The old farm where we are staying in the Dordogne has been carefully converted. The big open living-room and kitchen used to be a hay barn; the tobacco-drying room is now our spacious bedroom. The massive oak beams, wood-pegged, are still all visible, but with insulating chestnut planks between them. Outside, on the terrace, we look over a landscape of oak, chestnut and elegant scots pines, as we eat our evening meal and watch the sun go down. No sound, except the birds. Idyllic.
In the roof eves, when they were working on this place, they found a gun. Not an old shotgun or hunting rifle. An automatic pistol. When I was very young, I was rather keen on guns: unhealthily so, I think now. My uncle had a Nazi officer’s Walther automatic he’d acquired in the war – I never knew how. No bullets (fortunately), but as a kid I’d play with it when I went over to his house. (Eventually he dropped it in the canal I believe). But this gun: you’d think it was a toy gun cast out of a single piece of metal. It’s not though, it’s just rusted solid. It’s the size of a starting pistol, but it’s probably a .22 calibre (or the European equivalent), and the magazine is missing. I hold it in my hand, and it fits snugly (but rustily). That’s the point about guns: they’re designed ergonomically – they feel just right. Fit for purpose. It makes me feel queasy to hold it.
I’ve just finished reading a rather clever novel – ‘The Caves of Perigord’ – by Martin Walker. It intertwines three stories: A modern-day search for a missing Cro-Magnon cave painting; a story of those painters, 15,000 years ago; and how that painting came to be found, as the French Resistance fought the Nazi invaders in this area. I hold the rusty little pistol in my hand again. I understand why you might hide a gun in the eves, in Perigord, many years ago.