My daughters, currently morphing into very gentle eco-warriors, resist buying anything which might tax the earth’s resources any more than necessary. They make an exception, however, for car boot sales. To them these represent a new way of redirecting the consumerist urge away from resource-usage and into enthusiastic recycling: instead of throwing away old and buying new, we rebuy old. It’s a virtuous circle: the sellers make a few honest bob from clearing out their junk, the buyers find bargains and the Earth doesn’t notice the difference.
The sense that everyone’s a winner must be the reason the atmosphere at car boot sales is so benign, so perfectly poised between an English picnic and a Levantine souk. A few fields from our house, on every summer Sunday, there’s a sale, heralded by a large fluorescent orange sign shouting OXFORD’S BIGGEST BOOT. Around a hundred cars turn up (the farmer who owns the field charges each one £9—so there’s another winner), and then crowds of people (50p entry) drift in a leisurely and cheerful fashion, picking over the trestle tables of scientifically randomised bric-a-brac. The typical table is rarely sorted into categories, and might include binoculars, boxes of dog food, books, cardigans, Luke Skywalker light-swords, a rusty hoe and a collection of obscure doowop singles, so you really have to look. It brings out your inner gatherer—and I think we enjoy being gatherers, especially now hunting’s out of fashion.
I often hear people complaining about how all high streets are converging, indistinguishably Gapped and Booted and Nexted. That’s because retail isn’t where the action is any longer: it’s formulaic and it feels exploitative. There’s nothing original about it.
If you want taste-expanding variety, a clear conscience, and a new experience in civil society, you need to visit a boot.