Car boot sales, then. Exciting. No, wait, got that wrong: boring. But the tedium I describe is entirely related to the goods being sold, which are mostly old tat. It’s an amusing concept in a way – the whole point of a car boot sale is to get rid of shit that you don’t want anymore, dressing it up with mega-cheap pricing to make it look like you’re doing the buyers a favour. Sure, you can unearth the occasional gem if you’re very lucky, but it’s far more likely that the other sellers will be just like you, trying to flog all those terrible unwanted Christmas presents for peanuts. You could, in many cases, quite literally offer them peanuts and they’d be more than happy to offload Uncle Jerry’s tasteful bathroom scales in the shape of a chicken. In my experience you start a car boot sale dreaming of untold riches in your bank account, and end up glad that you’ve managed to get rid of a quarter of your VHS collection for a couple of quid.
But while the wares are rubbish, the clientele are fascinating. Today I was up at 6am to help my mother with running a car boot sale at a well-known Bristol school, which shall remain nameless for reasons of making it sound more interesting. My job was to direct incoming sellers in their cars to turn off onto the grass and head for my mum’s husband, who would then show them where to park. And what an interesting cross-section of humanity. Firstly, the normals: mums and dads of kids at the school, who saw an opportunity to sentence five, paragraph one. Secondly, the professionals: people who actually make a living out of it, manage to sneakily turn one parking spot into three, and come with proper goods like jewellery and watches. Thirdly, the most interesting group from an observational point of view: the crazies.
There are the mad type of sellers, who manage to make a simple instruction about where to go to park, feel like you’ve just tried to explain the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem to them. Then they’ll ask you something completely unhinged and you’ll want to check whether they’re allowed to be on day-release from the padded cells. Typical symptoms include a slightly gormless look, coupled with a body that’s dead skinny apart from a bowling ball-like beer belly that seems to have been pasted on by a blindfolded user of Photoshop. Worse when it’s a woman. They tend to be selling stuff that you’ve never, ever seen in any shop on Planet Earth. Probably because they have the world’s supply on their stall. And will likely leave with it, unless they meet:
The crazy buyers (a separate group to the normal buyers, I should add. The normals arrive expecting much, and leave with a couple of Jeffrey Archer paperbacks which they already own. And probably a hamster cage). These come in many forms. Some have ridiculous Jesus Christ beards, others carry their motorcycle helmets around with them at all times and keep coming up to you to ask where the exit is, presumably just in case a bomb goes off. If it did, they’d be the number one suspects. Then there are the groups of mute, waddling families with the dress sense of Ann Harvey’s Lidl range – a mum, a dad and five kids, all being dragged around a car boot sale at 9am on a Sunday and never offering more than twenty pence for any item. Yes, even the Formula One Scalextric. Then, if they ever do buy something (always the very worst item on your stall), they take the money out of their wallets in bullet-time. It’s like the lobby scene from The Matrix, if all those disintegrating pillars were metaphors for your brain cells crumbling more and more every second you have to deal with these people.
What brings the crazies out to car boot sales? I never meet them in real life – it’s like they stay hidden for three hundred and sixty four days a year, and then come out en masse to browse through Shakin’ Stevens records. Still, everyone has to have a hobby, right?