Advice · Notes from West London

“I tried it once and I didn’t like it”

You might be familiar with the quote that begins “Try everything once except …” It is attributed to the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. You could always come up with suggestions of your own to complete the sentence.

The original advice was “Try everything once … except Morris dancing and incest”, and I am happy to report that I have followed it. There are plenty of other things that I have never tried, even once. Until recently that list of things (a whole range of activities that I have never wanted to do) included taking a pitch at a car boot sale. I have now tried it. Once.

Many years ago, during a house move, we filled up several boxes with items that we had either not used at all, or had not used since the children were tiny. They were marked up with the words “Car Boot Sale” with varying degrees of emphasis and certainty, from a simple “Car Boot Sale” to “CAR BOOT SALE ???” and everything in between.

A nearby school runs a very popular car boot sale on the first Sunday of the month. The last Sunday in March was unseasonably hot and I decided that the following week I would load up the car with all of these variously-labelled boxes, wedding presents we had not used in our 20 years of marriage, a games console and games that we were given in 2015 (unused since 2016), children’s clothes and toys that had survived the original boxing-up process, board games that we never play. Load them up, sell them on.

The first Sunday in April was unseasonably cold. I loaded up the car at 4.30am. I would have preferred to do this the previous evening but didn’t want to risk leaving it all in the car overnight. I was on the road soon after 5am and pulled up at the school gates shortly afterwards to find very few signs of life, certainly not the queue of vehicles I was anticipating. Out of the darkness a couple of volunteers in hi-vis directed me to the opposite side of the main road. I passed a long line of cars and vans and found myself 90th in line. It was -2 degrees Centigrade. I had brought a hot water bottle along with blankets and warm clothing and was snug enough for the next 90 minutes, until directed back to the school.

I had the choice of parking on the playing field or on the asphalt playground. I chose the latter. I didn’t fancy standing on the grass. My first target was to sell enough goods to pay the £15 entrance fee and the price of the cheese and ham toasties and fresh coffee from the nearby stalls.

Most of the neighbouring vehicles belonged to people who have done this sort of thing before, many times. After 15 minutes of setting up my wares and trying not to get too annoyed at the car to my left encroaching on my patch, a couple of guys in their 20s noticed the console and games. They became nostalgic about when they used to play them and made me an offer. It covered all of my costs for the rest of the morning. I was relieved that I would not be out of pocket.

The hours dragged along. The sun came out. The rain stayed away. The temperature struggled to a single degree above freezing.

I won’t bore you with an inventory of what was sold and what remained, but a car full of stuff was reduced down to the contents of two large plastic storage crates, and most of that could go to charity shops.

I packed up and headed for the exit as soon as we were allowed to. One of the last people to stop by asked me, “So, will you be here next month, mate?”

“Never in a million years,” I answered.

“Why’s that then?”

“I tried it once and I didn’t like it.”

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