If you’re old enough to remember ten bob notes and have survived life’s passage of climbing into (and then falling out of) trees, drunken teenage escapades and a divorce or two, then you’ll also recall grey shorts, knitted tank tops and, of a Saturday morning, wearing them whilst trundling down to the local ironmongers with your dad. The doorbell tinkling above your head, there you were greeted with roof high dusty shelves, a cornucopia of lumpy paper wrapped packets and the background whiff of dangerously combustible lubricants. The position of each tiny nut, grommet and can of lethal weedkiller was known only to a cheerful bloke called Arnold or Wilf, who’d happily chat all day and never fail to find exactly what your dad wanted. Nowadays you’re stuck with some anonymous out of town store, staffed with pimply teenagers who don’t know where anything is and, even if they have an Atco Supermow drive shaft with ten toothed cog, can’t be arsed to tell you as getting it will disrupt their texting.
But in most French country towns you can relive the whole sepia toned hardware experience. Having bought your slightly knackered (but charmant) farmhouse and filled it with dogs, cats, fowl and a gee gee or two, you’ll need a whole bunch of stuff – and the local farmer’s collective store is the place to go. There’ll be all the feedstuffs you need and racks of other things you don’t – but you’ll want anyway. Explosives to shove down mole holes (ineffective but spectacular), hugely powerful electric fencing converters (sufficient to keep elephants at bay), grim reaper-esque scythes and more phosphate and nitrate based chemicals than you can shake a stick at – a veritable urban terrorists playground. And glass fronted cabinets crammed with shotgun shells and high velocity bullets, a must for chasseurs and a welcome addition to your local Al Queda branch’s shopping list.
Best of all though are the bits of kit you need an explanation for – like the long sticks with strange rolling wire basket thingys on the end. Apparently you roll them along the ground to collect walnuts. Not for exercising your hamster then. And having whiled away a happy half hour and studied the adverts for wildly expensive forty year old tractors, you’ll be greeted at the till with a smile, a brief discussion of the weather (too wet, too dry, too something) and lengthy enquiries as to your health.
In short the perfect shopping expedition. So save it for a Monday, when everything else is shut.