I had that Thinker in the back of my cab once

Not pounds 200. Not pounds 100. To you, love, 75p. Philip Sweeney finds gems in a car boot

It was retro cuisine, the alleged vogue for Sixties dishes such as Black Forest gateau and chicken Kiev - as reported by the new tits 'n' brioche monthly Eat Soup - that finally convinced me. There is now no field of human consumption in which the naff and cast-off are not in the vanguard of desirability; the car boot sale is henceforth unopposed as the chic-est, best-value, ineluctably most sensible retail institution of the beginning of the third millennium. And still, unlike most so-called flea markets, cheap.

"Personally, I think no-fashion is the most sophisticated look of all," observed Christian Lacroix in a recent interview, putting his finger flatteringly on one's very own "look", before going on to reveal that the decor of his house in the rue des Beaux Arts had been acquired at flea markets in Paris, Camden and Bermondsey at a cost of not more than pounds 200 to pounds 300 an item! (My exclamation mark.) Good God, Chris, I thought, they must have seen you coming, mincing round Bermondsey in impeccably clashing jacket and tie, brandishing your platinum Credit Lyonnais charge card. For pounds 200 at a car boot sale, you could buy an entire life, with any two of the traders who took your fancy thrown in for the extra pony.

The ascendancy of the car boot sale aesthetic first became apparent in the field of music, as the Easy Listening phenomenon took hold last year. Where else do you get those witty Les Baxter and Herb Alpert LPs, and the Tretyakoff prints and Babycham glasses to go with them? Within weeks of taking up Easy Listening, I had acquired, for 75p, a 12-album Reader's Digest set, boxed in slate-blue Nagahide with gold tooling and certified excellent by David Jacobs, entitled Mood Music for Listening and Relaxation, covering, album by album, all the key sub-genres: Moonlight Piano, Hits from Broadway, Vienna Bonbons, Candlelight and Wine ... From then on, the classics dropped into my grasp like ripe Black Forest gateaux - items such as Hammond A Gogo, Vols I and II, "famous evergreens and latest hits presented in true A-gogo style by James Last and his Hammond-Bar-Combo", on the cover of which the hyphenated maestro leers teutonically from behind a large candlestick at a permed model, as she sips a-gogo style from an antique silver Bavarian mulled wine cup. Soon I became frankly elitist - for so-called Easy Listening, some of this stuff is practically bloody Shostakovich - and began to reject anything but the truly moronic: Settle Down with Roger Whittaker, Funky Junction Play a Tribute to Deep Purple and the magisterially facile Let Phil Tate Play for Your Dance Party.

Then it became apparent that not just Easy Listening, but all aspects of musical life were to be found at the car boot sale disquaire. I set myself a simple task: for the price of one new CD - pounds 14.99, say - to buy an entirely representative modern music collection and the means to play it. The work of two hours, it turned out. First, an immaculate 1968 Dansette Viva in cream and maroon (long MoT, almost new stylus) for a fiver. Then the library: early opera (a 1958 version of White Horse Inn featuring Rita Williams, the Rita Williams singers and the Tony Osborne Orchestra), the Bristol Sound (Time to Play by Russ Conway), jungle (A Swingin' Safari by Bert Kaemphert), drum'n'bass (ditto with the Dansette's treble and bass dials both up to full whack), world music (Vacaciones en Benidorm by Anon), queercore (Gai Gai les Bretons by the Robert Trabucco Musette Ensemble), Celtic New Age (Gai Gai les Bretons with the Dansette at 16 rpm).

With pounds 1.50 still left, I indulged myself in two outstanding specimens of organ arcana: Ena Baga's Hammond Holiday by Reginald Dixon's replacement at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, a lady adept at Swing, Latin, ballads and/or legitimate techniques; and The Cordovox Magic of Valentino, a sort of bargain-basement Irish Liberace with a purple ruffled shirt, 27,000 fans (Irish, presumably), baby seal and a pounds 2,000 stereophonic Cordovox capable of reproducing any sound from a Hawaiian guitar to a jet plane.

So successful was my record experiment, I began to apply the same principle to other areas, with equally spectacular results. In absolutely any field of human endeavour, you can replicate dernier cri fashion, in the space of half a morning and for a fraction of the cost. Clothing is easy, as 90 per cent of today's fashion headlines deal in reworkings of early Seventies this or late Fifties that or mid-period Biba the other. I settled more or less at random on the English Eccentrics photospread unveiled in the Independent on Sunday last March and rapidly put together a version of the Rifat Ozbek yellow minidress, thigh boots and gloves - couture that cost a couple of grand, presumably - from the crowded racks of Ego, Dorothy, Tammy Girl or Yessica labels at an "Any Three Items for pounds 1" stall. The matching yellow wig took a little longer, and cost a cool two quid, but I found it eventually, labelled "Fun Wig: Adult Carnival Accessory. Made in China", on a novelty stall, along with Taiwanese pantyhose, joke condoms and sticky trolls. Vivienne Westwood's English Eccentrics coat was a cinch, too, and, as for the Katharine Hamnett Sixties leather jacket, sequined bikini and tartan tights outfit, the whole thinking was so uncannily in tune with the contents of the novelty stall, I could have sworn the stallholder actually was Katharine Hamnett, kitted out with fake beer gut, raddled make-up and T-reg Sierra, for some sort of stylish weekend prank. Furniture and interiors are almost as easy as clothes. Seventies-style shag-pile rugs and G-Plan furniture are in, says issue number one of Wallpaper magazine. Nothing more to add, really, except perhaps to draw attention to the investment potential of china carthorses in little plastic harnesses pulling barrels of sherry or sets of fetching satin-effect metal coasters. And to note the wide scope for individual creativity. "There's something fantastically sinister about toys," remarks the video director, Zanna, as she shows the contents of her converted schoolhouse studio - all distressed walls, lurid fabrics and groups of disfigured dolls - to this month's Elle Decoration. Absolutely right, especially when deployed in juxtaposition with other curious objects like the wacky and collectable Ingram's Perfex bakelite enema set I spotted for pounds 1.50 recently, or an enigmatic and disturbing row of charred Yorkshire pudding tins.

Talking of which, what, finally, about car boot cuisine? For retro recipes, no problem. Try the following from the Farepak Book of Parties and Entertaining, authored by one Myra Street in 1968: bacon and egg pie - a virile, native and happening quiche lorraine from the Television Suppers chapter (ingredients: bacon, eggs, pastry, Worcestershire sauce). Or this original and elegant main course accompaniment from the Christmas Dinners section: fruit rings (ingredients: one can pineapple rings, one can peach halves, one can cherries; method: place cherries in pineapple rings on peach halves and heat). The ingredients can be found at knock-down prices and from different provenances, along with Finnish Panda brand Jammy Dodgers, Arabic label export Midget Gems and bags of things called Foam Mis-shapes.

On reflection, however, the dish most perfectly representative of car boot sale chic seems to me to be the pickled egg, so often to be found in close proximity to lead-effect garden gnomes and bulldogs announcing "Piss Off" or "Make My Day". With a big jar of pickled eggs on board, you can reverse confidently into the future, conjuring a merry dialectic as you go between fashion, no-fashion and junk.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup