For reasons even I don’t yet fully understand, I’ve decided to do a series of ‘blog swaps’ with some of my favourite book bloggers. As none of us have any idea what a ‘blog swap’ actually entails, we’re just posting whatever takes our fancy.
Today I’m swapping blogs with The Book Zone – a firm favourite of mine, and one of my biggest supporters. Here’s what Darren decided to share with us, largely – I suspect – to make me jealous.
When Barry suggested a ‘blog swap’ to celebrate the release of his brilliant The Book of Doom, I spent a week or so struggling to come up with an idea for my part of the deal. I didn’t want to write a book review, as I do that all the time on my own blog, and I thought about writing about a book or author that influenced me when I was younger (I occasionally run a feature called My Life That Books Built on The Book Zone). However, I read Laura’s (Sister Spooky) gloriously random piece from last week, and realised that pretty much anything goes as far as the swap is concerned, and so I thought I would tell you a little bit about one of my biggest passions – charity shops and car boot sales.
I have four younger siblings. As such, funds were pretty tight when we were young and so our mother taught us to love and embrace the second-hand. Saturday afternoons were spent at jumble sales(and later car boot sales), through which I would excitedly add to my collection of Famous Five and Five Find-Outers books, and later as my reading progressed, The Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, Asterix, Tintin, Agatha Christie and so on and so on and so on. I still have all of those Blyton, Three Investigators, Tintin and Asterix books here with me today. Without jumble sales and later charity shops we would not have had anywhere near as many books in our house as we did, and I certainly wouldn’t be the reader and person I am today.
In my teens I never had a Saturday job. Instead I did several paper rounds, and Saturdays were spent in my local library before visiting the various charity shops in Leamington Spa and looking for bargains in my local record shop. Through these shops I discovered the Conan stories written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, which led me to hunting down library copies of Robert E. Howard’s originals. I discovered books that many might discover pulpy trash, but at the time I collected and devoured as many as I could get my hands on. Books like Don Pendleton’s Executioner series, and my personal favourites as the time: The Destroyer books by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir.
Without charity shops I would never have discovered these US publications, as they certainly weren’t widely available in book shops in the UK (not that I would have been able to afford them if they had been). Sadly, like ashes to ashes and dust to dust, these books eventually experienced charity shop to charity shop: when I moved from Birmingham to Bracknell in 2000 I came down with a horrible bout of tonsillitis which totally wiped me out, and meant I could not make as many journeys up and down the M40 as I had planned. I therefore ended up taking bags filled with LPS and, to my lasting sadness, those aforementioned books, to the Great Barr branch of Oxfam. I often think about those books, and hope they went to a good home.
As I started my teaching career I renewed my acquaintance with car boot sales, and many a Sunday morning was spent getting up early to head to the market area of Birmingham. As a newly qualified teacher of Design technology my interest in design had been well and truly ignited, and it was rare for me not to be driving home from one of these sales without some kind of item from the 50s/60s/70s (I called them treasures. Many years later my wife would refer to them as junk). My small flat became chock-full of retro design items, including rocket lamps, a very cool 60s smoked glass coffee table from Italy, and two Ettore Sottsass Valentine typewriters.
It was at one of these car boot sales that I discovered (and grew to love) the works of Vladimir Tretchikoff, and over the next few years I managed to collect a large number of his prints and others, but more about them shortly.
Moving from Birmingham to Bracknell is 2000 proved to be something of a major shock to my bank account, and like many young teachers in the area I found myself in growing debt. At this time I discovered eBay, and all of a sudden my weekend visits to charity shops and car boot sales took on a whole new meaning for me.
I was now hunting for items to sell at a profit, and soon discovered that there were many, many films on VHS that were out of print, and highly sought after by buyers all around the world. EBay listings were scoured for hours on end, lists created and memorised, and every Sunday I would return home with bags bulging with rare VHS tapes and films, as well as the occasional item for myself. Within a couple of years I was debt free, although that was partly helped by my (reluctant) selling all of my Tretchikoff and kitsch prints, most of them going to ex-Red or Dead designer and kitsch art collector Wayne Hemingway (and if you like art like this then I can highly recommend Wayne’s book Just Above The Mantelpiece).
One question that everyone used to ask me when they discovered my eBaying sideline was “What has been your greatest find/sale?” The answer to that is an easy one – a Lego mosaic picture of Harry Potter. I bought it for a meagre £3, but had to buy a small number of brown bricks to repair it. However, it went on to sell for over £500, to someone in the USA.
These days I am still a huge fan of charity shops and car boot sales. I am very fortunate and grateful that debt is a thing of the past, and as I no longer have the time for eBaying, much of what I buy is for me (much to the despair of my wife). It is rare for a Saturday to go by without me sating my addiction for buying books and DVDs by visiting at least one charity shop, and during the summer months I am often to be found marching purposefully up and down the aisles of the car boot sale at Taplow near Maidenhead.
Even when my wife and I are away from home at the weekend I can usually manage to sneak a visit. I like to think that I have developed Lovejoy style divvieing skills, but in reality most of my finds are down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. Over the past five years I have picked up a true first edition of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, an Atari 2600 and a Nintendo NES (both with stacks of games), and more recently piles of comics and graphic novels.
I am also constantly on the lookout for cool or weird and wonderful items I can put on display in my library/study/boy’s room at home, such as the Hellraiser Pinhead statue and twenty Marvel figurines I picked up one day. I am not someone who brags on Twitter or my blog about the books I get sent from publishers, but I do love to show off my second-hand loot finds from time to time. I have often thought about starting a blog for just such a purpose, but at the moment I am struggling to keep up with the one I have already. In keeping with my need to show off my finds, here are just a few of the many items I have picked up for next to nothing over the past couple of years: