is a couple of hundred years old and has a bit of land, stony soil, with a bit of the bottom of the garden being used by a local farmer for his cows. In the past, my wife’s ancestors did farm it, and the legacy of that life has been stored in the barn. There were remnants of machinery dating from the 70s, but further in, deeper into the dark, there was stuff that had been sitting there for 80 years.

The frustrating thing, always, is that you find yourself sorting through junk that had no business being kept. One tiny example: a bent drill bit. A drill bit, a big one, but bent. Useless. Scrap. But preserved, along with six million rusty nails, hooks, staples, screws, broken saw blades, snapped knives, corroded scythes, busted snow shovels, rotten beams, split planks, and almost certainly stolen tools.

These latter made me laugh. Someone, back in the day, was clearly leaving their job at big local employer [redacted] with something different in their pocket every day. Like a wavy spanner, or an enormous adjustable wrench, or endless carpenter’s pincers. I’m not kidding: there were at least a dozen of these pincers, as if the previous occupants were octopuses with a lot of nails to pull. And the saws. So many saws, for lopping, felling, trimming; a whole forest’s worth. And when you’ve felled the trees, you need log splitters. One, two… seven, hand-forged log splitters.

Another thing: oil. Vintage tins of oil, the kind some people turn into electric guitars, some of them empty, some containing oil, some containing diesel, or kerosene, or petrol, or whatever else, labelled in a shaky, illegible script. Jerry cans: one in metal, dating from 1945, the others plastic, dusty, empty, piles of empty one-gallon containers. Also: white spirit, methylated spirits, more kerosene, more white spirit, mysterious stoppered wine bottles containing… white spirit. Jars of grease, or white spirit I guess, and Unknown Substances, weed killer, tomato food, and 50 year old deteriorating paper bags of rat poison, safely stored in a rusty old biscuit tin without a lid.

Larger items: chains, more than Marley’s ghost could carry, barrels, an old tractor trailer, rotavator parts, ceramic flue pipes, aluminium flue pipes, guttering, a hay cart, an actual (hand forged) plough blade, a water pump, a huge iron brazier, several yokes for horses, and wheelbarrow wheels, hand carts, and another huge wagon, disassembled, with no wheels. Where are the wheels? In another part of the barn, not today, please thank you. Aluminium saucepans, iron skillets, casseroles, some of them labelled: too large.

So it all comes out of the barn, and some of it is up for sale, and much of it is thrown (in spite of my hoarding mother-in-law’s protests that it’s all brand new, never been used, valuable) in the back of the van. Three loads to the dump, mostly metal and wood and hardcore, but also bags and bags of rotting plastic and other non-recyclables. Junk, junk, and more junk, all kept by my wife’s ancestors, the junkies.

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