Posts Tagged ‘market’

A riot of colour…

February 5, 2017

Another little tale from yesterday… I went down to the local market, which always has a very good car boot section on a winter Saturday. Although I just needed some ham ends and some garlic for the household, I had my “work” purse with me too, so I strolled through the stalls on my way to the food area. One stallholder, who has a house-clearance firm based down in a town on the coast, called me over; “I have something you might like… a bag of Indian stuff, I think.”

Oh yes…! A big bag of jumbled old saris. Some clearly in fairly bad way, but others didn’t look too bad. I estimated there would be at least 9 or 10 in there – saris are long, usually about 6 yards/5.5m of fabric – and most were of decent quality originally, many of them silk, and in a riot of glorious colours. I asked for his best price and was instantly able to see that this was a good bargain, although it involved handing over all of my “working” cash and some of the housekeeping too! But I would still have enough left to buy what I’d actually come for.

When I got it home (thanks to a lift from a kind neighbour, also on the hunt for bargains) I was delighted to discover that there were actually 17 full saris, plus a decorative offcut from a sari “fall” or pallu. One or two of the chiffon or thin silk crepe lengths were beyond use “as is” but have beautiful trims, which are worth rescuing in their own right, and much of the fabric is rescuable and has other potential uses. Most of the loveliest woven or beaded saris have some stains, alas; I think what I have here is another crafter’s stash, going by the cut-off pallu, rather than someone’s actual wardrobe. And three of them were “spoken for” by one member of the household or another, straight away. None of them are the sort that I normally buy in, i.e. traditionally-patterned printed silks. But some were instantly saleable, either as inexpensive party-wear or decent fabric with lovely trims, so they’ve gone straight onto my stall at a very-reasonable price, to cover my costs.

I shall say no more, except to say that if I’m quiet for the next few days, it’s because I’m either dealing with yards and yards or fabulous fabrics, or I’m dreaming of what I can (and must!) do with them…

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A riot of colours and textures…

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Stunning contrasts…

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Fabulous trims…

Daft not to…

January 22, 2016

There it was, just lying in the gutter, all alone… an enormous potato! A bit scuffed, and now a bit grubby too, it must have fallen out of someone’s shopping bag. It was there when I went to the market; it was still there when I was walking home half an hour later. So I picked it up & brought it home. Whyever not?

I rinsed it, cut off the scuffed side, cut it into slim-ish slices & added it to the contents of my “Peely” bin, which made a good casserole-full altogether. This is now, after boiling up for 10 minutes, in my Wonderbag, a present from a friend who volunteers in a charity shop. She rescued it from a swift entry into the rag-bag; other volunteers thought it unlikely to sell, despite being brand new, still with labels attached. Who’d use one, nowadays? But she knew that I would… So my peelings, cores and any other edible odds & sods get cooked up, at least once a week, overnight, in my Wonderbag to make a breakfast treat for my chickens. They adore it. I’m recycling scraps we can’t – or won’t – use into eggs.

But all the way home, a little voice at the back of my head was telling me why I shouldn’t have picked the potato up.

  • You don’t know where it’s been or how it got there! Well, I can hazard a good guess.
  • There may be germs It’s going to be thoroughly cooked.
  • The real owner may come back for it! I think they already would have, if they were going to.
  • Just LEAVE IT ALONE! This is sooo embarrassing… But that would be very wasteful, and there’s no-one else about in the rain. Not to mention, it’d have blocked the drain it was on its way to washing down.

I’m still feeling slightly guilty, for no reason that my logical mind can discern. But really, it would have been daft not to…

Thereby hangs another tale. A couple of weeks ago, when I took my mother back to her own home, I’d promised her a roast chicken dinner. So I went off to her local upmarket supermarket to find a small one. The only one they had out at that time was reduced to £2 and was on its sell-by date; ah well, I thought, it’s still actually in date, and it’s going straight into the oven.

But when I got it back to the flat & opened the packaging, the smell was indescribably awful. So I ran back to the supermarket, luckily not far away, with it, and gasped out an explanation. To their everlasting credit, they instantly gave me a double refund, and in the meantime they’d put out a fresh batch of little chickens. Costing £4… so in effect, we got a fresh one for half the normal price! When I unwrapped it, I saw on the package the words, “Serves two”…

Well, it gave us a good roast dinner. Mum (89) doesn’t usually eat as much as a “normal” adult now, but somehow she managed. It also gave us three servings of Chicken Jalfrezi the next day, one each and one for her freezer, plus two good portions to be eaten cold with salad, and I brought the carcass & scraps home to boil up into a hearty soup. Some of which went back to Mum, for easy suppers. In effect, that “serves two” little bird gave seven good portions, plus plenty of soup. And yet, there’s still that little voice in my head that thinks I may have done something naughty, stretching a “Serves two” into seven-plus servings!

How much money are they making out of us, when people take that “Serves two” seriously…? Or when people leave perfectly good food to lie in gutters?

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Wonderbag – with extra insulation!

A lot’s gone on…

October 18, 2015

Many things have happened this summer, and I’ve not been in a place where I’ve been particularly happy to witter on about them. My little Citroen C3 threw yet another expensive wobbly, which was the final straw; it’s no good doing 60-odd miles to the gallon if you’re going to cost an arm and a leg in maintenance. The girls had become anxious about going any distance in her, thanks to her habit of saying she was in first gear at roundabouts & junctions, when she was in fact in neutral. The second or two while she thought about this & I had no control (she’s a semi-automatic) put us in peril more than once. Even OH became reluctant to take her up to Town, but was heartbroken when I announced I was replacing her. Partly because I’ve chosen to replace her with an elderly but expensive Japanese van that only does half as many miles to the gallon…

There was method in my madness, albeit perhaps not very much. Those of us who play at market traders had outgrown the space available in the bigger car, and ended up just about swearing at each other because neither of us had space for all our stock by the time we’d fitted in the tables, chairs, shelves, crates and our lovely joint assistant. I test-drove a 3-year-old Berlingo Multispace & it was lovely, but hardly any bigger than the C4 GP; deeper, but shorter. The only other option within my budget that was likely not to be on its last legs with rust or having done 300,000 hair-raising miles in a couple of years was a fresh-import Japanese MPV…

So I became the proud owner of a 17-year-old Mazda Bongo Friendee 2.5 TD AFT from Southern Bongos, just as diesel was unmasked as the root of all evil. There was a little bit of budget left over, which I used to have the middle row of seats removed & a mid-conversion installed; that’s a cooker, sink, fridge and a couple of tiny cupboards, plus a little pop-up arrangement that means I can sleep in her when the back seat is folded down flat; this’ll be very handy when we do the weekend “events” next year. In theory, two people can sleep in the elevating roof too, but the mattress would need quite a bit of beefing-up before they’d be very comfortable! There’s also a solar panel, as most of the time when we’re camping there’s no mains electricity to hook up to, to run the fridge, lights & gadget chargers that it would be hard to manage without. And I have made her a set of “silvers” or thermal screens; to buy them would have cost over £80, but 3m of Insul-Bright set me back just £20, 50 suction-hooks £5, and a paint-marked 1970s sheet makes the inside look very pretty!

For all the increased fuel bills, she feels very safe & reassuring to drive, especially after dark; no-one tries to barge you out of the way, and the visibility is great, unlike in the little car. And there’s clearly a lot of capacity for fun; picnics spring to mind, but for one reason or another we haven’t had a chance yet, though we have done one market & managed to take everything we needed with us! We also traded at a car boot sale this weekend, offloading excess stock, and it was lovely to be able to sit out of the biting cold wind in quieter moments, without having to struggle up from a car seat to help potential customers. But I’m very mindful of the increased emissions, as well as the fuel bill; my one way of dealing with this is to try very hard to cut the miles driven down to the bare minimum whilst keeping my business going and keeping half an eye on my dear mother!

Another of The Offspring has moved back in for a year, having found a job locally whilst waiting to do his MA starting next September. Delighted though we are to have the pleasure of his company for another year, this has reduced still further the amount of space we have for stock or refurbs, and increased the mess in the shared areas of the house. And thanks to lighting issues with my stall at Molly’s Den, I’m moving over the aisle to a smaller but more visible space. So I’m trying very hard to refine what I do; only to take on things which can be cleaned, repaired and/or upcycled very fast, and which are directly relevant to my regular customers. But on a positive note, Boscombe Vintage Market is going back to monthly after Christmas, which should help stock flow through our household better.

I’m now struggling to deal with an avalanche of apples & quinces; having had a good rest last year, when high winds stripped the blossom clean off the trees in spring, they’ve gone to town this year & presented us with tons of fruit. There are three trays of apples in store, and numerous bags have been distributed amongst neighbours & family. But I don’t need to make any apple butter or jams or chutney as there’s lots still in the garage from last year & the year before; there’s not a lot of point putting more in there if it’s not getting used. I also have another mega-pumpkin sitting on my lawn, waiting for someone (probably me) to take a knife to it; this is going to be distributed amongst four households, but even just a quarter of it is going to overwhelm my preserving skills & apparatus for a few days!

There’ll be another post along shortly; I’m mulling some ideas over already, but kind of felt I should bring you all up to date before I get too philosophical…

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Eeeek – 6 weeks later!

October 5, 2014
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This week’s haul…

That’s what £6.50 got me at the market this morning: 2 punnets of raspberries, one of small but delicious strawberries, & two of seedless grapes for £3, a big carrier bag of “marked” locally-grown apples for £1, two pots of carrots, two of broccoli and one of courgettes for £2.50. I didn’t need tomatoes, as we have plenty of our own still to use up, or onions, parsnips, garlic or potatoes, all of which were available, but I have more than enough already. The raspberries are already in the oven, in a Rasberry Clafoutis, half of the broccoli is inside us, and the apples will be bashed along with our rather-splendid crop of quinces later on this afternoon, quite probably to make spicy Apple & Quince Butter to enliven our winter breakfasts. Given a few spare minutes, I’ll add recipes later.

I’ve been buying & using the 50p fruit & veg all along, but haven’t had the time or, to be honest, the inclination to write about it. Someone (not likely to look on here) made a pointed remark about middle-class people writing patronising money-saving stuff, and I went into a bit of a tailspin; it’s really not my intention to make people feel that they’re Not Doing Very Well if they have no option but to buy things in supermarkets or DIY superstores at full price. But it is my intention to alert those who do have other options, that those options exist & may not be as impractical or unachievable as popular opinion would have us believe. And I’d recently begun to wonder just how much that remark was simply aimed at pulling me down & undermining my confidence. Then, yesterday, at Boscombe Vintage Market, one of our lovely regular customers said how she’d missed A) the market and B) reading my blog… thank you, dear customer! Normal service will be resumed forthwith…

There’s also the fact that writing is actually addictive. It doesn’t matter whether anyone would actually want to read my maunderings; I can no more stop writing than breathing!

The 50p veg challenge…

August 17, 2014

Lately I’ve taken to popping down to our local market close to closing time on Sunday, the last of the three days it’s open. The two fruit & veg stalls have a habit of offloading anything perishable that hasn’t yet sold for 50p a pot or punnet, or sometimes a mixed bag for £1, or two bowls for £1.50. Since one of The Offspring has become a vegetarian, this has been a bit of a good moneysaver…

I hasten to add that I actually buy everything I can foresee needing for the week at full price & peak freshness on Friday morning, chosen to match whatever fish & meat I’ve found best value for this week & bearing in mind any special events. It’s still a darn sight cheaper than buying it all in the supermarket. What I’ll pick up on Sunday is supplementary to this; sometimes there isn’t very much left, or what’s there isn’t something that any of us will eat, so it would be daft to rely on it. And sometimes it’s a challenge to know how to use up what I’ve found. But also, fun…

This week’s haul includes celery, which is something I use a lot, as a fresh savoury herb in cooking, rather than raw in salads. If I have an absolute glut, I’ll pop some into my dehydrator; it dries quickly & the taste is concentrated. Dried celery is a great standby for soups, as are carrots, which also found their way into my trolley. There’s spring onion, which goes well in stir-fried veg, a tray of aubergines, which a friend gave me an excellent tasty, inexpensive recipe for, and 4 large ripe mangos. They’ll be in my slow-cooker tomorrow turning into chutney, with a couple of large apples from our tree. I picked up two trays of vine-ripened tomatoes, and popped over to the butcher’s stall for some soup bones for £1. That’ll make a lovely middle-Eastern-style soup for our lunches for the week, as the bones are lamb. There was a butternut squash, much loved by our vegetarian, and a marrow; I have plans to try out curried marrow or marrow bhaji…

Not to mention garden produce – the apples are coming down fast now, the quinces are almost ready – and what I can forage from our local hedgerows and even sometimes other people’s gardens. With their permission, of course! Blackberries feature strongly in my plans for the week, mostly fresh or as jam, as does the first “run” of apple butter with windfalls, possibly also using some crab apples from the riverbank; they looked just ripe for picking when I walked my friend’s dogs earlier. The lurcher clearly thought the windfalls were just perfect for eating, too… It’s not going to be a great crop of apples this year, but what’s there has had the grace to ripen up when I actually do have the time to deal with it, for once.

Anyway, the plan is, to record here what I find each week & what I plan to do with it. Then the next week, to report back on whether I did actually stick to my plans, or whether, shame of all shames, we just have some very well-fed chickens… It’s a bit of a challenge to myself, to keep me on track & keep unnecessary expenditure down, but please feel free to join me, in the comments, with suggestions for me, or tell us what you yourself have found or grown, & what you’re going to do with it.

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Home grown Blenheim Oranges.

Booty!

May 17, 2014

Any day that brings me five new-to-me fans, is a good day!

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Fans, gloves, scarves = vintage glamour!

Elder daughter and I went out hunting at a big local car boot sale and the market, and came back laden with little – and not-so-little – treasures. Certain things always seem to spell glamour to me; fans, gloves, bags, hats, scarves & jewellery spring to mind, and there was plenty to go around, which was just as well as we met several of our fellow-traders out a-hunting too, all well-laden.

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Real value for money!

Different types of stall attract different buyers; I glanced over plenty of stalls offering more modern, big-name bags, and none of them looked half as smart as the much-older patent leather one I’d found, once I’d cleaned it up. It even came with a pair of navy-blue lacy gloves inside.

But my best bargain today had to be the little blue Olivetti typewriter for £1. It looked very, very sad; mildew on the keys, and no, you’re not mistaken, it is bent sideways. “I don’t think it actually works,” the vendor said doubtfully.

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All folorn…

But a couple of hours later, with the aid of WD40, the judicious application of a mallet (I kid you not) some Swarfega, tweezers, a good stiff brush and a hoover, it not only looks a whole lot better, it actually works, and works well! Someone’s going to get a real bargain, and I’m chuffed to bits to have returned a decent bit of kit to good working order.

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Restored!

 

Ooops, I may have committed sacrilege…

March 10, 2014

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I was hurtling round our local market yesterday hunting for something to supplement a handmade birthday present, when I happened to pass a house-clearance stall we’ve bought from many times. I asked after the stallholder’s wife, who I know is unwell, and we were chatting away when I spotted something in one of his boxes; an old and very tatty paper fan. Being a  bit of a magpie, I couldn’t resist the bright colours, and couldn’t help asking how much. “Just take it!” came the reply; one end was literally hanging off. Delighted, I thanked him & scurried off clutching my “treasure”, completed my errand and went off to the party.

It was dark by the time we got home, and I knew I’d need to wait until daylight until I could see whether I stood any chance of repairing it. Then a family health-related issue gobbled up most of my day, so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to sit down & look at my fan, though I should have been elsewhere by then, but had had to cancel. Anyway, it seemed as if it would be repairable; it’s a pretty thing and I could see that it wasn’t a mass-produced item. There was a huge rip, crossing several staves, at one end and a smaller rip at the other, but just about all of the paper was still present & the staves unbroken.

I’ve hunted before now for information on repairing fans online, as I have a bit of a fascination for them (not to mention a small collection) but without much success, so I just set to and did my best. I used cigarette paper as I know it’s good strong stuff but almost invisible, with Gum Arabic glue edges, which is pretty natural stuff and probably not far removed from the glues originally used in the fan’s construction. It looks to me as if someone had attempted a previous repair to the big rip, using a glue which had discoloured & left a brownish stain, and clearly hadn’t worked for very long as there’s a lot more rip there now, and I soon found that Gum Arabic didn’t seem to stick very well; there’s some kind of finish on the paper. So I used careful smears of Mod Podge to stick the cigarette paper down. I’m quite pleased with the result; I now have a fan which looks reasonably complete, still folds easily and works, and would otherwise have ended up in a bin.

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BUT soon afterwards, having got the bit between my teeth & looking for some information to help me repair another fan, I finally managed to stumble across the International Fan Circle’s website… which advises using a starch-based glue with no additives. Mod Podge, I’m pretty sure, is posh but very effective PVA. Oh dear! And reading their history pages, the fan might well be rather older than I’d originally thought; it’s clearly not a mass-produced item from the time of the People’s Republic or the days of heavy industrialisation since, but hand-painted, with delightful little birds & rounded mountains painted on the 30-odd staves and drawn in ink up the guards. (And oddly, “6¾” written in pencil on the top of one guard.) It seems to me Chinese rather than Japanese, though I don’t know why; the mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji is the best reason I can think of! So I hope I haven’t ruined something of real interest & value, but in my defence, I did rescue it from an almost certain doom. And I will know better next time, and hopefully do a proper job…

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like – a frugal Christmas!

December 18, 2013

Once again that certain date is racing up towards us and the bank account is groaning under the strain of buying for a big family. We don’t go over  the top with presents or food, and never have done, but the sheer quantities involved mean there will always be a distinct bulge in the budget at the end of December. And I’ve been sad to read people panicking online this week that they can’t afford to give their loved ones a “real” Christmas, which they seem to imagine looks like the one you see on the adverts, with lots of plastic toys, plastic decorations, plastic-looking food & a plastic-looking family. So a few ideas to cut the cost (and the plastic – horrible stuff!) whilst retaining the joy and good cheer might be timely.

The catering itself isn’t very much different to an average Sunday dinner round here; a few more faces, a few more trimmings and a few more hours with the cooker blasting away, perhaps, but plenty of willing hands to help, too. Good solid food & plenty of it, followed by treats like nuts and a well-chosen cheese board, but no dubious “gourmet” delights that no-one will actually eat, only stuff that can be eaten cold with salad, made into leftover dishes or frozen for later reference. I rarely have to do much shopping after Christmas until well into January, apart from fresh fruit, bread & dairy stuff.

But the setting does need a bit of adjusting, we can’t fit 11 round the kitchen table… however, we can run two market tables end-to-end down our conservatory and use the folding wooden chairs we use for doing the markets. This year’s festive board will be dressed in 5½ yards of pure vintage silk – an elderly & slightly damaged sari, before you panic that I’m about to ruin something priceless – and I’m really rather proud of my planned centrepiece. I came across a handful of mismatched tall crystal glasses at the Tip yesterday, and some old floral decorations; I can just see the glasses lined up down the centre of the table, with tea-lights glowing & twinkling inside, and pale silvery, slightly glittery hellebores laced around the bottom of the stems. Something like the picture below, in fact, but with sparklier glasses & less OTT greenery, when it’s all cleaned up.The china will be my parents’ old China Tree set, I found a set of 12 matching glasses at the Tip recently, and I don’t suppose anyone will even notice if the cutlery doesn’t match; hopefully they’ll be too busy eating, chattering & laughing.

We’ll be using our “fake” tree, acquired at vast expense – part of £1, if I remember correctly – at the Tip some years ago, in about May. It’s a perfectly nice one, even if it doesn’t smell like a real one; then again, it doesn’t make me come out in a rash like a real one does. I’m not quite sure why people find it necessary to buy a new fake tree in the latest “fashionable” colours every year; seems somewhat wasteful to me, but I know they do. And I’m not really happy with the idea of real trees being sacrificed for such trivial reasons, even if they’d never have been grown otherwise, and I’m certainly not happy to pay £35-40 for one. Decorations will be much-loved old favourites, home-made or foraged from the garden & the riverbank; the hallway is always adorned with big star sequins dangling on cotton pinned to the ceiling, which sway & glitter in the breeze whenever anyone walks down there. They cost 50p for a large tub, many years ago; I’d meant to use them for card making, but never did. In amongst them is the odd bigger star, bought for pennies in sales after previous Christmasses, never before. I’m afraid I buy my cards that way too, from charity shops; it’d be nice to give them the full price, but I know they still make a small profit on them half-price & I get to feed my family too!

We’ll be making paper chains for the living room. It’s a small space and big brash tinselly things are far too dominating; chains made from wallpaper samples or free printables from the Web are just right. There’ll also be a garland of evergreens over the fireplace; branches & ivy from the garden & riverbank woven into a tube of old chickenwire & decorated with fir cones, cinnamon sticks and berries from the berberis and cotoneaster bushes. We’re lucky enough to have a female holly tree too so springs of holly will be poked behind all our pictures & mirrors. If I’m organised enough, we may even have home-made crackers; I can do a LOT better for cracker surprises with the cash that one box of bought crackers would cost, never mind two. Paper hats are easy, but sadly the home-made jokes will probably be even worse than usual. I might try decorating the tree with broken bits of junk jewellery this year; single dangly ear-rings & broken glittery & pearly necklaces I have a-plenty & I’ve always thought that might look rather nice. I’ll report back, maybe with a picture. Or not…

For many years we’ve had a strict upper limit on what we can spend on each other in the wider family, and we all stick to it. It’s just plain sensible; Christmas presents are meant to be a token, not to beggar us all. And some of us have agreed not to exchange anything at all now; it doesn’t mean we don’t love & respect each other, but that we all have enough stuff & don’t need or want any more. If money must be spent, let it go to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped or Sightsavers, not to buy more stuff to further clutter my home with. Unless, of course, it’s a timeless vintage treasure you simply know I’ll love…

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Erm, please someone explain, why might it be immoral…?

November 19, 2013

… to buy something in a charity shop, then sell it on at a profit?

It’s a discussion I was having with my elder daughter this morning, and have had with others online over the last few years. Once or twice things have got quite heated. Why do some people feel that we are somehow cheating the charity, if we’re paying the price they are asking for an item? Most of them are pretty savvy these days & aren’t likely to sell an original Picasso for the same price as a fake Constable print in a plastic frame. I will only buy stuff in a charity shop (thrift store, to our American cousins) if I actually need it for myself or our home, OR if I’m certain I can at least double my money on it. But that doesn’t actually mean that the charity could have got twice as much for it, and I’m cheating them. Nor does it mean I’m doubling my money with each purchase.

For a start, many of the things I have picked up from them over the years have needed work put into them to achieve the higher price. They’ve needed cleaning, servicing or mending, maybe some parts supplied & fitted. Clothes may have needed a bit of surgery; for example, a 1970s Lurex jumper is actually more valuable without its sleeves at the moment, as the students like to wear them as tunics, with a belt. For another thing, part of my expertise, such as it is, is knowing what my customers are interested in & will buy; charity shops by & large are very general, selling a bit of whatever comes in in saleable condition, but a large proportion of their stock is of no interest to me & my customers whatsoever. You have to hunt quite hard for “treasure” and be prepared to pass by a lot of dross on the way, although one man’s trash is, of course, another man’s treasure. So part of my “mark-up” is because my customers, by & large, don’t have the time to hunt through twenty-odd shops for one piece of genuine 1950s fabric for their vintage caravan renovation project. But they know they will likely find 4 or 5 pieces to choose from on my stall. One or two of those may have been picked up in charity shops, but the rest have come via car boot & jumble sales, house clearances and other contacts, so that’s another reason why I am not just a parasite leaching money away from charities; they would never have seen a penny of the money for those pieces in the first place. And some of my stock is bought from charity shops that have failed to sell it in the time they allow things to be “on the sales floor”; at least they are getting something for it from me, and usually a fair bit more than the ragman would have given them.

I have expenses I need to cover, too. Stalls don’t come free, and people are often shocked when they find out what the stall fees are; yes, it does cost more than a car boot pitch, or a table-top at a school sale. This is because the organisers will have expenses they need to cover too, like staff, proper advertising & rent. I use fuel to find stock and more to get it to where it needs to be. My washing machine uses energy & consumables and I go through coat hangers, safety pins and even price labels at an alarming rate. So it’s not just a matter of buying something for £1 at Oxfam, carting it off and selling it on for £2 at Molly’s Den or Boscombe Vintage Market.

Can someone please explain to me why people get so upset about the idea that I can buy something in one place and sell it on at a profit in a more appropriate place, if there’s a charity involved? I would not take the bread from the mouth of a starving child to sell it, as one slightly hysterical online commentator once accused me of; it doesn’t seem equivalent at all to me, but am I missing some important idea or concept here?

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig…

September 11, 2013

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Well, sort of. The problem with a wonderful holiday is that sometimes, you’re not quite ready to leave it in your head & get back to reality. It doesn’t help that it’s cold & grey here, and there’s tons of stuff that really needs doing, preferably right now, or before. Usually at the end of a holiday I’m looking forward to getting back to all the things I’d miss about our beautiful & quirky little part of the world, but now I’ve found somewhere equally beautiful & quirky. And warmer… Say no more!

It was very interesting to see how people have lived, and to some extent still live, in a landscape that’s equally as benign as our own, if not more so. I live in a smallish medieval market town just inland from the mild & beautiful South Coast of England, and we stayed in something very much equivalent in the south of France, just where the Pyrenees are sloping down towards the sea. Like here, there are still markets; the bigger ones are partly what we would call “grockle-traps” though we found (and bought!) some excellent, inexpensive regional specialities too. But there’s a tiny weekly market in the village we stayed in, too; just four food stalls selling absolutely top-notch, mouthwatering local produce, that you were encouraged to try before committing yourself to buy. The leftovers are in my fridge or my garlic pot even as I write.

I don’t think I have ever been in such an abundant & beautiful landscape. On closer examination, what looked like acres of verdant wilderness clearly was no such thing. Just about every tree was edible or otherwise useful; down in the villages, fruit trees predominated, with olives, figs, grapes, citrus & cherries everywhere – the area is famous for its cherries, in particular, but the tiny black figs were melt-in-the-mouth, honey-sweet gorgeous too – but higher up the slopes, nuts predominated, with chestnuts, hazels & walnuts dotted amongst the cork oaks. The villages consisted of tall terraced houses (with wooden shutters, all painted in beautiful colours – I do love shutters!) clustered tightly around their town squares, Mairies, little forts or priories, usually with mountain streams running in channels down both sides of the roads. Presumably these were once their main water supplies.

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Outside the villages, usually a little upslope & almost indistinguishable from the forested surroundings, were areas of gardens, possibly allotments, though they seemed much more permanent & not all of them were used just for produce; we saw one which was clearly a family relaxation area, with outdoor oven, swings & an above-ground pool as well as tomatoes, sweetcorn, beans, olives & berry & currant bushes. The water channels ran through these first, with little pipes going into each garden & channels leading the water though to each bed going downwards, all fed by gravity from the river. In the villages, there were lots of little independent shops, which do seem to be well-used by the locals, though there are hypermarkets & estates of villas with pools & sterile gravel gardens springing up nearer the main roads down on the plain. There are ice-pits upslope, where ice was stored (and still could be) each winter, and thermal springs, which the French take very seriously for their health. In short, a landscape that is or has been used to the full, in a beneficial & light-handed way; there seemed to be plenty of wildlife too. It’s a bird & butterfly heaven!

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The coastal towns were delightful; each had its own distinct character and most still seem to have reasons for existing other than as holiday havens or yachtie stopovers. Anchovy warehouses & big local wine domain “outlets” sit alongside the leather goods shops & the soap & candle emporiums; the soaps are a genuine local speciality & our suitcases smelt fantastic on the return trip. I also stocked up on spices as we get through them in much larger quantities than most households, and things like culinary lavender & juniper berries are much cheaper out there.

Needless to say, Elder Daughter & I couldn’t resist a trip to the vide-greniers & marché-aux-puces of Perpignan, the nearest city. And although we couldn’t bring back a lot, as we were flying Ryanair, we did find some irresistible vintage treasures and had a lot of fun, although it almost hurt to leave that beautiful old Kohler industrial treadle unexamined…

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One day, we will drive down & come back with a loaded car… but it’d be touch & go whether it’d be loaded with lovely vintage stock for our stalls, or with edible & potable delights to see us through a grey & dismal British winter! And if ever I persuade my doctor to say that I need to go & live in a warmer climate for the sake of my health, you’ll know where to find me…

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