George Best said that he knew he was an alcoholic when he opened his eyes one morning and thought of drink before anything else. Being George Best, he didn’t have to wait to have his thirst quenched. All he had to do was nudge Miss Bulgaria (1973) awake and ask her to hand over the remains of last night’s Cordon Rouge.
Now, we can’t all have our morning desires satiated with the rapidity with which Mr Best was afforded. Us normal folk have to exercise a degree of restraint. Our whims are usually less exotic than Cordon Rouge, though. My first thoughts of a morning, for instance, traditionally revolve around two cravings: a cup of tea and a wee that lasts several minutes. Last Sunday, however, an inexplicable craving butted in: I fancied going to a car boot.
I couldn’t explain the craving. I don’t particularly like car boots. As far as I’m concerned, they’re little more than puffed up charity shops on a gap year. Yet, I had to go to one. Perhaps I was enticed outside by the May sunshine punching its way through my curtains at twenty-to-five. Or maybe by the chirped chorus of early birdsong, sounding like a mash-up between the Royal Academy flautists’ take on Prokofiev’s Sonata in D and a remedial class getting to grips with Three Blind Mice on the recorder. Whatever the reason, I yearned to be up and about in a sun-swept English pasture, perusing boxes of nude Action Men and second-hand golf balls. As luck would have it, there was a car boot sale on nearby. It was as if fate had provided me with my own Miss Bulgaria (1973) to quench this peculiar thirst. I leapt out of bed full of the joys of late-spring.
Like late-spring itself, these joys were short-lived.
The traffic around the sun-swept English pasture (car boot field) was the first arrow to my enthusiasm’s heart. It resembled one of those scenes in disaster movies where the backroads become gridlocked, choked to capacity, with cars trying to escape the threat of the alien pod hovering above the nearby cityscape. Except, instead of keepsakes and valuables, the cars were mostly loaded with shite.
Things didn’t speed up once I’d accessed the field. I hadn’t been to a car boot for a while; I’d forgotten how punters shift around them as though they’re auditioning for cameos on The Walking Dead. They adopt a curious zombie shuffle, turning their heads from side to side as they go, surveying all around them, on the lookout for live flesh – or a cheap fondue set.
In fairness, the zombie walk is actually a necessity. It’s dangerous to stand still at a car boot sale. You do need to keep moving. Otherwise you may inadvertently become locked in a haggling match. This happened to me on Sunday. Stupidly, I stopped to look at a table displaying the most frightening collection of baby dolls I’d ever seen. Some had had symbols and half-words carved into their heads with, I imagined, the sharp end of a deranged child’s compass. Some didn’t have arms. Some didn’t have legs. Some didn’t even have heads. Others had cracked skin and chewed feet. It was carnage. I almost called Social Services. One of the blighters was eyeless. But I swear it looked at me. I was hypnotised by the vacant sockets.
‘Quid!’ said a voice. I leapt up, thinking it was the eyeless baby taunting me. Luckily, it was just a middle-aged woman wearing a pink sun-visor and a Barry Manilow t-shirt. ‘Or three quid for the lot,’ she added.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I’m just looking.’
‘Go on, then,’ she sighed. ‘You’ve twisted my arm. Fifty pence. The lot.’
‘I don’t…’ I felt my skin redden, ‘they’re not… what I want.’
‘I can’t go any lower, Love.’
‘But I don’t… want the babies…’
Words had literally failed me. I stepped back, muted, and returned to the zombie slipstream, careful, from then on, not to get any closer than a yard to the tables unless completely necessary.
Mega-lols aside, it can’t be much fun manning a car boot stall. For a start, they usually happen on weekends, robbing you of a day off. Added to that the fact that they nearly always start early. Ridiculously so, sometimes. I’m not at all sure why this is. It’s not as if the items on sale are going to go out of fashion by lunchtime; most of them went out of fashion during the baby boom. So why is there this commonly accepted rule that car boots need to start at daybreak and be wrapped up by lunch? Can’t they start at about 10am and be wrapped up by four? There’s a General Election coming up in a few weeks, but I notice that, once again, none of the manifestos have dealt with this issue. Tossers. No wonder voters have become disillusioned.
The other thing to bear in mind is that those who are selling their wares aren’t trained customer service providers. They can get understandably shirty over seemingly trivial matters, like if you don’t have the correct money (or if you only want three of their plates, instead of the entire 147-piece crockery set that they’ve spent all morning setting out. I speak from experience). Added to this, is the issue of pride. They’re exposing their former tastes in a public domain. If you think about it, a table or blanket at a car boot sale is basically a live action picture book of the owner’s former life: fitness videos that have only been played twice; the toys of a child who’s left home; ashtrays from a second marriage; empty photo frames… And these poor people have to stand there and watch as us zombies stagger past turning our noses up. Well, I know I couldn’t do it. I prefer to slip my former retail mistakes quietly into the wheelie bin (underneath my regular rubbish, so that the bin men don’t notice it and report me to the council).
Although I shared a degree of sympathy with those running the stalls, some of them would’ve been better off adopting my plan and donating the majority of their stuff to landfill. It was almost offensive that people were willing to accept actual, proper money for some of the ‘treasures’ I saw on display: Bratz annuals 2003; soiled egg cups; Deuce’s first – and last – album on cassette; snapped clothes pegs; faded jigsaws of the Queen Mother with twelve pieces missing (not to mention her teeth). One man was selling a tub of cracked, rusty door handles that looked like they’d been filched from a Gothic mansion whilst Dracula was asleep.
If only there were a job where you could officiate car boots: The Car Boot Inspector. I’d apply. Imagine it. Before opening the gates to the public you got to walk up and down the tables, inspecting your heart out, declaring whether the items should be sold or binned:
‘Bin that. Sell that. Bin that. Bin. Bin. Bin. Sell. Fine. Bin that. Bin. Bin…’
The Car Boot Inspector (I prefer the title ‘Inspector Car Boot’ – it’s got a whiff of Carry On about it) would also be allowed to officiate on the outrageously off-kilter prices. They’re no joke. For example, last Sunday, one chap was selling a kitsch Homer Simpson corkscrew. He wanted six quid for it. Six quid! We didn’t haggle; I would have started the bidding at 20p. I backed away. But Inspector Car Boot would have gently suggested he lower his price to reflect its true value. Or else. As with charity shops, there was also a deeply misguided, and admittedly charming, idea of the value of computer games. Somebody was selling a copy of Fifa so old I was surprised it didn’t have Rodney Marsh on the cover. It cost £7. My guess is that it’s now in a bin. Next to a Homer Simpson corkscrew and a tub of Dracula’s door fixings.
I moved up and along the rows of tables like I was working my way towards the top of a giant Snakes & Ladders board (landing on neither snake nor ladder). I overheard glorious titbits of conversation as I went. My favourite exchange was this:
Woman: The young uns loike them oul compooters. They talk about um.
Old Man: Oim surprised they can talk! Hass not sumfun they’re good at normly!
Woman: (Laughing) Oi loike that jook. Hassa good jook. Them young uns can’t talk, can the?
The old man then repeated his jook (joke) for good measure.
Old Man: Oim surprised they can talk, Brenda! Hass not sumfun they’re good at normly!
As the final table drew near, our collective zombie pace picked up. This always happens. (They should line the route of the London Marathon with car boot tables. The runners would fly down the finishing straight like whippets. Personal Bests would be shattered.) People look at the first two or three rows of tables intensely. Then interest wanes. It gets repetitive. You speed up. Once you’ve seen four hundred Toby Jugs, you’ve seen them all. Actually, I genuinely thought I had seen them all. There couldn’t have been many Toby Jugs that weren’t on that particular car boot field last Sunday. I saw so many that they morphed faces of the humans around me into Toby Jug form. Why do people even buy Toby Jugs in the first place? More intriguingly, where do people buy them? I’ve never seen one in a shop.
Everybody has something they gravitate towards at a car boot. Some people naturally hunt for clothes or plants, others naturally hunt for collectibles or things for the house, such as Toby Jugs. I naturally hunt for DVDs. I’m not sure why. I hardly watch them. It’s terrible to admit this, but I often can’t be bothered to get up and put them into the machine. In fact, I sometimes even record things that I already own on DVD. This doesn’t stop me adding to my collection or getting excited every time I have the opportunity to do so. I bought the Goodnight Sweetheart boxset and series one of The Sopranos from the second to last table. Will I watch them? Unlikely. Was my mood temporarily boosted by the purchases? Yes. Why? God knows.
Despite my car boot hangover, I woke again this morning to curtain-punching sunlight and semi-musical birdsong. My first thought wasn’t of tea. Or of a wee that lasted several minutes. It was of Toby Jugs and broken dolls, Bratz annuals and rusty hinges. And DVDs. Lovely, lovely DVDs.
I may have a problem.