Jumble Ritual

Sue Wilson braves the dangers of bargain hunting in church-halls.

Every Saturday, in church halls and scout huts around the country, a very British ritual is enacted. Queues of people form in front ofthe building‘s closed doors: men and women, young and old, all clutching empty carrier bags. As the time approaches, they check their watches, fumble in their pockets for change, glance expectantly at the doors. At last, keys rattle in the lock, the doors swing open and people shuffle inside. Another jumble sale hasbegun.

Jumble sales are a great leveller; any organisation needing to raise money, from the Tory party to the local primary school, will sooner or later be knocking on doors asking for old clothes. Trendy young things rub shoulders (literally) with pensioners and hard-up parents as they fight it out over the trestle tables. Jumble sales‘ social acceptability is actually fairly recent I remember my mother telling me not to mention the source of a lot of my clothes as some people were ‘funny‘ about these things. Some people still are, but in many circles being able to say that your entire outfit cost you 50p is a definite boost to your street cred. More recently still, jumble sales have acquired the green seal of approval, as a practical way of recycling clothes and other goods.

A certain etiquette is observed on these occasions. Queue-jumping is the cardinal sin. It‘s no good trying to sneak in by joining a friend who's got there before you. lfyou do, you will be told offand embarrassed in front ofthe entire queue and made to go to the back; it is one of the rare situations when British people will voluntarily make a scene. They

might pretend not to notice while someone gets mugged in the street, but they won‘t give up their place in a jumble sale queue. lfyou want to be near the front, get there early.

Once inside, however, most of the rules which normally govern civilised behaviour are left at the door with the 10p entrance money; in the battle for bargains, it‘s every man, woman and child for themselves. The usual British reserve about physical contact also disappears; expect to be pushed and squashed, and to get closer to strangers than you ever believed possible.

You also have to be prepared to fight for something you want; if you and somebody else grab it simultaneously, whoever pulls hardest gets the prize. It‘s awkward

finding yourself in a tug-of-war with a pensioner, but faint heart never won fair bargain. All those legends about vicious grannies with sharpened elbows are true. incidentally. Their eyes glinting with ruthless determination, they barge their way to the front. complaining piteously about being pushed. Don‘t waste your sympathy they certainly won't.

The rewards are well worth the effort, though. Silk shirts, wool and cashmere jumpers, tweed coats, jeans, shoes, even designer labels, all at ludicrously low prices. You can literally acquire a whole new wardrobe for well under a fiver. It‘s not just clothes, either: you‘ll also find sewing machines, typewriters. crockery, leather suitcases, even stereo equipment I once bought a Marantz cassette deck (working) for 50p. Picking up bargains like this is enormously satisfying, and there‘s the added excitement. as you stand in another queue, of never knowing what you might find inside. Watch out however, for dodgy electrical goods as there is no guarantee of their safety and they can be dangerous.

Car boot sales, a more recent phenomenon in Britain. are another haven for the bargain-hunter. Prices tend to be higher than at jumble sales. as sellers try to pass off the furniture from their attic as antiques. or their old clothes as ‘period‘ garments. The pace is less frenetic. though; there‘s more chance to examine goods properly. and greater scope for haggling. The sale at Crichton Street car park in Edinburgh. every Sunday. is well established; on a fine day sellers arrive as early as 6am to grab the best pitches. There are a few professional dealers selling shoes, watches. radios and the like, but mainly it‘s just people‘s junk, which is what makes it interesting. Almost anything you could imagine is on sale, along with some things you probably couldn‘t (including, last Sunday, the largest bra I‘ve ever seen).

For most stallholders it's a way of raising a bit ofextra cash by selling unwanted belongings. One couple I met were using the proceeds to pay for their holiday; a group calling themselves The Ubiquitous Three.


who worked in removals, were selling other people‘s cast-offs. There are modest profits to be made £50—£60 on a good day but most people said they came as much to watch the world go by as for the money. As one of the Three put it ‘If you‘re not going to church on a Sunday, you might as well come here.‘ I wouldn‘t call it a religious experience, but it‘s a very enjoyable one.

See local press for forthcoming jumble and car bootsales. Crichton Streetcar bootsale, Crichton Street car park (near Bristo Square) Edinburgh, every Sunday,

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The List 37 July 1I August IWIITI