“I’ve driven by there on a Sunday and it’s absolutely heaving,” she added.
I was pumped. There’s nothing I like better than a good garage… er, car boot sale. I knew I wouldn’t make much money, but I thought it might be a fun way to get rid of my stuff.
Having had no car and a boyfriend who hated “other people’s tat,” I’ve only ever been to one car boot sale in England. Set in a field by a 13th century bridge in the lovely Cumbrian countryside, it was a real treat. I picked some lovingly reared plants for the garden for about £2 each, a soft red leather worn vintage belt for £4, some antique rag rug hooks for £3 and new samples of makeup from Clinique makeup for a few pounds each.
So it was with big hangovers, a flask of tea and an air of anticipation that my sister and my friend Sarah and I loaded up her tiny car with my worldly possessions and set off for the Markets at the ungodly hour of 6.00 am.
And it was rammed. We waited nearly 45 minutes in a queue just to get into the place!
But as we drove past hundreds of stalls it looked more like a graveyard of The World’s Tackiest Products instead of a collection of people’s treasures. Most pitches were tiny shops flogging new, shrinkwrapped TVs, DVDs, perfumes, £5 jeans, kitchen taps and, yes, even a sink.
Being one of the last to arrive we paid our £8 fee and were allocated about the worst possible pitch known to man. Right at the back of the markets and divided from the main thoroughfare by other cars – things were looking grim.
I asked the parking attendant where we pick up the tables.
“Sorry lass, you have to bring your own. But you can use that trolley over there if you like,” he offered.
The girls and I eyed the trolley and immediately doubled over with laughter, not speaking for at least five minutes.
We were determined to make the best of a bad situation, flogging nearly all the stuff I can’t be asked to bring back to Toronto for .50p to £1 a piece. We made signs and taped them to the pavement: Books £0.50, Clothes £1; MOVING TO CANADA – EVERYTHING MUST GO!
I parted with unopened picture frames, unwanted Christmas gifts, and piles of old clothes for peanuts. I just wanted rid of the stuff. But three hours later we were waning. We were losing at least half of the traffic on the main thoroughfare, things were selling painfully slowly and the three of us were getting tired and moody.
But there were some nice moments. A chat with a Polish immigrant – possibly the most homesick man I’ve every met – about Canada and his hometown of Lodz, which I’ve visited. He paid me £0.50 for a picture frame. “I will put pictures of my daughter,” he said. As I saw him eye a nicer frame, I threw it in for free.
Many of the customers were extremely cheap. But they were also some of the poorest people in Birmingham. For them a car boot sale isn’t a place to pick up funky vintage “pieces” for the home, but a place to buy clothing for their kids.
Nevertheless my cut throat prices were beginning to hurt. With a tenner on breakfast for myself and my staff, we had barely broke even by the time my two other best Brummie mates – Jen and Ali – rocked up at 11.
“You’re here to make money – not give the stuff away!” said Ali in dismay as she looked at our couldn’t-care-less faces.
And the pair of them swung into action. Ali ripped our price sign up and said we should wheel and deal with each person separately. She charged £1.50 for a crappy old statistics book I found in the attic. A small fortune this thriftygirl would never dare ask!
Meanwhile Jenn flogged people stuff they never even knew they wanted.
“We’ve got to group things together and sell them as packs. That way we’ll get rid of more and make more money!” she enthused after she sold a chef four cookbooks and a butter tray.
Suddenly it was 12.30, the crowds dwindled and we still hadn’t sold everything. My sister offered a young girl all of my old jeans for free when she took an interest in a pair.
I looked around at my life laid out in little pieces on the ragged blanket in front of me and started to cry. I missed Rob.
“Gosh Crystal, I never thought you’d breakdown in the middle of the Birmingham Wholesale Market!” said Ali giving me a hug. And we all laughed.
After the breakfast and pitch fee I ended up a measly £35 better off than the day before, but I was a thousand times richer thanks to the support of my friends.