Last week I did my first Car Boot sale. The idea was to declutter the house (it needs it badly!) and make a few pounds from selling the tat. I spent four hours in a field close to the roar of the M6 on the unappealing eastern fringe of Birmingham. It was an experience of the informal economy at work. Buyers and sellers, it seemed to me, were people on the sharp end of austerity, scraping a living as best they can or looking out for bargains where money was tight.
Was this a depressing experience? Actually not. I had a fair part of interest in my wares, (mainly sports and railway memorabilia) if not many takers and many people stopped to chat. For many it seems to be a social thing as much as anything, a way of passing a morning when the days of retirement or unemployment start to drag. Among the traders there was a rough kind of camaraderie. One or two spotted quickly that I was a naive beginner and offered helpful and much needed advice.
Next to me a man I reckoned to be in his late thirties, in ripped jeans and t-shirt, had laid out a bewildering array of DVDs on a black tarpaulin and was doing a fairly brisk trade on what was a quiet morning for everybody else. Before eleven o’clock he quickly packed up and left. Minutes later a man from trading standards arrived to tour the stalls and exchange the time of day. This surely explained the DVD man’s sudden disappearance. The informal economy can be a little too informal for officialdom.
At twelve, taking my cue from more experienced hands I packed up and left. I took £15 having paid £5 for the pitch so it was on balance just about worth going. Will I go again? We have so much junk I’m going to have to. But I might have a bacon roll next time.