One of the great British traditions during the warmer months of the year is a Sunday morning car boot sale.
Anything from a handful to a few hundred sellers load up their cars and head to a local field or school playground, with the possessions they no longer love, need or can be bothered to take to the tip.
Fold up and makeshift tables are assembled, and their unwanted items are arranged and labelled – or sometimes just dumped unceremoniously in small piles – in the hope that someone else there might find treasure in their junk, and give them enough money to have made the whole venture worthwhile.
Meanwhile, the scent of charred burger meat and chip fat, perhaps combined with the sickly sweet hue of candy floss, starts to fill their nostrils, and clouds hover threateningly above, to complete the stage for the day.
I remember first going to a few boot sales with my dad when I was perhaps eight or nine years old.
He was selling, his latest attempt to make some extra money on the side, and the feeling I recall most is being curious about why half of the items had even made it to the sale, so lacking was their appeal to a young boy where the only currency that mattered was Lego, Action Man, and Star Wars figures.
In the last five years or so I’ve attended maybe one or two sales a year, and have occasionally picked up some toys or games for our children that we’ve enjoyed.
But alas I’ve never found those elusive original versions of Princess Leia in Bespin gown or Han Solo in Hoth fatigues that I longed for but never had 30(ish) years previously, or a working Commodore Amiga like those which used to entice me from the front covers of gaming magazines, as I made do with my more humble, but in retrospect ground breaking and new electronic era defining (for me) Commodore 64.
On the camera front, my car boot pickings have been more slim.
I imagine there are hundreds, even thousands of photographers – especially those who collect cameras or just enjoy using ones that aren’t cutting edge and the price of a small car – who head to the boot sales with the same flickering hope.
The hope that they might discover some beautiful under appreciated gem of an old camera amidst the chintzy chipped porcelain, outgrown toys, mountains of baby clothes, dusty and rusting tools, sun faded DVDs and exercise equipment used just once since it was bought circa 1989.
The best I’ve done I think is an Olympus AF10 Super for 50p, haggled down from a whole pound.
It’s a neat little film camera, but not worth anything more, and far from one of the best film compacts I’ve ever used (try a Pentax Espio instead).
For the serious bargain hunter, I think what people tend to forget with car boot sales is the combined cost and effort.
You have to get to them, and then pay an entry fee, which can be a reasonable 50p or £1, but sometimes £3-5.
Adding in your fuel costs, and the overall time the experience takes, you’d need to find some pretty special cameras on a consistent basis to make it worthwhile – financially or otherwise.
And even if you did luck upon something of high value for only a few pounds, the chances are that you’ve already visited a dozen other car boot sales and returned empty handed, so the overall hit rate is pretty dismal.
It has to be a labour of love, you have to be in it for the adventure, not the prize at the end that’s rarely won.
What I do enjoy to some extent with a boot sale though, is that potential and the promise.
That you might just find something special that brings a smile to your face, and a quickening of your heart beat.
Plus I like that you’re rummaging about amongst unusual individual items, each already with their own history, rather than simply plucking something brand new and mass produced from a shop shelf, and after opening it, wondering (again) why they don’t make things like they used to.
With cameras this sense is amplified, as you wonder what sights its lens has seen, what celebrations it’s captured, whose hands it’s been held in.
So as spring approaches, I may visit one or two car boot sales this year, but my expectations are next to nothing.
And really, for me, those parts that do appeal about the boot sales I can easily replicate from the comfort of my own home, via a little website called eBay.
The core attraction of eBay is the same for me – stumbling across an unloved old camera for the price of a fancy sandwich (or a couple of those well done boot sale burgers van burgers and a stick of candy floss on the side), and finding it quite delightful to use.
But with eBay the choice is so much wider, and searching is so much easier.
Can you imagine if eBay had no search functions or categories and you had to scroll through EVERY SINGLE ITEM to see if you were interested in it?
This is essentially what a car boot sale feels like, albeit on a smaller scale, with merely dozens of sellers, rather than bazillions.
Maybe this is the genius of eBay.
That it appeals to that same fundamental desire in so many of use to discover treasure amongst trash, something unique and eminently affordable in amidst the oceans of plastic faceless consumer fodder we’re fed every day from all directions?
And maybe it gives us a glimpse into some kind of tiny portal back to a time when cameras only had the controls you need and didn’t offer to navigate your way home, iron your shirt and make you a cup of tea, whilst casually rattling out 72 images of 42 MegaPixels in a mere fraction of a second at the same time.
How about you, do you enjoy a car boot sale (garage sale, yard sale, jumble sale or whatever other equivalents there are round your way)? What have been your best finds?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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