One of the very best places to catch the English at play is at a car boot sale, and York’s car boot is one of the best in the country.
At a car boot ordinary people, and second-hand dealers, bring their items for sale. They take them out of the boots of their cars and place them on folding tables or on the ground. Bargaining is the name of the game here so as a buyer you need to be ready to negotiate. In fact, car boots are almost the only place where the English are prepared to bargain, and frankly most of us are not very good at it!
The range of items for sale at a car boot is absolutely astounding, and simply wandering around looking at the tables piled high with goods is an entertainment in itself. My wife and I are keen car-booters and this year we have come home with quite a variety a stuff. I usually focus on plants and illustrated books, while she has an eye for hand-painted pottery and vintage clothing. But although these are our specialties we do not restrict ourselves to them. Among our recent purchases are: a stuffed crow, a 1950s kitchen cabinet, a petrol lawn mower, two sets of ancient Meccano toys for my grandson, a garden fork, two folding metal garden chairs in an attractive lilac, some jewellery and a fake fur zebra rug!
People-watching is an extremely enjoyable activity at the car boot. Punters proudly stagger back to their cars with the most unlikely items, as you can see in some of the photos. The coffee stalls are good vantage point from which to watch people go by, so we always take a break for a cuppa and an egg and bacon butty. We people-watch as we chat to other tea drinkers about the treasures we have found. A man with a huge beard and tattoos carries off tiny boxes of antique toy cars in his enormous hands. A woman in a floating silk dress wields an oily hedge-clipper like a weapon. Some students pose with an antique wooden clothes drier. A woman casually cradles a chromed steel antelope head in her arm.
I have only once been to the car boot as a seller. It was an exciting if alarming experience. We arrived at around 7am but were by no means the first. As we unloaded our car it was surrounded by dealers desperate to grab our best things. Some of them even started reaching into our car to help themselves. They were like hyenas fighting over a dead gazelle. In the middle of all this a man suddenly asked me, “How much do you want for your watch, mate?” I was puzzled as I didn’t have a watch for sale. “Watch? Where?” I asked. “The one you’re wearing, mate. Do you want to sell it?” It was incredible. In all the chaos he had spotted that I was wearing an antique watch and he wanted to buy it!
Anyway, as a buyer, seller, or simply a spectator, the car boot is not to be missed!
York’s car boot takes place on a corner of the race course every Saturday morning from the beginning of April to the end of October, except for the five or six weekends when there is horse racing going on. Details can be found at yorkcarboot.com.