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
Saturday 28 December 1996
"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.
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