Matthew Munson: Nothing quite like a local boot fair rummage

I do love a good boot fair. I was introduced to them as a teenager when I used to go along with my Uncle Mervyn, who always had stuff to sell – a lot of Sundays I found myself getting up at some still-dark hour of the morning to be picked up and act as my uncle’s assistant on the stall.

I have to particularly admire Mervyn’s selling pitch; he always had a good patter, and nearly always managed to convince people to buy things. He’d also regularly go for a stroll around the site and, when he came back, I was under strict instructions not to talk to him if he stood the other side of our pasting tables – which he always did if potential buyers were perusing our wares and hesitating over the purchase of some piece of high-quality.

Mervyn would then pick it up, ask the price, check if I would be knocked down a bit (at which point I would always indicate I was open to offers), and then tell me that he would be back before wandering off and hiding nearby. Nine times out of ten, it worked, and we’d make a sale with the real customer who was determined not to let the item go.

So I cut my teeth on the sales side of boot fairs, but I’m a fan of buying from them (and charity shops, as I’ve written about before) – although I’m rather selective in what I buy after being stung with a non-functional bedside clock. It only cost me a quid, but that’s not the point; it’s not like I can easily go to Trading Standards over something like that.

Boot fairs are something of a sport amongst some people; I’m a recreational user, but I see others taking it very seriously – prowling up and down the aisles, looking for that elusive something that will complete some part of their attire or room in their home or any one of a hundred and one other things.

I often go with my great pals Chelby and Kirk, as well as Di before she buggered off to Bournemouth, and to witness Kirk’s avid search for a piece of vinyl or a CD that will complete his collection – or see Chelby able to assess the quality of fabric at a hundred yards and judge how well it suit a dress she’s planning to make for her company – can bring a tear to your eye.

For me, it’s books, shoes, hats, clothes (occasionally, at a push), and little trinkets that occasionally catch my eye. I have a particular liking for Palm Bay, and the boot fair at Charles Dickens was pretty good when it was on (incidentally, does anyone know why that stopped? I’ve never been able to find out); there’s one I’m not that fond of, but decorum prevents me from saying which one – it’s a personal taste reason more than anything.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone outside Thanet to visit boot fairs in Whitstable and Bournemouth, and they were very pleasant – I wagered small sums on various book-shaped objects – but there’s nothing quite like spending time at boot fairs locally; the site fees go to various local charities and good causes, and I don’t have to go far to get some bargains. Long may they reign!