Reader: beware. Might this be another blog about the start of term? Dare you continue? Fear not!, for I shall offer neither advice nor plans – personal or otherwise – for the future. What follows is instead merely an anecdote; an analogy, perhaps. Take from it what you will though be minded that I might well author a piece to simply experiment with readers’ reactions.
For the first time ever I’m sat at a car boot sale trying (not very hard) to sell furniture, potatoes and those little bins that sit by the loo to passers-by. The chorus to Karma Chameleon won’t leave my head. I’m surrounded by things: trinkets, appliances, terrible art and stands for obsolete media.
My word, we produce so much stuff! The new is perhaps shinier than the old but, if this car boot sale is anything to go by, most of it is essentially the same. We know a little more about materials than years past and so don’t make nappies out of asbestos or straws from lead, but that’s about it.
Occasionally we come across something that will genuinely make a difference but these discoveries are few and far between: most of our good ideas are dismissed by the dragons in their den, aren’t they?
The thing that really stands out about this morning is how keen the traders are. My dad, who I’m helping out, was told to get here early so we arrived in Exeter at 5:30 on a Sunday morning only to find a queue. These traders know that they’ll pick up perhaps £150 if they only hawk a quarter of their wares, such is the bleary-eyed receptivity of the early morning punters. And so the early bird snatches up the worm.
At this point my dad returns from a walk around the site with a burger and a coffee. The trader opposite lights up a cigar. It’s 6:47 am.
Around 7:00 am shoppers, resplendent in IKEA bags and the uncertain dress of those who fear both rain and sunburn ahead, begin to appear. Many seem to know exactly what they want and as such hardly stop to acknowledge our good-mornings. They pan for the gold in what I think is our rather barren river of goods – no, no, no, yes: £3. Thanks. Many search through our stuff with what I can only describe as a kind of autistic ferocity. I suspect these are the experienced car booters: they know their late C20 plastics and in which boxes to find them. They don’t waste time. They’re not interested in haggling. They aren’t distracted by the £8 printer or the exorbitantly priced £20 whiteboard (Dad, did you price these up blind?). They don’t seem to stay long. They know what they want. In and out.
The site is divided into two sections: the actual, bona fide car boots in one and in the other traders who tend to take things a bit more seriously, perhaps selling at three or four markets a week. This morning we are the latter and as such appear more professional – ha! The former are perhaps likelier to sell ad hoc. That doesn’t mean that their goods are of any less value, of course.
Later, perhaps from 9:00 am onwards, the general public turn up. These seem to be a mixture of the more casual ooh-we-could-do-with-a-steamer-for-the-roast-today and those who’ve travelled from farther aboard, some as far as Cornwall!
There’s a crucial difference between the early-morning snappers and these mid-morning perusers: the latter are more likely to pick up what they probably don’t need: the entire Will and Grace DVD box set missing disc 7 for only £3; a set of floor mats for a Peugeot 307; a mug which declares that I’d rather be pregnant than 40. I am often one of these, especially if I see something peculiar for the kitchen.* And so they, and I, spend more money than we need to but end up with less space at home. We also, due to having both too few arms and too little time, tend to use these gadgets and gizmos less and less: hands up everyone who has a coffee machine gathering dust.
My dad has so far bought at least four cups of coffee despite me bringing a flask. He’s also now swapping tales with a man who is nearly all beard. He won’t buy anything from us, but he does have a trailer with him just in case.
By 11:00 am the earlier deluge has lessened. For most of the traders what’s left is either very specific or very large, though we’ve astonishingly managed to sell a metal ballcock from a giant tank for £15. Actually, I think, what we have left is mostly quite useful but either doesn’t look particularly enticing or is on the pricier side: we sold a small, rusty filing cabinet with no locks for £1, but no-one wanted the almost new, larger cabinet complete with locks and wheels for £20. It’s cheap, quick wins versus the time consuming. Was the latter a better cabinet? Probably. Maybe. Depends.
The late arrivals know they might be able to pick up a few glasses, a book or even see something surprising: they don’t have expectations but also aren’t as likely – from what I can see – to spend money unnecessarily. Perhaps next week they’ll be one of the early birds. On second thoughts, I wonder whether these are these more or less experienced than their 7:00 am counterparts.
Despite Culture Club still rumbling around in my head I’m reminded of the Shift Happens video/s. Perhaps you can work out why that is.
Editing this piece a few weeks later I’m also reminded of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1997 film Carne Trémula. Victor Plaza, the hero, is born on Madrid’s el circular bus route. On the radio we hear Manuel Fraga announcing the 1969 State of Exception whereby travel was restricted: thus Victor is born into a political crisis literally in transit. The bus passes the Puerta de Alcalá, the historical city gate symbolising the beginning of Victor’s journey. Given a lifelong bus pass, Victor is assured a life on wheels. Sure enough, when Almodóvar fast forwards twenty years Victor is a pizza delivery boy on a moped, riding past the city gate. He then visits the daughter of the Italian ambassador and on the television Luis Buñuel’s Ensayo de un crimen (Rehearsal for a crime, 1955) denotes what is about to be repeated. It’s a wonderfully symbolic film and a great place to start if you’re not familiar with Almodóvar’s work.
* At least I have been: I’ve worked hard to be less impulsive.