#48 Life, death and nostalgia at the car boot sale

In Gratuitous nostalgia, midlife, Tales on June 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

I thought a car boot sale was just about getting up too early on a Saturday and making a quick bit of cash; turns out they are a philosophically-charged hotbeds of self-examination, rites of passage, relationship diplomacy, and even life and death.

Having just filed the last tranche of the 40,000 or so words required for the forthcoming book Welcome to Midlife, which I’ve co written with the far more literary than myself John O’Connell, (published by Short Books this autumn), I thought I’d make a bit of much needed cash at the school car boot. (Writing books is a privilege, but it pays bugger all.)

First the big clear out, and a trip to the money draining storage unit I’m a bit too ashamed to talk about. Inside are A level notes, old letters (remember when people used to send those?), vinyl, a hand-cranked Singer sewing machine… you get the idea. There’s also still lots of crap that once belonged to my late father – mismatched Subbuteo Rugby sets, vintage umbrellas, Edinburgh Fringe posters from 1980-2000, random items of Kings Pattern cutlery and more than 50 Zippo lighters (which even at one lighter per cigarette of his typical day wouldn’t account for it). As most of it came from car boot sales in the first place, it seems kindest to release it back into its natural habitat.

What I’d completely forgotten about, and had been unprepared for, was the box of my maternal grandfather’s things that I have had in my custody for over a decade*. I was amazed to find:

  • A bowls trophy S&DBA triples winners, 1981
  • a k1941 20mm bullet
  • a leather tape measure, used either for bowls or in his painting and decorating work
  • his RAF issue spectacles with the note ‘care must be taken to keep the sides at the correct setting otherwise gas may leak in when the respirator is worn
  • his army message form book with the note ‘If liable to be intercepted or to fall into enemy hands, this message must be sent in cipher
  • a crumbling 1D note in an envelope marked in his spidery hand ‘This £1 note was found in the North African Desert in 1943 (when the Germans thought they were going into Egypt)
  • a cutthroat razor, nasal hair trimmers, nail files, and hand-operated clippers (he was always well groomed)
  • his tin cigarette rolling machine he use to let me tap to produce the cigarettes magic – still with a few shred of tobacco in the bottom.

Needless to say, this profound attack of nostalgia, mixed with the existential body blow of holding a man’s life in your hands, was enough to reduce me to tears, even in the harshly strip-lit breeze block surrounds of the Big Yellow Storage company.

The next day at the boot sale I encountered more stallholders whose presence was  clearly part of a more profound, soul searching exercise, from parents finally selling their daughter’s car seat and baby books just as she heads off to secondary school, to hard-nosed kids who’d watched Junior Apprentice and were flogging off their toys. Most moving of all was the man on the stall next to me who was heroically severing ties with his entire CD collection, (helped on the stall by his lovely girlfriend),  a gesture of such strength of character that it provoked a mixture of admiration from all all the dads who came to relieve him of CDs by the  dozen, (and mock him for ever having bought anything by Travis).

Personally, I finished £46 up (minus another £15 my sales assistant daughter negotiated out of me – I blame Lord Sugar), plus mint condition copies of High Land, Hard Rain, Violator and Treasure, for a very reasonable £1 each.

Your turn to knock yourself out on nostalgia! click on albums…

* No of course I didn’t sell my Granddad’s stuff! I’m not that desperate. I’ll be sending it up to my mum.

  1. I remember Granddad teaching me to roll cigs for him with that machine from quite a young age.

    I also thought I remembered you owning those LPs or had you sold them at a previous car boot sale or are we talking CD?

    • Yes I owned them… on vinyl. Because I am THAT old. While everyone else is getting rid of their CDs and going digital, I still haven’t even got round to replacing the vinyl I had with CDs.

  2. Am rather humbled and filling up just a little after reading that. My 10 year old managed to make a profit (just – when he wasn’t buying nodding cats and skate board tat), at the same sale, but I did find myself telling people, in a completely uncharacteristic way, that toddler toys came with ‘good karma’ in an attempt to persuade buyers I wasn’t shoving my kids’ treasured possessions on the public purely to fund a trip to the Chinese takeaway. Although…

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