This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


June 13, 2019

I don't know about you guys, but I came back from my travels around town this weekend with a treasure chest of new belongings. There's nothing quite like a yard sale to fill the book shelves and flesh out the gaps in one's interior décor.

The Country Junkin' weekend is a great idea, if you ask me: combine all those chances to rummage through possibilities into one whirlwind of a morning. The fun doesn't stop till the cash runs out (or there's no more room in the back of the car, whichever happens first).

Sadly for international bargain hunters, the yard sale might be an extremely common event in this part of the world, but it barely exists back in the UK. I can only assume this is because most of us have front yards the size of postage stamps.

Some of us don't have yards at all, actually – on the cobbled streets of older towns, many front doors open directly onto the street. I can only imagine the indignation of local pensioners if they found their dog-walking route blocked by a collection of pots and pans.

Nor are garages a common thing in the rows of connected dwellings that make up your average city street. A high percentage of the houses in London, for example, were built before cars were even invented.

Our back yards are bigger, but nobody can see them from the road (or access them without traipsing mud all through your house). Consequently, we've come up with a different way of doing things.

Instead of yard sales, we gather in local fields or parking lots for a "car boot sale". For once, there's a perfectly sensible explanation for the name.

The boot of a car is what you would call the trunk. If you found yourself wanting to get rid of a sizeable stash of old books and tools in Britain, you would simply pack all those items into the boot of your vehicle with a table on top, then drive the vehicle to the sale site.

Once you've paid your plot fee, place the table behind your vehicle and arrange your sellables upon it. As an added bonus, the boot of your car is now empty and can be used as a seating area while you wait for customers to arrive.

As a customer, the process is even easier. Simply turn up at the parking lot with plenty of cash in your wallet and wander the rows of tables until you find what you're looking for.

You'll usually get somewhere between 20 and 50 tables at the car boot sales in my area, which is plenty of opportunity to haggle. Someone will be attempting to attract attention by blaring music from a CD player with awful acoustics and one or two vendors will be there every single week, which will lead you to wonder if "car boot salesman" is a viable career option.

The canniest burger van in the world is always present at these events. I don't know who owns it or where it spends its regular hours, but you can guarantee it will be frying enough onions on a Sunday morning that an entire field of bargain hunters will be unable to escape the smell.

And as we all know, there's nothing quite like the smell of sizzling onions to get the tastebuds going. Car boot sale attendees know they'll never resist the temptation (even though most of the events I went to as a kid took place mere hours before the family gathered for the weekly roast lunch that is only fulfilling its purpose if it sends you into a food coma).

My mother is a car boot sale aficionado, you see, so the Sunday mornings of my childhood were spent looking at bric-a-brac that didn't yet interest me. I was too small to care about kitchen gadgets or table lamps and too old to be attracted by the boxes of toys.

I did, however, build quite the music collection over the course of one particular summer. I wasn't exactly falling over copies of the latest releases and it was all representative of someone else's taste at an unspecified point in the past. "Eclectic" seems too soft a word to describe the box of random cassette tapes I cobbled together, but it was still a lot more music than I'd been able to collect using my birthday money.

I was also surprisingly successful in putting together a wardrobe that would fit with the grunge trend we'd stolen from you guys. I don't think any of the items I bought were actually designed to match the aesthetic, they were just old and grotty enough to work.

These days, I'm much more excited by curtain rails and cutlery than I used to be, but that didn't stop me from coming home this weekend with half a wardrobe of new summer clothes. There were no cassette tapes on offer, unfortunately, though I made sure to keep an eye.

I'm not sure the talking squirrel my dad-in-law insisted on fits anyone's list of necessities, but the dogs seemed pleased nonetheless. My new sofa cushion was also relatively pointless on the basis it doesn't match anything else, but I will love and treasure it anyway.

Just a quick note for next year's vendors, while we're here. I am planning to attend next year's weekend of exciting local bargains so, if you've a pile of random cassettes lying around in the attic, I can assure you they will find an audience. I could probably do with something to play them on, too.

If you tried to sell your old tools here, you'd be unpopular with pedestrians.


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