The Car Boot Sale
Now this is really depressing.
We're in the car park of the Rope and Anchor, Sunday morning 7.30 AM, and we have a car full of memories to shift. The last time I was in a pub car park at this hour I’d just been manhandled out of the door by the landlord.
We are not the first here. Old hands had arrived sometime the previous evening to grab the best pitches - near the gate, near the burger van and most important of all, near the tardis that serves as the loo. We parked miles from the gate and nowhere near the portaloo or the burger van and began to unpack.
Our table was conveniently stored underneath all our treasures in the boot so everything was initially dumped on the tarmac. The first gems had barely hit the ground before the circling vultures descended to root out the choicest morsels. ‘I’ll give you a pound for it’, became a familiar refrain.
I knew something about bartering from holidays in Tunisia and Morocco. I had watched my brother at work. He once paid 'just over half price' for a set of six wooden elephants descending in size from about 10 inches to 3. Not that he actually wanted any elephants, he just wanted to hone his haggling skills. Using his performance as inspiration I had subsequently bought some wooden camels, 'for a shade over half price'.
In our pub car park I now slipped effortlessly into haggle mode. I explained that they had cost about thirty five pounds last March. 'I can’t possible let them go for less than…….'
'Well, a pound's a pound', I told my wife who’d barely had time to put her gloves on before her underused ‘super-massage therapy unit’ with no plug on it had a new owner.
'She’ll be flogging that for a fiver later on,' she said
'Rubbish.' I replied.
It took us half an hour to arrange our plot. Many of the items having played a significant, if largely sub-conscious, role in our lives. Crockery, clothes, ornaments, CD’s, books and a rather nasty pink radio-alarm that had awoken me for work for the last time. That bottle of Mateus Rose passed round to numerous social gatherings, unwanted by guest and host alike. And some camels.
Assorted trinkets, barely fit to grace an East German council tip, sold immediately. Items we agonised about selling for sentimental reasons sat there resolute unsold, and mocked us. Two people fought over our thermos before it was withdrawn from sale. Quite depressing in a way. Nevertheless, we were up to about forty-five pounds by 10.30 so I went to browse the competition.
I witnessed rows of steely-eyed vendors behind aluminium picnic tables selling scrap for coppers.
'One mans rubbish is another man’s treasure,' says veteran booter Alex, who has just got a couple of quid for the starting cable from a 1976 Ransomes cylinder mower. 'The trick is to persuade the punters that the rubbish you picked up last week has mutated into something indispensable. Its best not to give out receipts as the parentage of some of these bits is a bit mythic. Not nicked or anything, just perhaps illegitimate.'
'You mean that wasn’t the starting cable from a 1976 mower then?' I asked
'I’ve no idea what it was. If you say you 'believe' it's a starting cable, you cover yourself. Be prepared to be out-knowledged by a succession of smart-arses but remember the aim of the game is cash in the pocket. Overall you just need a bit of imagination.'
'That’s the word is it?'
But he was into his next customer.
I moved on and decided to use my imagination. I approached an elderly lady, multitudinous tiny crimson veins on her cheeks like bloody river deltas. She was wrapped in more clothes than I possess and was stamping her feet behind a well-stocked table.
'Is that a spigot off a tumble dryer?' I enquired with a smile, pointing at a plastic bit.
'Are you taking the piss?' she snapped
'No certainly not.' I mumbled, 'I was just trying to, er, use my imagination.'
'Well use it somewhere else. Shove off!'
The lady next door informed me that the lady's name was Winnie. 'She’s here every week. She never sells much just comes for the fun of it.'
'It sounds like it.'
'By the way did I hear you say you needed a spigot for a tumble dryer?'
'I don’t even know what a spigot is.' I admitted
'Oh.' she said and smiled a smile that said: ‘you’re new at this aren’t you’.
As I walked I wondered why people torture themselves thus? It is hard to believe that anyone would willingly trade what is akin to standing in an open-air flea market in the depths of a Siberian suburb with a plate of bacon and eggs with the Sunday paper in a nice warm kitchen. There must be another reason.
Well, if you take into account travelling expenses, the cost of a burger each, a couple of cups of coffee and the odd shrewd purchase, you’ll do well to break even. As a means to supplementing the pension it’s not viable. Plus, the number of years by which ones life is shortened by sustained and acute hypothermia rules out any therapeutic or health benefits.
For anyone with anything but the strongest mental constitution it is enough to catapult you over the edge. Selling unwanted detritus for a fraction of its worth is only superceded by NOT selling unwanted detritus for a fraction of its worth. You need thick skin because your trinkets are poked and prodded by some pillock with a look of someone having recently eaten a burger-van burger. Then after muttering and head-shaking they don't even part with a pound. It's soul-destroying.
No, the answer must lie elsewhere. Folk are not prepared to drop everything off at the charity shop. Things bought with hard-earned cash or dated (and chipped) wedding presents must be worth something to someone. They apparently are, as countless car boots up and down the land testify. There’s the additional possibility that you may come across the DVD player that vanished in a recent burglary.
Contrast a Sunday market we visited last March in Villefranche, South-Eastern France. Compare if you will the magnificent church that dominates the square in a beautiful market town. Bordering the scene a palisade of shops. French chic during the week, today, guardians of the Sunday market, the wonderful, convivial age-old heart of a rural way of life. Compare saussison of every shape and size, delicate, early season esparagus, homemade pies and pasties, delicious cakes, breads of infinite variety, ‘mon frere’ selling vin-de-compagne by the jug from the back of a 30-year old citroen van. The selling of his wine of little import compared to the opportunity to converse with old friends to nourish the traditions of his forbears.
Yes, contrast our cheerless pub car park, the worry of the missed pitch near the bog, the distance to the burgers. Compare please our boot sale and our attempts to flog a bent wok to a bearded git or arguing with some old trout about a fictitious spigot.
I spent a goodly portion of our proceeds on sandwiches and coffee and returned to our pitch. My wife had done well in my absence but with time (and punters) running short she was compiling lots and selling in bulk. Not a means of keeping the gross margins up but a way to prevent taking the bloody stuff home again.
'I got two pounds for that metal thing in the boot. Not bad eh?,' she boasted.
I smiled and said nothing. I hoped we wouldn’t need the wheel brace on the journey back.
We left the table and the remaining carrion to the vultures and repaired to our local for a well-earned lunch.
One Sunday in December – total revenue approximately £65. Outgoings – well, we won’t bother with that after a bite to eat and a couple of pints.
© Jo May 2016