Dusting off the Past

It had to be done.

Nearly thirty years’ worth of old furniture, boxes of books and clothes, tea chests full of glasses and crockery I hadn’t seen since we moved from London, rugs, building materials, ladders, scaffolding, gates, seven pairs of French windows (don’t ask), off-cuts, left-overs, might-come-in-handies, ancient stuff left by the previous owners that might have “historic” (certainly not material!) value, even other people’s larger, cumbersome belongings we offered to store for them ….. we’ve had to dust off, sort through and steel ourselves to part with as much as possible.

Of course it should have been done years ago, but, as you all know;  unless you’re an iron-willed minimalist, “stuff” tends to aggregate according to the space available for storage.

And we are lucky enough to have a lovely, big barn with space for the horses’ loose boxes, firewood storage, and workshop downstairs.  Upstairs is one vast beautiful space, with stunning timber work, where we keep the horses’ hay, the tractor … and just about everything else.


(Space finally cleared at the far end.)

To back-track through the ages – and forgive me if you’ve read about this before – in the mid 1980s we bought a dilapidated house to restore and with it were outbuildings, ruins and land that came as an unexpected plus.  The big barn, which had been rebuilt at the turn of the twentieth century was in the best shape of all, so we were able to pretty much ignore it and keep filling it up with our worldly goods, whilst we got on with restoring everything else.

At the beginning, people used to visit us and say, “Lovely barn … shame about the house”.

The barn was full of hay which must have been more than twenty years old and still smelled sweet.  Nutrient value nil.  But we knew the hayloft was well aerated (it had a network of overhead wires that meant tobacco must have been dried in there) the structure and roof were sound.  And we abused it by filling it full of our junk.

And it’s true what they say.  You never quite finish restoring an old house.  So you hang on to everything; Just In Case.

The tipping point was the dust.

We used to get a winter’s hay delivery from our neighbouring farm and sweep out the dust and leavings as the horses transferred to grass.  Now they come in every night of the year and we collect the hay, bale by bale, from the farm up the lane, so the loft is never empty of an open bale.

And the dust has drifted, thick as Christmas snow, on everything stored up in the hayloft and it dribbles through the gaps in the old floorboards, down into the horses’ boxes and everything we’re trying to keep clean down below.


(The residents are looking forward to a dust-up …)

After much debate, we found the cheapest solution is to lay down a new, chipboard floor over the old, sound-but-gappy planks.  It’s chosen, paid for, and awaiting delivery from a friend’s sawmill, before France goes on holiday for the whole of August.

And what is great is that, since I last posted, we have a helper, one afternoon a week, who’s a hard worker and a joy to have around and who is making a great difference to whittling the “to do” list down to manageable.  So, instead of forever chasing my tail to catch up with myself, I’ve been able to keep up a regular riding programme with Pom.  Getting down to the school before the sun scrapes over the trees, before the heat and horseflies kick in, and making up for all the time we’ve lost for one reason or another.  We’ve had such fun.


And we’ve learned a lot about each other and where we are after four frustrating, hit-and-miss years together.

So, as we wait for the new flooring to be delivered, Eric and Rob have been ferrying old bits of pool liner, extinct bikes, decrepit garden furniture, bits of plasterboard, dead tools (and plenty of other things they probably judged it better not to tell me about) to the recycling plant.  Whilst my back was turned an abstract installation of crappy old caned chairs whose bottoms had fallen through appeared in the courtyard, to wind me up.  Back in the day I’d restored and re-caned a dozen;  these had been kept for “spare parts”!


And I’ve made a start on deconstructing the cardboard boxes and packing cases.  It could take a while.

First up was the box containing some of my childhood books and mementos.  I didn’t realise quite how early the horse obsession had set in, but pony books were among my very first reading aids.  Here’s a little spread of what I found.


I’ve already admitted to reaching a ripe old age in a recent post but looking at the books I’ve saved – possibly verging on antiquity – I got all overtaken by nostalgia.

“Watch the Pony Grow” (top left) just about finished me off.  I was probably too small to turn the pages myself when I acquired this.   Most of the books have birthday inscriptions, so friends and relatives had me down as horsey from the get-go.   And what a gift to present-givers to know the recipient has an obsession they can readily cater to.

I’m going to luxuriate in delving back into those pages and reliving a well-spent youth.

Does anyone else remember Princess Pony Annuals, Thelwell and the Jill Books?  What did you read that inspired your riding?  I’d love to hear …..

About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
This entry was posted in Ageing/Aging, equitation, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Rural Living, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Dusting off the Past

  1. Anna Blake says:

    Love to see the photo of you and Pom. Here’s to a better 4 years ahead. (Your barn is lovely.)


  2. rontuaru says:

    Oh my! I SO love your barn … and your house …. and your gardens! Such a lovely estate and with horses to boot! Good on you for cleaning out the roost. I’ve been (more or less) going through the same process with my attic and closets. I think we just reach an age where we realize we don’t want to burden someone with this task and so we tackle it ourselves. Like you, we’ve often been the depository for family “heirlooms” because people just assume we have the extra storage space. Well the heck with that! I’m sure you’ll feel very ‘cleansed” when you’re done! Lovely photo of you and Pom!


    • So agree about feeling cleansed by the clear out! We always call it good feng shui-ing (with a smile) when we get to see the surface of the desk, clear all the outstanding paperwork and file/bin what we can. Tidy is great for the soul – as long as it’s not an end in itself, like my mother used to make it. Thanks for the compliments, though you should see all the dreadful pictures of the farm and awful ones of me and Pom I have to cull – as I hate being in pics. and spoil a lot! It is nice, though, to have one I’m happy enough to show 🙂


  3. magreenlee says:

    Oh my… I only had twenty years of junk to clear out of our house in Cork! AND we hadn’t turned into a storage depot for friends and family.
    I have a box of precious books as well. The LSH doesn’t understand why I keep them… but then, he just doesn’t understand! Yes I loved the Jill books and the Princess Pony annuals and Pony magazine annual and Thelwell and the Pullein-Thompsons… and I had the same Drawing Horses book too!!
    You and Pom look great in the photo and I’m v happy for you that you are back on track.


  4. Thanks Martine! Glad to know you remembered the same books, though you’re a mere stripling (must have been an early reader)!
    What an innocent age it was back then …..I just couldn’t bear to let them go. Ironically last night my cousin rang – clearing out his parents’ house and has a box of stuff of my parents’ for me to collect! I pity the poor person who has to clear out after me, ‘cos I just know that once the floor’s down the barn will fill up again in no time at all …. 🙂


  5. subodai213 says:

    My goodness, I DO remember the Thelwell books. In fact, I have the same two you have. What a master he was, and he DID know ponies, didn’t he??
    When I was ten years old, my mother gave me a book printed in England titled The Horseman’s Anthology (I think) for Christmas. It was my first introduction, really, to the horse world beyond American westerns. It had excerpts from British authored books and magazines like “Pony” and others. That, I think, is where I fell in love with the British Isle’s culture, because it seemed to be centered around horses. In fact, someone out there (I don’t know who) said, “At the center of every happy British family, you will find a horse.’
    Being that I didn’t have a horse, nor a happy family, I thought, ah, the Brits have it all figured out.

    I wouldn’t toss those books out quite yet. I’d look around on the internet for someone who will buy them. I’ve purchased several books from overseas from a bunch called Alibris.

    Oh, what I wouldn’t give for that lovely barn of yours.

    As for ‘cleaning’…I will get ‘in the mood’ to dispose of ‘stuff’ and when it hits me, I take full advantage of it. I get rid of a LOT of things. This mood lasts for about 45 minutes. I know it’s done when I pick something up and that something in my brain says ‘wait a minute…………..”

    Even so, I do get rid of it, and to tell you the truth, to this day I can’t remember any of it..but I’d kept it for years beforehand.


    • No chance of me getting rid of my old horse books. (In fact I’m always loath to let any books go, even on loan.) I’ve dusted them off and am having a nice nostalgic wallow before I put them in a fresh box and back in the re-floored barn to look at again in, um, another thirty years maybe! There were some wonderful qualities of horsemanship to be gleaned from those old books, and classic tales condensed for younger readers in the anthologies and annuals which I’m so glad I got to read as a kid – and that you did too. We went to a Bastille Day flea market yesterday and there was a pile of stuff much like some of my chuck-outs on the stalls (I’ve taken stalls at these occasionally, but I seldom sell enough to make it worthwhile!) and, of course we came back with more junk. At least it’s new (to us) junk! I have advertised a few items that someone might find a use for on an all-purpose website and tomorrow some optimist up-cycler is coming to a take a cast iron stove we can barely move ….but he’s getting it for free with no guarantees!
      Having that lovely barn is wonderful, but all that space is a terrible temptation to continue our hoarding habit 🙂


  6. subodai213 says:

    George Carlin, a crazily funny American comedian, put it best: Junk is stuff you get rid of, stuff is junk you keep.

    I’m like you: I don’t loan my books out. Twice I’ve done that, against my better judgement, and my judgement was right..the books never came back. I can even remember WHICH ones, so it tells you how much I value them.
    I value them so much so that I know that one of my books disappeared when my now ex-husband insisted his friend wanted to ‘borrow” it and he would ‘of course!” return it. I still said no, he can buy his own copy or go to the library. Instead, Ex sneaked it to his buddy and of course meant, of course never returned it.
    It still peeves me.

    As for hoarding…well, there’s hoarding and there’s ‘keeping it for future use.” I have things in my garage that I’ve not used in ten years…but come time when I need it, it’s THERE, it works, it makes the task go quickly and I’m glad to have it. But then…………how often does one need a bearing puller? These days, not at all……….


  7. Yes, me too. I know which books have gone missing. And, after a few years, I asked for a particular one to be returned, as I couldn’t get hold of it again (before internet) – and it led to the revival of an old friendship!
    Love that Carlin quote. Much of my junk (sorry, stuff) comes in handy. Particularly building materials. When you have a crumbly old place, you never finish the job of renovation and new stuff just won’t do the trick. Horse stuff – I may not need that running martingale, but a friend might …. So many hobbies/sports/recipes/projects…. that Thingy will be just right for.
    And then that bearing puller might just become a collectable antique (whatever it is!)….


  8. subodai213 says:

    Funny how things one reads on blogs jogs one’s memory. I thought, wait a minute, I KNOW I have more than two of Thelwell’s books.! I was right. I have “Gymkhana”, and somewhere I believe I have a copy of his “Angels on Horseback”..I think…………we have a LOT of books. Common sense would tell me to group my horsebooks in one shelf but…….if we argue at all, my husband and I, it’s about how much space our books take up.

    A bearing puller is a …well, it pulls bearings/seals out of transmissions. Those things can get very large, and only work when they’re tightly installed. And there’s no way to get them out except to separate the transmission from the engine, stick the puller into the INSIDE race,begin tightening the center bolt with a hefty ratchet and start cranking, hoping the bad bearing actually comes out. This is why, when your mechanic tells you your truck’s rear main seal is bad, think hard about replacing the whole shebang. Get quotes. Lots of mechanics won’t even work on them.
    On the other hand, very few of you have trucks (or tanks!) as big as the ones I used to work on in the Army. So don’t worry too much about your truck/car, etc. However, if you go to buy a big diesel truck (or tractor) look long and hard at the transmission/engine connection. If it’s leaking or butt ugly with old grease/dirt, etc (which is almost always the case) you probably have a bad seal.

    I know, I know. TMI (Too Much Information)


    • Not TMI 🙂 I love that you replied with full explanation, but, practical as I am, I’ve never got my head around anything on wheels (apart from a wheelbarrow)! Wish I had, as the local Toyota dealer charge a fortune to even cast an eye over the “Tonka” – and they subcontract out much of the regular servicing.
      Great if I’ve got you looking out your old pony books!


  9. Elaine L says:

    I had a Black Beauty big book that I lost in childhood. As an adult I hunted for 30 years to find a copy. Finally in Minnesota, I found an almost perfect copy of this: my most beloved book. It was so pristine, that no child had entered their name in the space created at the front page, so of course I filled it in with my maiden name, trying to reclaim the moment. It has the honor of center display on my bookcase.


    • subodai213 says:

      I know that feeling. The book I referred to earlier? It’s wrapped tightly in plastic and stowed away in the safe. I know, it’s silly, silly, silly…but there are things in our lives, ‘cheap things’, things that are relatively inexpensive, yet transcend value and become priceless. I could even possibly find another copy…but not one signed by my mother saying, Merry Christmas, 1964.


    • Hello Elaine! If I was an actress (Heaven forfend!) I would only have to think about Black Beauty to conjure genuine tears. How brave of Anna Sewell to challenge the everyday animal cruelty of her time and create a timeless classic. How brilliant you found a pristine copy and particularly that you recreated that special moment by inscribing it in your maiden name. Hope all’s well with you, husband, sister and Dini down south?


  10. Barley and I says:

    Happy to find you well and in the saddle! ❤ What a beautiful place you live in! And what a nice picture of you and Pom! 😀 When I moved from Germany to Sweden at age 23, I left behind all my horse books….because I had over 500 of them. And not only the 'thin' ones. I had a deal with my grandma, which I am sure she regret afterwards, that she would buy horsebooks for me during my summer vacation. When you have such a deal at hand, do you know how many books you can read in six weeks, hahahaha!


    • Nice to hear from you again Anna and thank you for your lovely comments. Sounds like you had a wise and generous grandma (and made the most of the opportunity:) )! I hope that someone is keeping those books for you and you can re-read them some time; there are some books, especially the horse books I couldn’t bear to part with. Some of mine are laughably old -fashioned but I still love to turn the pages from time to time ……


  11. I know how stuff accumulates. Congrats on making headway on it. But it must be so lovely to find those old books and have a wander through them.


    • Thanks for your comment Cynthia! We are finally nearing the end of the clearout and unearthed not only old books but old correspondence, work files and photos, which were interesting to browse but best of all old clothes and shoes which had avoided the moths and mice and, after a good clean can come back into use (and some which brought back lovely memories even if I could never wear them again!). Glad to hear I’m not the only hoarder out there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. hamrat says:

    Thelwell! He is a staple of all horse and pony riders! We’ve got a few of them and they’re still fairly apt
    I hope that after clearing out all of the stuff you got a couple of Euros to spend on the barn and/or horses!


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