Friday, 15 May 2009

Car booting to prove Napoleon right

It is Napoleon Bonaparte who is said to have first uttered the phrase: 'L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers'. For those of you who aren't too hot on their French (and, yes, I speak as someone who got a D at GCSE), the term is probably better known as 'the English are a nation of shopkeepers'.

It is not my usual style to quote French (or any other type) of dictators but on this occassion I think Boney got it spot on. And I give you the peculiarly British pastime of 'le car boot sale' as primary evidence.

Over Easter we had got into active spring-clean mode as we attacked our garage and store room in an attempt to finally dump the junk. We had decided to be quite brutal (for a change) and started loading many rubbish bags for the tip and also (in the case of clothes in particular) making up lots of other bags for local charity shops. But we were still faced with loads of other unwanted books, DVDs and curious bits of bric-a-brac.

These all seemed to have the words 'car boot sale' stamped all over them.

So it was that at 7.15am on the last Bank Holiday Monday, I headed off into deepest Wiltshire with my son Oliver to set up the first ever Holliday & Son shopkeeping enterprise. He had been forced out of his beloved pit on the promise of 50 per cent of the profits which, to be fair, considering much of the stuff was his anyway, wasn't probably as magnanimous on my part as it first may appear.

I had done a few boot sales some years ago which I enjoyed but this was the first time I'd done one in the South West and I was reminded again of just what fun they are.

We took great pride in setting up our stall and then indulging in the banter and the bartering that characterise the splendidly convivial community spirit that surrounds these events.I found this bartering lark especially intriguing.

Although every single holiday brochure in the world talks about haggling as something you should always do when you're abroad, I have to admit I'm rubbish at it and so I crumbled easily as people offered 40p for the paperback I felt was worth at least 10p more. Thankfully my son is the business brains of the operation and was far more ruthless than I was and if ever the going got tough, I let him do all the negotiations. This seemed quite apt as in our experience the best barterers were definitely younger people who seemed to enjoy the thrill of knocking down prices as much as claiming the goods they received.

From our first venture in deepest, darkest Seend, we discovered that the good people of Wiltshire like their DVDs, have a good understanding of the best in children's literature (our own Jacqueline Wilson, pictured, was especially popular, as were books by Anthony Horowitz and Darren Shan) and no weird or curious nick-nack is weird or curious enough not to engender interest. We sold a couple of things which, I swear to you, I have no idea what they actually were and I was particularly impressed with one lady who bought an odd bag-like contraption (which I think is used for carrying drinks) and she said the real fun for her would be finding out how it actually worked!

At the end of our three hours of relaxed toil, Holliday & Son were able to announce 'pre-tax' profits of £44.50 (and that was after our entry fee, two teas, a burger, a coke and a couple of purchases had been paid for). Most importantly of all we have now got the bug and will no doubt be ruffling through the garage once again ready for the next bank holiday where we can show again that old Napoleon may have misunderstood the Moscow winter but he sure knew the English.

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