I was strolling through a car boot sale the other day musing about the great mysteries of life when I was struck by the realisation that the whole world is just one big car boot sale these days.
How so? Well, at first I was contemplating how, in these tough times, everyone is having to ransack their garage and gather up their grot in the hope that they can flog it off and raise a few precious pounds.
But hang on, that doesn’t stand up when you think about it – even in the days of plenty, there were ranks and ranks of eager sellers ready to set out their stalls of a Sunday morning in a field near you.
According to folk memory, not so long ago we were all living high on the hog but as well as people eager to sell off unwanted items there were even more people happy to spend an hour or so poring over boxes of books, stacks of CDs, great piles of unwanted gifts and more kiddy clothes than you’d find in a Mothercare warehouse.
So what is it about the humble car boot sale that draws us all in, even if we don’t need the money and even if there are all sorts of online alternatives that will allow you to de-clutter without committing yourself to all the kerfuffle of sticking it in a car and heading to your chosen free for all?
I’ll tell you what it is – deep down, we all love a miscellaneous market, and as traditional town centre markets have faded and failed to provide a living, the part-timers who don’t mind devoting a bit of their weekend to a quick session of free enterprise have stepped in to fill the void.
And just as in the wider world, there are the hopeless cases who are trying to sell the sort of soiled and shabby stock that really belongs in a skip, yet display no shame that they even own this collection of tat in the first place, never mind get someone else to part with hard cash for it.
Then there are the steady Eddies, who have identified a niche and specialised in it – nursery plants, old postcards, mobile phone bits and bobs, whatever. I never knew that there was such a market for old hand tools, but I see at least one such stall every time I go booting.
Some traders obviously have market experience – they’ve got stock to spare, household essentials for the most part.
And some are just tourists, having a laugh, trading out of the back of their Range Rover and looking to raise a contribution to junior’s Operation Raleigh expedition.
But as in real life, the ones who make the best returns are the ones who have control of the land and the snack van.
But here’s why a car boot sale is like real life – because when you boil it all down people are trying to sell stuff that nobody really needs to customers who are so conditioned as consumers that money burns a hole in their pocket.
When you think about it, that’s pretty depressing. But then I found a couple of really good books, a handful of CDs for a quid, and a nifty combination tape measure, spirit level and notepad, which I don’t think I will ever use but made me feel as if I might one day get round to that DIY I’ve been putting off, and I felt better.
And who knows, when I venture out next Sunday, I might find even more bargains.