Every Sunday between March and October, a giant car boot sale fills up a farmer’s field near to where I live. We Brits love these curious gatherings, where people get up in the small wee hours to load their cars and vans full of their unwanted crap and attempt to sell it to other people.
Most of what’s on sale is crap. At any given sale you can easily find hundreds of examples of impulse purchases that have lost their original appeal – furry photo frames, wire toast racks, outdated stereos, novelty mugs, snow boots, DVD’s, CD’s, tacky home signage that exalts us to Live, Laugh & Love – the list of crap is endless.
When homeware crud doesn’t tickle the fancy, there’s a multitude of fake Michael Kors jackets, rip-off Chlöe handbags and bogus Gucci purses to contend with. If you don’t care for knocked off snide clothing, there’s always someone peddling 200 Turkish ‘Marlboro’ cigarettes for £50 or cloudy bottles of £5 Russian liquor than purports to be vodka but smells suspiciously of mouldering cornflakes and methylated spirits.
Should you be disillusioned with the premise of a car boot sale, fear not because there are bargains to be had. The home DIY-er can equip a decent toolbox for a modest amount of money. Gamers can pick up old-school consoles and games at keen prices. Lovers of house and garden plants can buy trays of healthy greenery at half the price of the big chain stores.
Then there’s the occasional triumph. Furby, the annoying toy of every parent’s nightmare in the early 2000’s, can bring a nice profit when bought for a few coins at the boot sale and flipped on eBay for a fivefold profit. There are copious boxes of books and vinyl records, some of it collectible and hard-to-find. Sellers often have the odd antique or collectible oddity for sale at negotiable prices. You never know when you’re going to find something extraordinary or profitable.
I remember my finest purchase. It was an overcast Sunday in April 2010. I’d enjoyed my walk up and down the aisles of makeshift stalls and wallpaper pasting tables that sellers used to display their wares. The giant boot sale was bustling with people itching to buy mirror-tiled mosaic mirrors and salt-encrusted foot spas. Not me. I was hunting for things to flip on eBay and maybe, if I was lucky an African mask or two to add to my collection.
I wasn’t lucky in finding a mask or much of anything worthwhile. I had walked up and down nearly 40 aisles and probably covered two or three miles that took me in alternating left-to-right, right-to-left 50-yard walks across a slightly damp farmers field. I’d had enough of snaking across a field. I rested at a spot outside a food van that sold spicy and delicious Ghanaian stew. I partook. But what I scoffed proved to be a mindfuck of venomously hot and spicy nastiness that I struggled with a bout of hiccups so severe that I could barely speak. My mouth was a fiery mess of swollen pinkness and uncontrollable saliva. My eyes blinked tears. I cursed yet laughed at my foolishness and lust for delicious stew.
It was through teary eyes I saw the guy that would sell me my favourite ever purchase at a boot sale. He looked pretty cheesed off with his lot. His table was still packed full of stuff – a sign he’d not sold much. He had the physiognomy of someone who’d eaten shit thinking it was chocolate. I was still wiping my running nose and blinking tears when I approached his stall.
“Anything on the table mate, I’m open to offers,” he gruffed.
I looked at what was on offer. Nothing special, at least not at first. There were some old comic books but not valuable or particularly collectable. There was general items like an old watch, an alarm clock, boxes of screws and a wooden cheeseboard. Further along the table was a large cardboard box with the legend ASSORTED JUNK scrawled on the side in thick black marker pen.
This was more like it!
I’m a sucker for ‘assorted junk’.
I suddenly recovered from my chili-induced stupor. Inside the box was to a first glance just a mess of old junk. There were hand tools and toys, golf balls and brass ornaments – nothing that would have normally made me excited. But I had a feeling that there was something worthy inside.
“How much for this box of assorted junk?” I politely asked.
The seller looked a bit put out that I’d asked for a price for all of his assorted junk.
Ooh. That was a my kinda price for an assorted box of junk.
I dug out a crisp £5 note and the seller wasted no time in snatching it out of my hand.
The box was heavy and cumbersome. I made for my car. I waddled past staggering diners temporarily zombified by Ghanaian stew, past hordes of beguiled buyers and exasperated sellers, beleaguered parents hollering at unruly children, glum-looking men carrying mirror mosaic tiled mirrors and women gingerly balancing unmanageable polystyrene trays of tomato seedlings and clematis.
I reached my car and put the box of assorted junk on the passenger seat and for 45 minutes I delved into this magical assortment and compiled an inventory on the side of the box.
2 packs of 1920’s Russian playing cards.
An authentic WWII ration book
A meat hook
A wallpaper scraper
A silver-plated sugar bowl
A paper box containing 7 antique wardrobe keys
11 vintage ‘Rupert the Bear’ pin badges
A stopwatch (no batteries)
A coffin shaped pillbox with a lump of cannabis resin inside
3 headlight bulbs (one broken)
257 masonry nails
A clay pipe
A fake plastic moustache
A plastic name badge saying ‘Clive, Hertfordshire, WCD’
36 glass marbles
33 Christmas fairy lightbulbs
14 dinner forks
13 dinner knives
22 dessert spoons
11 golf balls
A wood chisel (blunt)
An enamel cup
A toffee hammer
A junior hacksaw
A broken junior hacksaw blade
6 green Monopoly houses
1 red Monopoly hotel
A pewter Monopoly playing piece (Top Hat)
A 6-inch metal ruler
A Deep Purple sew on patch
A Budgie sew on patch
A Black Sabbath sew on patch
54 assorted wooden dowels
A tobacco tin with 6 assorted fountain pen nibs
A tobacco tin with assorted drill bits
A wooden cribbage board
A copy of Mr Strong by Roger Hargreaves
A compass (broken)
A vintage cutthroat razor
A Loch Ness monster fridge magnet
A reel of catgut
A large bulldog clip
A brass letter ‘T’
An English/Italian pocket phrasebook
8 horse brasses
3 pewter napkin rings
A miniature pewter tankard
A miniature pewter golf club and golf ball
A chalk Bossons head
Various unidentified brass fixings
9 vintage tabletop cigarette lighters
A cigar in a metal tube
An alabaster candlestick
A small circuit board (damaged)
A leather pouch (empty)
A shoelace (brown)
A box of Bryant & May matches
A piece of green velvet with the name ‘Kenny’ embroidered in gold thread
A bicycle pump
A small box of assorted crumpled banknotes from around the world
A set of Eric Bristow dart flights
A bundle of pipe cleaners
A cloth tape measure
A Barbie doll
A miniature Rubik’s cube
4 Fisher-Price Weebles
A soft toy donkey
A pencil eraser in the shape of a custard cream biscuit
A pencil eraser in the shape of an ice cream
A pencil eraser in the shape of a penis
A pencil eraser in the shape of an apple
8 matchbox toy cars
Other assorted junk including a dead spider, metal filings, a bottle top, lots of dust and wood shavings
To the seller it was a box of assorted junk. To me it was magical. It was history: social and economic; cultural and political. It was a cornucopia of histories – moments – captured in random items thrown together to become something so alluring as to be a £5 box of junk.
And I guess that’s the point of this blog.
And to some extent, the point of me being me and you being you.
Or maybe Life itself?
We are all manifestations of special and unique moments captured in seemingly random events and happenings. We are the products of unimaginable and incalculable things thrown together and made into something we call ourselves. We’re not defined by any one thing, no more than a box of assorted junk is. We’re totally unique.
This blog is not a ‘niche’ blog. It is an assortment of contributions, articles written to provoke thought or to simply share a story. It’s a blog where there is no other room for continuous articles on something obscure or some creative works that deserve an airing. It is an A to Z of whatever we fancy writing and we hope you find interesting. It is the blog equivalent of finding a 1920’s pack of Russian playing cards alongside a pencil eraser in the shape of a penis or a piece of green velvet with the name ‘Kenny’ embroidered in gold thread.
It is the blog box of assorted junk and we hope you keep coming back.