Televetiquette, and The Crap Car Boot Sale/Good Car Boot Sale Cycle

  • 8/26/2007 12:41:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones

We hate car boot sales. And here's why. If you're as addicted to bargains as we are, the first time you go to one as an adult (on a whim), you'll find some utterly fantastic items that wouldn't be available anywhere else. The first one we wandered along to about eight years ago, we picked up a huge stack of Empire magazines from the 1980s, all going for 10p each. The seller even gave us a free plastic tub to carry them all back to the car with. Now, we blimmin' well love getting hold of old magazines like that (not that we'd ever bother buying a copy of Empire nowadays, it was the fact they were from the 80s that appealed to us. The same thing applies to Radio- and TV Times), so that was it. An oath was made to spend the occasional Sunday morning getting up unreasonably early and visiting a car boot sale. If nothing else, it'd let us practice the art of walking while looking at the contents of tables on either side of us and avoiding cowshit simultaneously.

Except! It's all a great big con. What'll inevitably happen is this: the next half-dozen car boot sales you attend will all be rubbish. Everyone will be selling nothing more interesting than old shoes*, battered boxes of Domino Rally sets with most of the pieces missing, and endless rows of VHS tapes on offer at 50p each - but never anything interesting, just the same old copies of Robocop, X-Files, Barney and Friends, and Friends. Every third stand is manned by a scary looking shaven-headed cockney with tattoos selling copies of Guns & Ammo and books about murderers. Every tenth stand is selling a worrying mix of toys for the under-fives and drug paraphernalia. One stand will even be trying to sell a table full of DVDs from Poundland for £3 each. Nothing even worth considering. No "gold" at all.

* Really. People sell old shoes at car boot sales. Not 'worn-once, didn't fit, good as new' old shoes. No. Worn every day for three years, battered to buggery old shoes. Not classic original 1960s Adidas Stan Smiths old shoes. Shitty Hi-Tec with velcro straps old shoes. And given the number of people who put them out on the mucky bedsheet at the back of their Mondeos, there must be a demand for them. Christ alive.

Then, one Sunday, you'll be up early. It'll seem quite sunny out. There'll be nothing on telly. You'll think you may as well pop along to a car boot sale, but if you don't find anything this time, that'll be it. You'll never spend another Sunday morning in a muddy field contemplating if you really should eat a dodgy hamburger from a van at eight in the morning, or flick disinterestedly through a box of Whitesnake, Dogs D'Amour and Brother Beyond albums in the forlorn hope there's a copy of William Shatner Sings The Ramones or something in there. Never again.

And it'll happen. You'll bloody go and see another never-to-be-repeated bargain. It could be a Sega Saturn with two controllers and Sega Rally for £15. It could be a stall selling ex-catalogue stock from an Umbro factory, meaning you get to pick up a new (well, 2005/6 season) Torpedo Moscow away shirt for a fiver. It could be a box of thrillingly unlabelled E180s that could contain anything - the entire series of Happy Families, a full edition of Tiswas, or three hours of verbatim MTV Europe from 1992 (except they'll inevitably contain several episodes of Friends or The X-Files and nothing good**, but still). And as you triumphantly begin the quest to find your car, you'll be feeling pretty good about the whole car boot sale 'scene' again, and know you'll be back again in a few weeks. The entire "crushing disappointment and waste of time/fleeting success" cycle begins again. It'd generally take about five car boot sale visits for this cycle to occur.

** Which is precisely what happened the last time we bought some Mystery E180s, despite one of them being tantalisingly labelled "Alas Smith and Jones". Bah. One of them did contain an hour of CNN from 1994, followed by an episode of Match Of The 70s which - gah! - came to an abrupt end after two minutes because it was the end of the tape. But it's the thrill of the Mystery E180 chase that keeps us coming back for more, you see.

Since moving house around four years ago, we've managed to break out of this cycle and keep well away from car boot sales. Until this year. Like Renton having one last fix of heroin on the bus back to London, we made the lengthy trip to Chirk airfield at the end of spring. VHS copies of American Carrott, a bootleg of Nirvana Live in San Diego, Bob Monkhouse Exposes Himself, Further Up Pompeii and Britannia Hospital were soon in our carrier bag, and with a fresh injection of bargain juice in our veins we were hooked once more.

Of course, since our car boot hiatus, a certain website called eBay has become massively popular. This has only served to make things a lot worse. In theory, car boot sales should be wonderful events. The people in charge of many of the stands are middle-aged. They'll have had an average of forty-seven years on this planet in which to build up a dizzying array of cultural tat. Tat that the likes of us would never have been able to possess at the time due to the trifling matter of us either not being born yet, or opting to spend our pocket money on football stickers instead. The tables next to their people carriers should each contain an entire lifetimes worth of items deemed worth a purchase in Woolco at the time, and which someone else may well be able to enjoy in the future.

What has actually happened is that anything actually worth anything, if it can be reasonably sent via post, has already gone on eBay. So anything on that table is stuck right at the bottom of the thing barrel. Like old shoes and a VHS of Four Weddings with a sun-faded cover.

We've calculated - and discovered the hard way - that eBay has pushed the Crap Car Boot Sale/Good Car Boot Sale Cycle out to a worrying nine visits. Time to stop going. Forever. Cold turkey. If we never find ourselves tempted by the smell of van-fried doughnuts we know will be horrid but will probably buy anyway at 8:24am on a Sunday again, it'll be too soon. That's it. Final decision. Never again.

Except we were up quite early today. And it was quite sunny. And we had some money lying around. And the car was full of petrol. And it's a Bank Holiday weekend, so there'd be tons of sellers. Bah. One visit. One final visit. After all, when we inevitably walk away having found nothing again, it will prove incontrovertibly that car boot sales aren't worth the bother any more. Yes, it'll be a good idea to go, to prove to ourselves why it isn't worth going to these things.

£18.50 and three hours later:

Frigging hell. The mother lode. From top left: Whomp That Sucker by Sparks (50p), Mask by Bauhaus (50p), the LP edition of Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy (50p), Parallel Lines by Blondie (50p), Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett Sings The Songs Of World War I (50p), Pieces of Hancock (50p), Watchmen (£1), Father Ted: The Complete Scripts (£2), Frank Muir Presents The Book Of Comedy Sketches (£2), Fawlty Towers: The Complete Scripts (£2), Batman: The Killing Joke (£1), Jamie Hewlett's Hewlican's Haircut (£1), a copy of Uncanny Tales (£1.50), a copy of The Magnet from April 1939 (£2), the first edition of School Fun comic ("The Happiest Read Of Your Life!", £1), and four editions of Punch from the late 50s and early 60s (50p each).

I hope the sellers of these goods realised they were effectively giving Pete Docherty a catering sized bag of cocaine when they sold us all of the above. IT BEGINS AGAAAAAIN.

All the above is the intro text for the picture-based update below, by the way. We got carried away. Possibly it was a time-delayed horrid-doughnut sugar rush.

Back in the days before blogs, people had to write their whimsical asides about television in humour magazines. In order to back this up, here's a snippet from a page of the 1959 Punch Almanack, back when this new-fangled tele-vision was becoming increasingly popular. Click on the image to see the page in full.

So, for anyone wondering what BrokenTV would be like were it printed on paper, written in the late 1950s by people who'd attended Oxbridge University (or indeed, any university) and had less swearing in it, there you go.

Were toying with the idea of scanning the whole issue of School Fun and putting that up. Watch this space. Erm, and refresh the page periodically, otherwise nothing will happen.

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