Car Boots

My penchant is car boots. Who doesn’t like a bargain? I’ve acquired so much at car boots now, I just think I’m paying a fair price and now high street shops seems like a scam. Just because I get things cheap, doesn’t mean they’re cheap items though! Car booting is great fun and I sincerely can’t remember when I last walked into a shop and bought anything other than groceries for a ‘normal’ retail price.

Pricing is the main reason I like car boots but it’s not the full picture. Modern high streets are dull. They have been for over a decade now. It’s the same generic duplicate shops – mobile phones, mobile phone covers and cheap clothing. And I’ll say it – this trend of vaping and CBD shops, supplemented by Greggs and McDonalds – it’s horrible. Add Sports Direct and pawn shops to that list. Apart from charity shops, CEX is pretty much the only shop I visit nowadays.

You find interesting and unique items at car boots – stuff that you don’t see in the mass-produced world of high street retail. There’s handmade goods and plenty of items with history that people acquired on their travels. I love rummaging through goods at car boots, it’s like rummaging through history and lives. I recently got a turntable and have been acquiring vinyl. I love the albums you find at car boots. Some are so obscure.

Shortly after one of the recent pandemic lockdowns, when stores opened their doors, there were reportedly large queues of sheeple for Primark, a discount clothing chain. I personally boycotted Primark years ago because of their immorality in managing their supply chain. I know, few retail giants have clean supply chains but I’d probably not buy anything (not even food) if I didn’t have some lax standards of consumer ethics. After some persuasion that Primark had changed, I visited one of their stores for the first time in 2018. The clothing was dreadful. It was cheap and threadbare – ‘throw away fashion’. I have picked up a habit from my Mum, which I thought was a strange routine when I was younger; feeling clothes.

The first thing I do is feel textiles and if the quality is poor, I just don’t bother, however cheap the garment is. But poor quality seems to be the case with lots of clothes shops nowadays; even those stores that were synonymous with quality 20 years ago, seem to have diminished quality. I presume it is to compete with discount clothing chains. If you want quality garments, you have to pay through the teeth or buy branded goods. I specifically avoid brands. The idea of walking around and advertising some corporation (unpaid) is not only repulsive to me but I just don’t feel my identity to be so lacking, that I need to supplement it with a logo of something insidious like Hollister.

As an aside here, and perhaps illustrating just how out of touch I am with modern fashion: A few years ago, I was after a winter raincoat for hillwalking and I just assumed that’s what Super Dry specialised in. There wasn’t a single raincoat in the store and the prices of everything else were ridiculous. Why would you call a clothing brand that name if you didn’t sell items that kept you dry? It was during that conversation with the young retail clerk that I realised, people really do pay a premium for a name stuck onto their clothes – I also had an early realisation of the my onset of middle-age.

I have almost exclusively bought clothes from charity shops and car boots. This is principally down to price if I am honest because I can get a superb quality, thick (double-cuffed) cotton shirt for £3 instead of £60! Additionally there is the benefit of the money going to a good cause – perhaps this should be my main motivation for shopping at charity shops. Having now spent a decade of buying older garments – I can honestly say, manufacturing quality has diminished. I picked up a lovely Italian design jacket for £5. People comment on it. The quality is incredible. I was chatting to a market stallholder a few months back, and was wearing the jacket and another stallholder came across and jokingly said “you are far too well dressed to be speaking to him”. The point is, it’s a nice jacket.

The label in the jacket: “St Michaels”. That’s the brand name before they became Marks & Spencer. That means the jacket is over 20 years old, maybe a lot more! You cannot buy a jacket of this quality in Marks & Spencers nowadays. I saw another jacket a while back. It was £10 and the design and quality were brilliant. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered the label from a store that was regarded as cheap in the 90s – it was C&A! Even cheap clothing from the 90s seems better quality than the new stuff around today.

So this is my next point about car boots: You will find older stuff that tends to be better quality. Almost reminiscent of a time when workers took pride in their production because the world wasn’t (fully) driven by global competition resulting in cheaper quality to preserve margins. This is a topic in itself. I have appliances, decades old, that are still like new and working today, outlasting anything more modern.

Buying used items has another benefit; one that is sincerely quite important to me. If you buy a used item, a new one need not be manufactured to meet your need. I apply this principle to everything from clothes, cars and even technology. We are a consumer society. That is what is damaging our planet. Even our consumption of digital content damages the planet. The cotton industry accounts for a large portion of insecticide and pesticide usage and remarkably, it takes 3,000 litres of water to produce one T-Shirt! Buy used items! Call them pre-owned or pre-loved, whatever helps.

It feels wrong, to me, nowadays to buy something new when a used item would suffice. Of course, the other consequence of manufacturing stuff, often neglected, is waste. The amount of landfill the UK produces is sickening. The amount of landfill we ship off to poor nations is shameful. The real problem is consumerism (a product of materialism and ego) but while I’m not yet eccentric enough to walk around wearing just a fig leaf and carrying all my earthly possessions in a bindle but (trust me, I’m getting there); repurposing, re-using and, if needs be, recycling – are all key to reducing harm.

The other thing about car boots and markets – they are in a field. It’s fabulous to bask in the sunshine while shopping. It’s widely advised that being outdoors helps with mental health. Okay, trudging around tables of tat may not be the intended vision of mindfulness practitioners encouraging people to reconnect with nature but it’s certainly better than the sterile world of air-conditioned warehouse outlets. I smoke a pipe a couple of times a week and pipe-smoking is no minuscule affair. It takes an hour for a pipe so being outdoors at a car boot is really convenient. I don’t (yet) have a dog but that’s another convenience for those who do – very few high street shops allow dogs.

You can’t smoke a pipe covertly and it is, unfortunately, novel nowadays so as a consequence, people recognise me all the time. This would be inconvenient for me usually – if you haven’t already realised from my maintenance of a small website with a tiny, or even absent, readership – I am somewhat of an introvert. However, I tend to forget my social indifference at car boots and regularly converse with familiar and new faces each week. I remember wondering how stallholders seem to turn up and not sell anything and that they must just see the days as socialising. I get it now. It is a social outing to some degree.

So car boots – incredible pricing, quality items, unique items, a brief rummage into history, reduced environmental impact, outdoors for good mental health, socialising – what’s not to love? Well, the early morning starts. If you really want a bargain, you need to be getting there shortly after they open – that’s typically 7am on a Sunday. Some start later in the morning, they all have different admission prices and usually they’re a drive out into the middle of nowhere. That being said then, I’ve finally committed to a list of car boots around Chesterfield. The reason? Well, let’s just say, I don’t want to turn up to a field after a 20 minute drive at 7am on a Sunday, only to find it’s empty – again.

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