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Boot Fairs

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Unlike its American cousin, the garage or yard sale, the English Boot Fair is more of a social gathering that underpins the country's economy, than an occasion for ridding the home of unwanted, unloved belongings.

Boot Fairs have their own policing system sometimes referred to as the 'Nosy Costers'1.

Love them or hate them, the Nosy Costers set the ground rules for all prospective Booters. Before anyone is allowed to set out their wares they must satisfy the Nosy Costers that they have essential items that all Booters must display:

  • Avon Delivery boxes (minimum of two) to display and transport smaller items.

  • A jigsaw with at least three pieces missing and marked 'complete'.

  • A selection of LPs including work from the artists Val Doonican, Max Bygraves, Rick Astley and The Brotherhood of Man.

  • Two dozen Mills and Boon romantic fiction paperbacks.

  • A pre-1987 copy of The Guinness Book of Records.

  • A baby bath.

  • Three half-empty bottles of vintage perfume.

  • A selection of rusty spanners mixed with old kitchen utensils.

  • At least one innovative item from either K-Tel's or Ronco's range of products, some perhaps displaying the coveted 'As Seen on TV' badge.

  • Five plastic cups potted with houseplant cuttings (unrooted).

Once the above criteria have been satisfied and several probing personal questions have been answered then they are welcomed into the fraternity of Booters.

The reasons why perfectly sane individuals subject themselves to this rigorous procedure are two-fold:

  • To get money.
  • To make money.

The truth is the only time the English part with their hoarded treasures is when they are short of cash. Just how many of their much-loved belongings are consigned to the Boot Fair depends on the degree of short-of-cash-ness at the time of their first attempt at Booting.

Once they have experienced their first Boot Fair and realised just how much money people are willing to part with for other peoples cast-offs, they are completely hooked.

Nothing is now sacred. If it has not been used over the past week it is deemed saleable. Booters will visit jumble sales, charity shops and bric-a-brac stalls to purchase anything they think they could make a profit on. Those near the coast will scan beaches for driftwood and flotsam to sell as rustic objects d'art, those in the hills will scout for interesting rocks and stones, those in the towns will rummage through skips and derelict houses.

And, of course, there are the Boot Fairs themselves - Booters will continually wander round each others stalls to barter for items they think they could make a few bob on.

They soon find they are trapped in a circuitous black economy. They have to stop kidding themselves they are only doing it to 'get themselves out of the house at weekends' or because they 'love the atmosphere' and finally resign to the fact that they have become Nosy Costers scrutinising a new batch of Booters.

1'Nosy' from their dogged insistence on knowing everything about new Booters and 'Coster' from the old English term for barrow-boys or market traders.

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