My Grandmother was a self-confessed car boot sale addict.
She’d often be parked in her banged up Morris Minor up to an hour before any of the sellers were even there, making her a favourite of the regular stall owners.
For the uninitiated, there’s a lot more to car boot sales than haggling for chipped crockery and sheepskin coats. Within the roaming car boot sale communities of the UK there are hundreds of fascinating individuals, all of whom either make a living or supplement their lifestyles with their weekend sales. Although some contend that the car boot sale community is struggling to compete with the likes of Amazon and Ebay, I believe that as long as there are eccentric characters offering cut-price deals on unique items, there will always be a purchasing public willing to support this Great British past time.
I don’t get to visit car boots as often as I like, but I did make it out to my local car boot at the Brighton Race Course last weekend to catch up with a few familiar faces.
Just like my Grandmother, I’m an early-bird when it comes to car boots. Brighton Car Boot Sale is pretty affordable when it comes to early passes, charging only £2.50 for entry before 10:30am. Sellers usually arrive between 8:30am and 9:00am but my first stop is always at a certain Bacon Roll stand.
Jacqueline and Henry have been dragging their battered catering trailer around the country for over a decade now. Their bacon sarnies are the best I’ve ever had and their well-brewed tea (poured into quintessential polystyrene cups) are the fuel that keeps the whole car boot running efficiently. Just like always they see me coming a mile off. Before I’d even reached the stand there was a hot brew and a white bap stuffed with bacon waiting for me.
“Your Nan was one of our most loyal customers – she was a right sweetie.”
Jacqueline does all the talking in this little business, chattering good-naturedly to customers from 8:30am until they shut up shop at 4:00pm. Henry quietly moves in the background buttering baps and expertly placing rashers on the griddle pan as he works in tandem with his wife. I bid them goodbye and make my way to one of my favourite sellers.
When I first met Phil Jefferson, 10 years or so ago, he was selling his wares from a single foldaway table that. His stall stood out from all the others there and was always the subject of much attention from the other kids who had inevitably been dragged to the car boot by their bargain hungry parents. Phil was (and still remains) an unadulterated nerd. He started out by selling back issues of comic books, along with a few spare action figures – grown-ups enjoyed the retro kitsch of his items and kids were fascinated by his collection of toys.
Today, with the explosion in popularity of geek culture, his wares are in much demand from older people, like my Nan who always sought out retro toys to give to us, to younger collectors who can’t find what they’re looking for online. Phil is a quiet man when engaged in small talk, but as soon you ask him about a particular item he becomes animated with kind of passion that I’ve only ever found at car boot sales. It’s rare that I buy anything from him but I always enjoy the conversation.
Before I leave, I stop by at a rather ramshackle stall with a tired looking man behind it. Although it’s comforting to see familiar faces, it’s always nice to meet new sellers. The stall was a little bare, with only a few items on his bench including an ornate grandfather clock, a particularly attractive gilded mirror and a charming Grecian statuette. There were no prices on any of these – a sure sign of a rookie. The man introduced himself as Gerald Tavish, he was friendly enough but as he talked he wrung his hands together, clearly a little stressed.
As I’d guessed this was Gerald’s first time at a car boot sale, he’d been forced to downsize to a smaller home after discovering an infestation of Japanese Knotweed under the floorboards of his home and now had half a home’s worth of ornaments to offload. Despite having paid off his mortgage, he told me, the cost of removing Japanese Knotweed from his property was simply too much to cope with, so he was abandoning his home of 30 years and leaving it to the Knotweed which was sure to spread to the rest of the village he was escaping from.
Although I felt for this first-timer, he was simply asking too much for his items, clearly hoping to make a quick buck and make a dart before the close of play.