Sandy Mitchell: Parting with junk

Never before have I felt so relieved to see a lavatory. This one, a blue Portaloo, came into view on the back of a lorry that was reversing up our drive. It arrived in the nick of time.

I was on the very brink of drastic action: phoning our builders and shouting at them, because I had almost given up hope of their ever returning to our house, this time to convert a cart shed into extra accommodation. But yelling at builders who are meant to be helping you is always a bad idea, whatever the temptation, especially if they are as likeable and hard working as our team, once on site.

The arrival of the fragrant blue Tardis on the lorry was the surest sign yet that the project was about to get going at long last. Sure enough, the first workmen arrived a day later and immediately set to clearing out the piled-up contents of the derelict cart shed, which they had sensibly used as a dry store for all the salvage culled from the main house during last year’s restoration works. This grubby collection included at least eight battered wooden doors, several butlers’ sinks, a stack of massive rusty 1930s radiators, and an enamelled cast-iron bath big enough to serve as a dry dock for HMS Invincible.

Each and every item tells a sad little tale of defeat. Although I battled to keep as much of the old house intact as possible as we were restoring it, these bits just had to go. Take the bath, as an example. It was plumbed into a cramped bathroom next to the kitchen on the ground floor when we bought the house. When my wife and I asked our builders about shifting it to a new suite upstairs, we were warned it was so heavy that the floor of the upstairs bathroom floor would need reinforcing with a whole series of steel beams – a bridge too far.

So what to do with all the old junk now? An architectural salvage firm said I might get £80 for the lot. (A re-enamelled ‘vintage’ bath half the size and half as nice as our old one was offered to us by a shop in London in the past year for 10 times that amount.) So, instead, I asked our builders to shift the salvage up to the hideous old piggery unit on our land. We dream of giving this ‘gulag’, as we have christened it, some beautiful new use, yet I realised too late, that by filling it with an old bath, some sinks and rusty radiators, the gulag now looks even more terrifyingly like a Siberian prison camp.

Never mind, however. Wonderful progress is being made on the ha-ha, which is almost complete and just in time.

The new lambs, being organically reared, seem to have an extra spring in their step and they zoom around the large pasture in front of the house, practising (if I’m not mistaken) organised manoeuvres. Any minute now, I expect them to dash to the foot of the ha-ha in perfect formation and, as with a troupe of acrobats, form a pyramid and attempt to flick the lightest member of the team over the lip of the rampart to feast on all the delicate plants in our garden. If they succeed, however, the joke will be on them. There are no plants in our garden yet.