Creative writing: The Car Boot Sale

Car boot sale stock image (Snappy Goat)

Bargain-hunters encircle Mike as he opens his car boot and begins setting up his stall, like vultures around a young wildebeest in the Serengeti.

Here is fresh blood, unlike at the neighbouring pitch where George is laying out the same old ornaments he brings – and takes home again – every Sunday. With a chip here and stain there, George’s wares do not attract much interest from buyers, but for him the car boot sale is not so much about topping up his pension as getting out and talking to people. His bungalow has been a lonely place since his wife, Iris, lost her battle against cancer two years ago.

Mike is about to move in with his girlfriend, Amy, who has a small flat in the centre of town. It’s within walking distance of the office block where they both work but it has no space for clutter. He’s more than happy to sell some of the former treasures from his bachelor pad, such as his dartboard and mini fridge, which he’s had since his days as a university student. He’s excited about the future and keen to raise money towards an engagement ring.

His old vacuum cleaner doesn’t hit the ground before single mum Rachel asks, ‘How much for that? Does it work properly?’

Rachel had sprung out of bed while it was still pitch black so that she could arrive at the boot sale in time to get the best deals. Some of her household items have broken or worn out and she can’t afford brand new ones. She has left her two pre-schoolers in the care of their grandmother who lives around the corner. Rachel already has an assortment of children’s clothes tucked under her arms so her hands are free to examine potential purchases.

Mike doesn’t have time to respond before a teenage boy waves a handful of DVDs in the air and says, ‘I’ll give you £3 for these’ and a man on his knees, rummaging through the neatly folded clothes and dropping ash from his cigarette all over the place, asks, ‘Have you got anything that’s extra-extra-large?’

‘No, sorry,’ Mike tells the man on his knees, who leaves the clothes in a jumbled heap and walks away. Mike says to Rachel, ‘How about £15? It works perfectly well. I’m only selling it because I’m moving in with my other half and she’s got one that’s newer.’

Rachel pokes all the buttons and pretends to vacuum the grass, causing passers-by to give Mike’s stall a wide berth. Mike wheels round to address the teenager but he and the DVDs have vanished.

‘I’ll give you £10,’ says Rachel, eventually. ‘I’ll meet you in the middle at £12,’ counters Mike. Rachel nods and fishes around in her purse for the exact amount. Mike leans through the open car window to drop the money into the biscuit tin containing his float, which is on the passenger seat. Unable to carry anything else, Rachel heads back to her car to stash her haul before picking up where she left off.

‘How much for the guitar?’ asks a man wearing sunglasses, who picks up the instrument and strums a few chords. ‘Thirty,’ Mike tells him. ‘I’ll give you a tenner for it,’ says the man. ‘Nope, sorry,’ replies Mike.

A scuffle between two young women breaks out over Mike’s kettle. ‘How much for the kettle?’ ‘I’m buying that kettle, I was just looking in my purse to check I had some change left.’ ‘Well, I’ve got money ready now, so I’m buying it.’ ‘But I saw it first.’ ‘I’m sorry but I really need a new kettle, I have to get this.’ Mike is quick to try to stop the tug-of-war. ‘First come, first served, ladies,’ he says. ‘I’ll take £4 for it.’ The first woman presses four pound coins into Mike’s outstretched hand and yanks the kettle from the second woman, making a dash for it before she can retaliate. Mike shrugs apologetically.

The pitch on the other side of Mike is occupied by middle-aged couple Wendy and Tom. Wendy doesn’t let a potential patron pass without attempting to lure them closer. ‘Nice range of jewellery for the missus here,’ she says to the men who she thinks look likely to have girlfriends. ‘Large selection of video games here, some of them never used,’ she says to the ones who she thinks do not.

Car boot sale stock image (Snappy Goat)

By the time the morning dew has evaporated, the footfall has eased and Mike takes the opportunity to look at Wendy’s jewellery collection. He has read stories in the news of £10 rings bought from boot fairs turning out to have diamonds worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. He’s no expert but he doubts any of Wendy’s rings are worth a fortune. In fact, he has seen jewellery that has come out of Christmas crackers that looks more valuable. There’s certainly nothing that he would be proud to present to Amy, which is a shame. Wendy ambles off to browse other people’s stalls.

Mike is thinking about Amy when she rings to see how he’s getting on. ‘Hey, baby,’ he says, stifling a yawn. He’s not used to getting up anywhere near as early as he did today. ‘It’s okay. I’ve sold quite a few things like the clothes horse, toaster and saucepan set. Are you alright?’ After a couple of minutes of catching up, Mike spots a fairly large group of people approaching and says goodbye to Amy so that he can give them his full attention and answer any queries.

‘There’s a wine rack just like that one further down this row,’ comments an elderly man who walks past very slowly without stopping. ‘How much are they asking for theirs?’ asks Mike, preparing to make a slightly lower offer. ‘I didn’t ask,’ replies the man, casually. ‘I don’t really drink wine.’ The man’s face lights up as he sees George ahead of him, aware from prior experience that he can have long and rewarding conversation with him.

The man who had enquired about the guitar returns and says, ‘I’ll give you £15 for the guitar.’ Mike shakes his head, ‘No, thank you.’

Suddenly Mike notices Amy’s mother, Lin, walking down the row arm-in-arm with a woman who he doesn’t recognise, presumably a friend. The set of champagne glasses that Lin gave Mike for Christmas the year before last is sitting on the tabletop. He has never used them and would prefer the cash. Keen to avoid offending Lin, he grabs the box and hides it inside the car until later. Relief washes over him as he imagines how awkward it would have been if she had seen her unwanted gift. ‘How’s it going?’ Lin asks as the pair reach Mike’s pitch. ‘Tracey, this is Amy’s boyfriend, Mike.’ ‘Nice to meet you, Tracey,’ says Mike politely, as Tracey acknowledges him with a nod. ‘It’s going pretty well, thank you. I’ve been lucky with the weather. The forecast was showers but that doesn’t seem to have put people off.’ Lin and Tracey wander off after the exchange of a few more pleasantries. 

Wendy returns, carrying a bagful of bric-a-brac. She has probably spent almost as much as she’s made today. She puts some of the articles from the bag on her own stall and puts the rest inside her car.

Mike realises some of his goods, like his university textbooks, are too specialist for this crowd, as they’re barely getting a glance. He’ll try to sell them online and if there haven’t been any takers by Moving Day he’ll donate them to a charity shop. He has tried offering some of his old gadgets to his younger sister but she wasn’t interested in them, preferring her peers to see her with the shiny latest models.

A woman with limited English inspects a designer jacket. Mike doesn’t think it looks her style and suspects she wants to sell it on eBay for a profit. ‘How much?’ she asks, holding up the jacket. ‘Eight pounds,’ says Mike, trying to banish his memories of saving up for it and treating himself to it several years ago. He’d keep it if it weren’t for the fact it was too tight for him now. ‘One pound,’ says the woman. It’s a statement, not a question. ‘Five pounds,’ says Mike, firmly, unwilling to see it go for anything lower. The woman mutters something under her breath and moves on.

The would-be guitar owner appears again. ‘Twenty, final offer.’ Mike hesitates before reluctantly accepting. ‘Go on, then. Sold.’ The man’s face is the picture of triumph.

The smell of cooking bacon wafts across the field from the catering van near the entrance and Mike’s stomach rumbles. Wendy breathes in deeply and takes a note from her float. ‘The usual?’ she asks Tom, to which he nods enthusiastically. Wendy catches Mike’s eye and says, ‘Can I get you anything from the van while I’m over there, pet?’ Mike smiles and shakes his head, adding, ‘I’m fine. It’s very kind of you to offer, though.’

Mike deduces it must be nearly lunchtime. He checks his watch and confirms that it’s time to start packing up what’s left and heading to Amy’s flat. She’s busy preparing their traditional Sunday roast and Mike is looking forward to it.

He doesn’t know it yet but that watch, which belonged to his grandfather and was passed down to him, will wind up on a market tabletop in the very same field, five decades from now.