The Yorkshire Boot Sale

The Yorkshire Boot Sale was in full swing. I walked back, passing buyers, staggering to their autos with an assortment of shapeless purchases.

I drove past one Sunday morning, not too early, when the Boot Sale was in full swing. I was down from London for the first time, marooned in Harrogate near the Yorkshire Moors, missing the crowds and the street markets. At first I thought it was a local cricket match, or an agricultural show, or a particularly disorganized car auction. The car park was full, and (mostly old) cars covered the grass verges on both sides of the road, tilting into ditches and protruding onto the already narrow strip of tarmac. I squeezed my car into a battered patch of grass about 200 yards up the road, and walked back, passing overloaded car-booters, staggering to their vehicles with an assortment of shapeless parcels.

The hand-painted red sign told me what was going on, and I realized that this was a northern relation to the London flea-markets where articles appear to have recently fallen off the back of a truck. Under the unusually bright sun, the Boot Sale stretched around two buildings which had mutated from farm buildings through cattle pens to their present status as the battlefield H.Q. for this particular frenzy.

Some of the car-booters were literally just that, and dusty collections of beer mats, tattered paperback books and shapeless clothes were piled indiscriminately in the backs of old autos, wilting in the heat. Other sellers were more adventurous, filling station wagons and vans, piling carpets on top of the vehicles, spreading them on the dusty floor to trip the unwary. Old farmers with unrecognizable merchandise stared contemptuously at potential customers. Young family groups shouted their wares, thrusting cameras, home made lamps and dangerous-looking electrical appliances under my nose.

I soon discovered that the open air vendors were poor relations, beggars existing precariously outside the city walls. The aristocrats of the sale had set up stalls, some quite large, in the old farm buildings, and were selling less battered goods, sheltered from the vagaries of the weather. Some crystal and china items, a few real leather belts and jackets, solid furniture, were scattered among the junk. Refreshment booths were a welcome oasis in the uproar.

Buyers gravitated here, out of the dust, having spent a few pennies on the odd paperback book, or chipped cup, saving the real money for functioning equipment and attractive period pieces from the 50's and earlier. Serious shoppers haggled discounts for bulk purchases, pensioners making the best of a limited income; collectors occasionally picking up a bargain.

I bought a paperback book, and a rusty toaster which lasted exactly two days. I also picked up some leather covered bottles, which look good, even though I can't afford to fill them with anything expensive. A kind seller provided me with an ancient plastic bag which threatened to split as I staggered through the crowds and made for my car. I felt as if a whole day had been spent amongst the motley heaps of second-hand merchandise, but only an hour had passed. I had been as close to a country market as I am ever likely to get.

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