Car boots attract all-sorts, from the rogue antique-wannabes, to wheeler-dealers offloading stolen goods, from sellers of illegal boxing videos featuring gypsies, travellers, tramps and the Krays to people desperate for a bargain no matter what you’re offering. We pull up into our pitch at 6.30am to prepare for a 7am start. I open my door and early doors car-boot obsessives edge towards us like zombies armed with the intention of eating your brain. I grimace as I open the boot and paws fly in pulling at our things, I ask people to be patient. ‘You’ve obviously never been booting before,’ laughs a lady looking like Big Mo from Eastenders as she places her bandaged scabby hands on our antique puppets. ‘How much?’ she asks. Kerfuffled, still unloading, ‘How much do you want to pay for it?’ I ask. Everyone stops and looks at me. She pulls me in closer.
‘You never NEVER ask a booter that.’
She buys my puppets for £40 and cackles as she leaves, obviously sensing an ebay opportunity. My guitar causes a minor stir as so-called experts look it up and down, examine it, ask questions about the action and fail to play a G chord properly. No one has noticed the gaping hole where the wood expanded next to a radiator and ask how much. I’m going for £50 or £40 depending on who can play it. I just want to get rid. Once they hear the price, they leave. They’re professional booters. They know they’re being mugged off. There’s a cold dip in the action between booters and punters and I explore, spying a van showing illegal boxing videos and selling porn, a comic seller trying to sell Panini Marvel comics from last year for more than their cover price. I return to find myself selling some of my favourite tat for 20p and haggling. I sell an old not-working ipod for £10, the guy immediately asks me to go down to £9. There’s a quick deliberation in the constant haggling; there’s an unnecessary hunt for bargains. One man sifts through various MIDI music wires and asks how much. I tell him they’re all £1. He asks what it’s for. I tell him it’s to connect a MIDI flyer box to a USB soundcard. He says he’ll find a use for it and leaves happy with his new pointless wire. A man approaches. I greet him cheerily despite the cold.
‘Oh, don’t worry. I don’t want anything from your stall.’
‘What are you looking for?’
‘I’ve got an eye for these things. I can decide in 30 seconds whether I want to look at your stall or not. And I decided in 30 I didn’t want anything from yours.’
‘Oh. What are you looking for?’
‘Art. Antique art.’
‘Yes, we don’t have any.’
‘I know. I told you, I’ve got an eye for the contents of stalls.’
‘Well, can I interest you in some fresh rosemary?’
‘I’ll tell you something. Rosemary is excellent for roasts.’
‘Yes, I know. Would you like some?’
‘Here’s a trick not many people know> run your fingers along the rosemary and your hand will smell like it.’
‘Yes I know.’
‘Just a little trick I picked up.’
‘So, do you have any art?’
‘I thought you had an eye for the contents of stalls.’
‘You might be hiding some in the boot of your car. It’s common practice.’
‘To what end?’
‘Never ask a booter that.’
He disappears in a wisp of his own ridiculous mystery. Another woman buy one of our mirrors for £4. She wants it for £3 because it’s bigger than she wants. For £4 I tell her, it’s not worth haggling. She begrudgingly hands over the money and asks me to look after the mirror. She returns over the course of the day with 4 other mirrors, all the wrong size, asking me to store them all. She goes home with 5 mirrors, all the wrong size for whatever she’s looking for.
‘Ooooh, I love this. I don’t need it, I don’t know what it is but I’ll have it,’ a woman says. She keeps giving me money and picking up new things, including a purple glittery globe candle that she picks up with such certainty, you wonder whether it’s exactly what she’s been looking for her entire life to tie her bedroom together. People are ruthless, people are snobby, people are bartering for 20p vases we bought for 39p.
A man grabs my guitar and plays a G chord. Desperate to get rid of it, I allow him to barter me down to £20. He leaves looking chuffed. I’m chuffed he didn’t notice the expanded broken wood. I then notice him selling it on his stall. Opposite. I walk over and pick it up. ‘Oooh, nice guitar. How much?’
‘For you, £50,’ he grins malevolently.
‘You mugged me off.’
‘Standard practice mate.’ He answers his phone. ‘Yeah alright mate, I just mugged some guy off for his guitar, it’s worth £100.’ It’s not you dick, I bought it for £75 and it’s broken. I return to my pitch, pissed off. I watch him grin as he wheeler-dealers any interest. I get an idea and return to him.
‘Can we have a word?’
‘I’m a Guardian journalist and I want to interview you about what you just did, does that happen a lot?’
‘You write for the Guardian? Whatever mate, i don’t know you. No one wants to read about booters; this is real life, people looking for bargains. This sort of stuff happens all the time.’
‘They do.’ I go into a made-up spiel about credit crunch-buying/bargain hunting for middle class Guardian readers.
‘Listen,’ he leans in. ‘If you didn’t feel mugged off I’d have punched you in the fucking face but I’m being polite. You cannot ask me questions without a lawyer.’
‘I’m not a policeman, mate. Just want to expose the seedy underbelly of booters.’
‘Well, indulge me.’
‘Look… at 6.30 booters arrive, they lock their cars, they trawl the stalls looking for part-timer mugs like you. They buy your cheap stuff and sell it for profit cos they got the patter. Happens all the time.’
‘Does anyone turn up with an empty boot.’
Eventually, I walk away from the wheeler dealer, the horrid git of a man, all smiles and malevolent words, all smug and arrogant abrasiveness to buy a cup of tea from a teenage boy with a broken hand running a burger van. It’s cold and I pack up my stall, deciding to give the rest of the wares to charity rather than beg a field full of strangers and wankers to buy them off me for £20. I retun home with my £20 profit, stopping to refuel the car for £25 on the way. Booters, some mothers do ave em.
(I don’t write for the Guardian)