It was June 2012 and I had hatched a plan –  a huge daft experiment in commerce, travel and technology.  It involved charity shops, old records and books, the Internet and my rusty but trusty Ford Focus.

Ian Walker

Ian has worked both as a museum curator and as a dustbin man. For the last 9 years he has been a full time dad looking after his 2 daughters and a part time dealer in 2nd hand tat on Ebay and Amazon.

@fenlandgent

Published

April 9, 2015

And the location for this wild new undertaking?  The Isle of Wight.

The plan was this. I would spend 3 days / 2 nights in the Isle of Wight. Whilst there I would travel about visiting various places that I fancied seeing – the site of the 1969 Isle Of Wight Festival, the burial place of the rather short Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne, Paul McCartney’s cousin’s Ryde pub which John and Paul visited and played at in 1960 – a trip of theirs that may have been the inspiration behind the song title Ticket to Ride. And this thoroughly pointless voyage of idiotic and niche discovery would be paid for by my trawling through the island’s charity shops filling my car boot with underpriced books and records which I would then sell on the Internet via Amazon and Ebay for a decent profit.

I had it all worked out. I spent a few days beforehand checking the locations of the Island’s charity shops and then from Ventnor to Ryde, from Shanklin to Cowes I would travel the highways of the IOW like a modern day merchant explorer. Adventures would be had, tiny poets would be reflected upon and tat would be traded.

Image credit: Ronald Saunders

Did it work?

As far as the touristy stuff went results were mixed:  found the festival site, didn’t find the tiny poet’s grave, John and Paul’s pub is no longer there.  But as for turning a profit then the whole trip was a success. I like books and I like records and I’ve been buying them in a fairly obsessive way since I was about 13. I know a bit about what sells and what doesn’t but I don’t know enough to turn the kind of profit needed to pay for ferries and hotels and a 3 day trip to the Isle of Wight. For that I needed help and help was at hand with my iPhone, this tiny, powerful Internet browser which I used to check the then current selling prices of any books or records I thought may turn a tidy profit. And tidy profits were turned. One especially rare book about Japanese pottery, which was bought for 10p, ended up selling for over £50. I paid my way.

 It’s got to be better than working in an office. It sometimes feels as though I really am making a living.

That charity road trip was just one of many that I’ve undertaken over the last few years. I’ve been as far north as Whitley Bay (or Mull if you can include the morning I snuck away from a family holiday to check out the 3 charity shops to be found on that Scottish Island). I’ve been as far West as Dorchester (where I returned with a boot full of New Musical Expresses from the 70s and 80s – one of my all-time favourite finds) – and I’ve been as far east as Felixstowe (an especially disappointing trip as far as books and records go but I cannot recommend the town’s Regal Fish and Chip restaurant highly enough).

Much like the trip to the Isle of Wight the ‘business’ side of buying and selling is only really to pay for visiting the place in the first place.  A charity shop road trip to Birmingham was organised because I wanted to see the site of the old Longbridge Plant and because I had a ticket to see Black Sabbath play a small home town gig.  Norwich, Ely, Winchester and Salisbury were visited because I really like cathedrals.  I went to Loughborough because I wanted to see the bell that was used on the AC/DC track Hell’s Bells and because it was once the home of Ladybird Books. I visited Middlesbrough because I wanted to see the house Brian Clough grew up in and I wanted to see the Transporter Bridge.

Driving about exploring the arcane corners of rock music, football, history and literature, losing myself in the extraordinary beauty of the nation’s medieval cathedrals (and transporter bridges) – making it up as I go along and paying my way by trading in other people’s unwanted stuff. It’s got to be better than working in an office. It sometimes feels as though I really am making a living.

Sign – Dave Crosby

Records – Dermot O’Halloran

Bottles –  Garry Knight

And charity shops are only half the story

Most Sunday mornings, you’ll find me heading off to a carboot sale in some field or carpark on the edge of Cambridge where I live or beyond to a Cambridgeshire or Suffolk village. I’m out early – usually about 7am. There’s hardly anyone about. A few pedestrians – alpha pensioners out to get the Sunday papers, the occasional iron willed jogger, a few cabs mopping up the dregs from Saturday night and, from the other end of the scale of lifestyle choices, the occasional gaggle of keen, lycra clad cyclists.

This is pretty much my favourite time of the week, especially at this time of year in the early spring, driving out through the countryside along the long straight East Anglian roads, past the first daffodils and the first blossom all under a huge blue East Anglian sky.

It was this “going somewhere” that really appealed to me because it spoke of a low key, parochial and English type of freedom.

Back in the 1980s and early 90s I was a big fan of the TV show Lovejoy. There was much about it to like: strong stories, great characters and the finest mullet this side of Bono’s. But what I really liked about it was that Lovejoy always seemed to be going somewhere. Most episodes involved a journey, often to somewhere in East Anglia; to Norwich or the Suffolk estuaries or to Cambridge and occasionally to further afield  – to Brighton, to Portsmouth or to London. He even once went to Venice.

It was this “going somewhere” that really appealed to me because it spoke of a low key, parochial and English type of freedom.  This wasn’t like that American brand of road trip freedom with its epic songs about being “Born to Run” or with its dramas about hippies or beatniks trying to find themselves as they headed West or South or wherever. Lovejoy was always less ‘Route 66’ and a bit more ‘up the A11 to Norwich’.  His freedom was little more than that he had no boss and he could make up his days as he found them. It involved driving, country pubs and picturesque market towns and it came with pleasant incidental music. It was a rather lovely, Sunday night TV, sort of freedom.

Images by the author

And when I’m up early on a Sunday morning heading off to a carboot sale,  or when I’m heading off on one of my charity shop road trips with cash in my wallet, with my own empty car boot and with the whole day or weekend ahead to fill it I feel a little bit like Lovejoy. I feel like I’ve found a tiny bit of that freedom I saw on telly on Sunday nights 25 years ago.

With the car boots this low key sort of freedom brings its own lucrative and strange rewards.  The swag that comes from carboots is usually so much better than what you get in charity shops; many charity shops are now wise to eBay and either sell their valuable stuff online or inflate their prices accordingly. However at carboots decent profits are easier to come by. This last weekend I bought a recent graduate’s entire library of books about international relations and Middle Eastern politics for £20 – they will sell for about £200. The week before I bought a very lovely 1820 edition of the complete works of Schiller in German for a fiver. I think it’s worth about £30 or £40. And it’s not just that the profits are easier to come by, car boots are much better for turning up genuinely weird and wonderful stuff such as the huge collection of Italian easy listening singles from the 1960s that I got last weekend. I imagine these are practically worthless but the modernist cover designs are beautiful.

And my favourite ever daft random find at a car boot?

That was a scrapbook of music and tabloid newspaper cuttings from the late 70s all about punk that someone, a teenage boy I imagine, had made. As well as the cuttings there were a few posters and flyers for local punk bands in Bedford so I assume that’s where my assumed teenage boy was from.  It is my favourite find because in that one purchase it all sort of came together – my driving about looking for interesting stuff, of random finds and of unique objects, of other times and other places and rock and pop. It’s a keeper.

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