For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory. I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here.
Today the rise and rise of the charity shop – the thrift shop across the Pond – has rather spelt an end of the traditional jumble sale. Which I think is a shame even if the money now is perhaps better directed than before to truly worthy causes.
Dad enjoyed sport, mostly as a spectator but he did play rugby. He was a short fused, somewhat hysterical hooker for his school’s old boys team, the Old Caterhamians.
The Old Cats played their games on a series of boggy fields at the top of Church Hill behind St Mary’s Church. The site was windswept and unappealing unless you actually wanted to play. Once in a while, as small children, mum would drag us along to watch him play and have an orange juice after, while dad tried and failed to maintain the balance between being one of the lads and a committed family man – usually by the expedient of, from memory, resorting to a judicious ‘I just need to have a word with so-and-so, Barbs’ before slipping away and leaving Mum to deal with the Archaeologist and me.
I think, were these the only memories I had of the rugger club, as it was called – ‘rugby’ a as a descriptive term wasn’t used – I don’t think they would feature on the ‘fond’ spectrum. But once a year the rugger club held a jumble sale to raise funds. Their needs hadn’t historically been great – usually, new posts, a set of shirts – but for a time these sales were crucial because of plans to build a new clubhouse and changing rooms; this meant cash, lots of it, was needed.
So the Jumble sale took on a new urgency. And mum, being mum, led the way with vigour. Sometime after dad passed his driving test in 1962/3 we acquired a car – a Hillman Husky that was like a van with a hinged door at the back. Primarily this was to cart the dog around but in the run up to the Jumble Sale it came into its own.
First up there were flyers; I assume these were printed rather than hand written but that would only have been the case if someone worked in a printers and got them done for nothing. The great thing about this is we two boys were the delivery men. Mum would park the car and we would be dispatched to leaflet either side of the road; oh the joy of running up someone’s drive – legally mind you – to push the leaflet through the letter box.
I learnt several things about letterboxes, namely:
- the low level ones were always awkward
- if there was a dog that sounded like it ate boys the letter box was both at an unconscionable height and too wide for comfort
- several letterboxes were so sprung loaded that you could easily take off a finger
- seeing someone through a glazed panel approaching the door from the inside as you pushed the flyer through and being able to run away without them opening and stopping you was utterly delicious.
Collecting for Jumble sales, like so many things in my young life, seemed to involve lessons in patience. Having posted the flyers we left them for a week and then returned. This was after school and we did several roads a day, spread over several days. How trusting was my mother. Once again we boys were dispatched, this time to knock on the door and ask if they had anything for the Jumble sale. I guess we struck lucky 2 out of 5 times. Sometimes my mother was needed to carry stuff; sometimes we needed to note the house number so a large rugger playing type could come by; sometimes we were told where we could put our ruddy Jumble sale. Often people ruffled our hair and asked us questions. At no stage did I feel threatened or awkward; I was doing a grown up job and consequently respected and important. That’s the way it felt.
Needless to say we boys were hugely competitive. Mostly in terms of (a) getting stuff (b) the amount but mostly (c) who got the most interesting assortment. Having collected a boot full we took ourselves back home to sift through it. Mum was happy for us to do this though it was pretty clear that we couldn’t just keep anything we fancied. Not likely; it all had to go to the sale even if we might earmark something to buy on the day.
Once I was used as mum’s Artful Dodger; she had this thing about growing a variegated holly bush from a cutting so if ever she saw one she was after a snippet; we lads were primed to tell her if we spotted the same which we did. However, in this particular case, the owners were outside, gardening. Mum, for reasons that now aren’t entirely clear, didn’t want to ask them for a suitable piece so, while she distracted them I was sent to break off a branch. Looking back I suppose if I was caught she would have remonstrated with me and threatened dire punishments. As it was the piece of what she euphemistically would call her ‘summer pruning’ if asked was obtained and another attempt to cultivate the same undertaken.
On the night before the big sale we would drive to the church hall in Caterham and deposit all we had collected; others did the same but I’m proud to say few outstripped the Le Pard’s. This process could well involve several car loads; while mum and one son went back to collect another load, the remaining son joined in on the Great Sort. This too as fun, separating out various clothing items, household goods and, best of all, books. Toys too but really books were the biggie. Often times we’d have started this process by the time dad came home from work; he’d make his way to the hall to join in, usually to rousing cheers and jeers from his friends – ‘late again Le Pard’ ‘I see you’re still slacking’ ‘your wife can’t do all the work in your family. can she’ ‘you even use your lads as slave labour’. I think I understood the good nature of the banter even at my tender years.
At some point, because bedtimes were sacrosanct we would be taken back home, bribed with something I expect, where one or other grandma would babysit. Mum and dad would continue getting everything ready and then repair to the club for a few drinks and card games.
Saturday dawned bright and early; this was a frantic day, when floats for the stalls all had to be sorted, pricing instructions undertaken, cakes produced etc. The Archaeologist and I were to be placed on the book stall. This was to be run, not by a parent, but by a fearsome man who was a ‘batchelor’ – which I now realise to mean he was gay – called Geoffrey Spence. Geoffrey abhorred little boys, swore a lot and drank Danish larger by the bucket load – his house was called Tuborg Halt with a British Rail sign indicating same. Over the several years that we two worked for Geoffrey he moaned at the imposition of free babysitting services that he provided, complained we were a liability and fulminated at having to stop us ‘giving away the crown jewels’. But my memories of him are of a twinkly eyed gentleman who loved the fact the Archaeologist read classics aged 8, always found me something that no one else had spotted that I would like and diligently ensured that no one took any advantage of us.
Doors opened at 2pm prompt and the unholy rush when they did took your breath away. Geoffrey would stand in front of our stall, with the Archaeologist and me behind it; as the first group approached he would glare at them and issue his Rules of Purchase in stentorian tones and then hand the buyers over to his assistants – us – who would be pleased to help with any queries. Sometimes he’d tut over something someone looked at – ‘trash’ or ‘rubbish’ might be mumbled under his breath. Sometimes he’d tell the prospective buyer that they couldn’t possibly understand what they were looking at and to ‘bugger off’. Generally however his presence and demeanour meant the whole sales business was conducted with some decorum.
Unlike over on clothing. Always the first customers through the door were a group of sharp beaked women; they would head for the piles of clothes and start pulling them onto the floor. The game, to which people got wise, was that, once on the floor and out of sight of the people behind taking money and restocking the tables, these items would be swiftly stuffed into bags and, in the rhyming phrase of the time, ‘half-inched-pinched’. Clothing was always carnage for the first hour and it was here mum and one or two other formidable women were posted.
Dad? You know I’ve no idea. I’d suspect he did committee things like circulate and offer his good wishes and gratitude – as mum might say ‘he was a natural at the lady muck glad-handing’. I suppose he worked a stall but I was having too much fun to notice.
This shebang continued for three hours until people were ushered out at 5pm. We were exhausted but the world didn’t stop here. Oh no. We had the money, and often we had the unsold items to take away too. Back home we’d go to count the change. To say life was simple would be an understatement but a Saturday night confronted the bucket loads of halfpennies and pennies, three-penny bits and florins, these were the stuff of dreams to this little boy. My hands turned black and my arms were sore but we kept going until we finished.
Utter, indescribable bliss….