No, not another moan about the F.A.'s wretched idea for a new league, nor a technical discussion on what happens when you start up a computer [Great, always find that rather hard going: Ed], but a report occasioned by a visit to the car boot sale in Denham, normally a tranquil village on the Colne Valley just off where the A40 becomes the M40. With the flimsy excuse of needing to get some props for a bit of dramatic art I shall be involved in later this year, Mrs. C and I joined the throng in search of bargains. And what a throng it was, enough to bring the roundabouts and slips roads at Junction 1 on the M40 to a standstill and create a tailback to the next exit. I avoided some of the crush by cunningly diverting through Uxbridge and approaching from the other direction.
The car boot is our equivalent of the street market. This one is enormous - we walked steadily down each line of stalls looking just to our left then at the end about-faced and went back up the line. We were there nearly three hours and it was only because by then most of the stall-holders were packing up that we managed, just about, to finish it. Amongst the piles of discarded clothing, toys, assorted crockery, cutlery and glassware and the specialist stalls with things like tools, fishing gear or phone accessories were the oddities that make these affairs fascinating. A wooden truckle bed (far too big for anyone to carry off in a car). Ancient bakelite devices for testing electric current. A stall proudly displaying a metal Rinstead pastilles tin. (A collector's item, apparently, and how many of those have I unthinkingly thrown away when all I wanted was relief from a mouth ulcer?) A van with the sign "Quantity of nails - ask here" (I was keen to ask if he could do, say, sixty thou two and half inchers but though better of it). Just after Mrs. C noted a pogo stick (an implement that never fails to amuse and the only one in the sale) an enthusiastic youngster bought and used it. A stallholder demonstrating that his petrol lawnmower actually worked trimmed a few square feet of meadow around his pitch. And top marks for salesmanship to the man who, seeing us looking at a large box full of bits and pieces of the cheapest jewellery and obviously mistaking us for fellow dealers, asked for 50p a piece or £20 for the lot (offer declined).
The boot sale leads you effortlessly back into your childhood. Racks of gramophone records, including LPs and singles (plus a few 78s on one stall). Books that I read 50 or more years ago. A half-size snooker table, clearly in poor condition and useless but I had one too once (used to put it on the dining room table, to my mother's irritation).
And then the detritus of our ever-evolving consumer society. A computer monitor, not the slim smart screen we all use today but the heavy old CRT with its glass tube. An electric typewriter. Laptop computers as well, loads of them. I wouldn't take one if it was free, knowing as I do how likely it is to be either faulty or virus-ridden (or both), but presumably some people must buy them at boot sales. There were not as many videotape recordings as on our last visit a year ago but there were huge numbers of commercial DVDs, usually at £1 each. It is not easy to make and distribute a DVD for less than that so some organisations must be dumping loads of old stock.
It is amazing just how much tat people can accumulate and how cheerfully they display it to the disdain of the shoppers. But this is not a market in the third world where families may be utterly dependent on the sale of a few oddments. Most sellers lounged by the cars, soaked up the sun, exchanged the odd pleasantry and gave off a generally nonchalant attitude, before packing up with care their plates (set of 6 with 2 missing), cameras (new lens needed), watches (don't work but could be used for spares) and baby clothes (wash with bleach before re-use) which they can then lovingly spread out again, same time, same place, next week.
As for me, well, I did manage to find the pocket watch (full Hunter) and (separately) a chain on which I can twirl it when I take to the stage in the role of an Edwardian gentlemen later this year, so definitely a result.